Sunday Book-Thought 48Posted: March 12, 2017
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)