Sunday Book-Thought 48

The skills of design are learned not in the abstract, but through the continued use of a system of tools. Tools have intrinsic properties, such as size and portability, but their qualities as components of design are not inherent in their structure, they only arise through usage. A pencil is a pencil not because it is a stick of graphite surrounded by a sheath of wood, but because it can be employed as a particular type of writing implement. When an individual writes with a pencil it is no longer a separate object but a conduit for ideas. Observers of a writer may reflect on the properties of the pencil and how the writer holds it, but for the person engaged in the flow of writing it does not exist as a distinct entity. Its “pencilness” only becomes apparent if there is a breakdown in the writing activity, for example, if the point snaps.
Thus, the properties of a tool only become apparent to its user when the tool ceases to be an extension of the self, in the event of some breakdown in its action.
Mike Sharples, ‘An Account of Writing as Creative Design’, in The Science of Writing: Theories, Methods, Individual Differences and Applications, ed. by C. Michael Levy and Sarah Ransdell (Mahwah: Lawrence Erbaum Associates, Publishers, 1996), pp. 127-148 (p. 139)

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