The Importance of Style

I don’t remember a time in my life where I did not own a computer. I was three when my parents went to American TV in Madison, WI to buy an Apple IIe for my mother. My mom was pregnant with my brother and wanted a computer to do work on that would not bother the carpel tunnel syndrome she developed while pregnant. Oh the irony of that belief.

I was in fifth grade an I was creating a book report for a class. I discovered our word processing software allowed you to do some neat formatting on your document, including putting a border on it.

This was an amazing discovery to me. I was excited that I found this new functionality in a program on my own and I ran to go tell my dad about it.

My dad chastised me very harshly. He told me I was wasting my time trying to jazz up my book report and that I must not feel very confident in my work if I felt the need to use a gimmick like a border on my book report to distract the teacher from my research.

I remember at the time feeling very hurt and wounded by this statement. I had discovered something cool and I wanted to share it with someone and I was smacked down for figuring out that my report didn’t have to be boring.

Fast forward twenty years or so.

I am in the process of working on several tech talks that I will be presenting next month. One of my talks is on debugging. I know, debugging sounds like the most boring thing in the world. But it doesn’t have to be.

I spent a decent amount of time creating a custom template for my talk. Since it is about bugs, I thought a nice bug theme would liven up my slides somewhat. I am very proud of the work I did customizing my slides for this talk.

I think that there is an unfortunate attitude in tech that talks don’t have to be interesting. I have lost count of the number of droning, boring talks I have heard at various tech conferences. It’s like some of the speakers are thinking, “Yes! I have a captive audience! They have to listen to everything I say!! Bwahahaha!!!”

I have found that the less work people do to make their talks interesting and relevant the less I care. If the person telling me about this stuff doesn’t find it interesting and exciting, then why should I?

People buy Apple products because the engineers try very hard to make objects that people love to look at, hold, and touch. A great deal of care is taken to make using an Apple device a joy. Their design is one of the major reasons they are as successful as they are today. No one should make the argument that making something look and feel nice is a waste of time. It isn’t. It’s a sign of dedication to the craft.

I think my father was wrong. I don’t think people style things in order to distract the audience from its lack of quality. I think if you care passionately about something you will put a great deal of effort into trying to make sure it is interesting and exciting for other people too. I think putting work into making your stuff looks nice is an indicator that you care about your work and that other people should care about it too.