Tool-makers usually lack connection to a serious context of use

People making Tools for thought often say they’re trying to help people do math, or make art, or whatever. But in reality, the people making these tools are rarely connected very deeply with the actual creative practices they’re trying to amplify. The work is often more of a tech demo or a toy or a “sandbox.” As we wrote in How can we develop transformative tools for thought?: “Tools for writing that aren’t used by actual writers. Tools for mathematics that aren’t used by actual mathematicians.” Deep down, such system designers are generally developing a system for its own sake—not because there’s some creative problem they’re desperately trying to solve.

Such tools might look mathematical (or whatever) on their surface, but they’re not seriously trying to answer hard problems in those domains—often because the creators don’t actually know what those problems are or understand how to solve them. Effective system design requires insights drawn from serious contexts of use

Startups and technologists often fool themselves by working with and talking to early adopters who are mostly interested in playing with new technologies. But it’s not just a “tech industry” problem: academic tool-makers generally evaluate their systems in artificial settings with artificial data, against artificial validation criteria.

It’s hard to resolve this issue: Great tool-makers are often not great tool-users, and vice-versa

People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never shared
And no one dared disturb the sound of silence
The Sound of Silence, Simon and Garfunkel.


Matuschak, A., & Nielsen, M. (2019, October 0). How can we develop transformative tools for thought?