Eric Karjaluoto

They’re Just Tools

Yesterday, Sony announced its new line of full frame mirrorless cameras. These machines are handsomely designed, easy to carry anywhere, and can produce beautiful files—but they don’t matter.

A few months ago, Adobe introduced their new line of Edge products. Some make the production of animations easier; others make the design of responsive websites more manageable. These are neat innovations, and some will become part of designers’ everyday workflow. They also don’t matter.

Seemingly every day, a new Javascript framework is announced. There’s Angular, Meteor, Derby, and countless others. Some will die before they mature, whereas, others will grow into common tools used in web development. And (you guessed it) these don’t matter, either.

New tools make tasks easier, open up possibilities, and can be fun to ogle. But—and this is a big but—they’re still only tools. Even the best technologies in the hands of a hack will result in little worth note; whereas, a master can create something wonderful with even the most basic tools.

We’ve all met someone who knows every detail about a spectacular new camera—but whose best photographs are still just unremarkable. Alternately, you can look to creations like the short films of Ray and Charles Eames. These were made decades ago, with equipment we’d now consider primitive, but they remain compelling and innovative. And then, there are people like Scott Weaver, who take plain toothpicks and produce wonders.

As a creative person, you possess two facilities of consequence: 1) A mind that assesses situations and synthesizes possibilities. 2) Your hands, which allow you to apply form to your ideas. It’s where ideas and form meet that wonder happens. Whether you use a Super 8 camera to make a film, tar and coffee grounds to create a painting, or cut paper to design an identity, doesn’t matter. These are just tools and materials. While many are under-appreciated, none are invalid—even if some might be better suited to a particular job.

So, the next time you find yourself obsessing over image resolution, or processor power, or which programming language seems most fashionable, step back and ask: What am I doing, and why? All that matters is what you’re making, and how well it works. If you have access to great tools, use them. If you only own old and slow tools, use them. In fact, you might learn more from the latter than the former.

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