I woke up and said “I am here” and yet I didn’t want to begin writing, so I lay in bed until I couldn’t sleep anymore (which was 8am). I’m tired of describing days, so I’ll post something I wrote a long time ago. As our design team grew we found pains cooperating. I’m very much against tyrannical design systems: they make mediocre designers better, but also they cap talented designers, forcing them to conform to system’s constraints. We were a team of tremendous talent, and I intuited a common plain visual/behavioral base over which everyone could bring their skills. Unfortunately I didn’t have the energy or skill to champion it. Tyranny won.
Allegory of the Chefs (on design systems)
A rich man with an adventurous appetite summoned five of the finest chefs. Their task would be to personally prepare him a dish of their liking. There was only one rule: bring the ingredients required for the dish. Each one of them would have their personal kitchen to prepare the food.
It was an offer they couldn’t refuse, for the client’s appetite was matched by his deep pockets. They arrived at the agreed time, and dutifully prepared the most succulent dish of their repertoire. Afterwards they set up the magnificent feast in front of him.
The man observed carefully, and complimented each one of them, taking small bites and deep breaths out of each plate he commented the richness of flavor in some, the creativity in others, and the aromas of other. The chefs were greatly impressed with the client’s knowledge of the culinary arts.
Then he sat down to eat.
The chefs observed helplessly how he grabbed food from every plate and placed it in his mouth without swallowing first. His mouth became a blender in which all the dishes lost their flavor to become and indistinct mush. “Horror!” exclaimed one, “Why don’t you wait at least until you have swallowed your food?”.
“I can’t help it” the man replied between mouthfuls, “I’m starving, the food is so good and my appetite is so large that I can’t control myself!” he said as he quickly gobbled up all the food on the table. Soon there was nothing left, and their patron was still hungry, remorseful about his lack of self-control.
The rich man asked them to prepare more food. “I don’t want to feed this pig!” exclaimed one of the chefs, “look at what he did to my creation”. But the man plead with them, and they agreed under the condition to prepare a large quantity of a dish that they prepared among all of them. Looking at what was left from their ingredients, they gathered everything and put it on the table. “I use avocado and coriander in all my plates, so we will have to find a dish that goes well with it” exclaimed one. “Well, I only prepare desserts so we’ll have to see how we put a banana split on top of that” replied other half-jokingly. One tried to rally everyone to prepare his visionary dish, but soon this approach yielded much dissension among the chefs. The consensus seemed impossible to reach.
Then, the man being hungry and seeing consensus was nowhere near, grabbed a piece of bread and boredly chewed on it. “Aha!” exclaimed one of the chefs “what we need is a base dish that goes along well with anything that we put on top!”. So they put together their skills to prepare well structured bread bread of chewy texture that would not only support but highlight the flavors of the food placed on top.
Each of the chefs prepared a topping that would go along well with the bread and placed bread and dishes on the table, and then instructed him to put a single topping on the tough bread. They were delighted to see their plan work: the robustness of the bread prevented the man from gobbling different foods at the same time. Furthermore, making their dish work as a topping made them focus on complementing the bread instead of trying to outdo each other.
It was a good day for both man and chefs.