I Learned About Design From That: Locked Myself Out of the Office

Twitter Updates


San Francisco PechaKucha Night
San Francisco IxDA


“Simplicate. Then add lightness.”
—Colin Chapman

“Everything should be made as simple as it can be, but no simpler.”
–Einstein (paraphrased)

Inspiration and credit for the title goes to Flying magazine and its I Learned About Flying From That column.

I locked myself out of the office today. Oftentimes, it wouldn’t be a problem, and I’m usually the one letting people who forgot their keys in. Yesterday, there were seven of us here, but today it’s just me until sometime after noon.

It started innocently enough.

Yesterday, I decided to flirt with another long-standing practice, of simplifying and reducing the gadgets I carry (more on this in another post, but one of the reasons was to clear the mind for innovating), so the iPhone was out and the old-school (but still 3G) Razr was in. With a minimalist phone book.

This morning, I needed a pair of tweezers for something, and the closest pair was in my RadioShack Leatherman, conveniently attached to my key ring. So the keys came out of the pocket and onto the desk (at which point I thought, “I should put them back immediately, lest I lock myself out.”).

Then I needed a bio break, and realized way too late what I had just done.

With barely a half-dozen contacts in my phone, none included anyone that was going to be in the office all that soon. The first person I reached was already on his way north to SF. Another was incommunicado, sailing all day. The ideal contact wasn’t in my list, but had called yesterday after I switched phones, so just happened to be in the call log. That person called the landlord, who had a spare key and was a very short distance away, so problem solved.

The Lesson

I simplified just a bit too far, and only barely had enough bits left with which to recover. Too few contacts in the backup phone, and no sync system for contacts and message history. So back to the iPhone for now. (The reasons for the initial switch are good fodder for an I² post, maybe sometime next week.)

So whenever you hear me say that you can achieve a better design by simplifying something and removing features, controls, or whatever—just remember that there is always a line you can cross that is too far, and hurts the product or process rather than enhancing it.

And the principle of “good enough” doesn’t mean quite what you think it does at first blush either, but that’s another post.


Author: Peter Sheerin

Peter Sheerin is best known for the decade he spent as the Technical Editor of CADENCE magazine, where he was the acknowledged expert in Computer-Aided Design hardware and software. He has a long-standing passion for improving usability of software, hardware, and everyday objects that is always interwoven in his articles. Peter is available for freelance technical writing and product reviews, and is exploring career opportunities in interaction design. His pet personal project is exploring the best ways to harmonize visual, tactile, and audible symbols for improving the effectiveness of alerting systems.

Leave a Reply