I have a bunch of tools I use by preference. By this I mean I reach for that pair of scissors rather than another, I prefer one pen or marking method ahead of those other things, or I always return to one particular app despite having access to others. What makes us love our tools, and how do we choose them?
1.Does the tool make us feel competent? Does it work easily and simply?
To me this is the most important characteristic of a good tool – how it makes me feel when I use it.
That it fits ergonomically in the hand, is the right size, is reliably sharp or strong – these features allow us to use it easily and get the tasks done. Nice, new, sharp blades that cut through card and foam core board, shaped brushes that glide smoothly, a nicely made pair of jewelry pliers where the points meet up perfectly – all these kinds of tools do what we expect them to without having to wiggle or jury rig or fuss.
The same goes for software. I like it when an app is intuitive and the procedures for learning it are straightforward. I might have a learning curve, but I don’t feel like an idiot in the process.
The opposite – from the popular imagination at least – assembling an Ikea item. Who feels competent doing that, especially the first time?
Examples from my own toolbox – Scraperfect’s products, my Dremel, Canva.com, Sharpie markers, Caran D’Ache watercolor pastels, my Tiny Attacher.
2. Does it bring us joy? Does it make us feel happy in the use of it?
One of the biggest parts of a creative practice is taking joy in the process, rather than only the product or outcome. I love the actual work of writing on a computer. I am old enough to have written a university thesis on an electric typewriter. The ease of a word processing program on a computer brings me a lot of joy.
I love my Martha Stewart Scoreboard – it’s silly, I know. But it makes any kind of folding so much easier. I get to enjoy a small taste of perfection when things fold smoothly and exactly.
Sometimes I have joy knowing that the tool was a gift, or was used by my mother before me to make nice things.
3. Does it give us a sense of community? Is it popular? Does it help us be “part of”, and have a connection to others?
Sometimes we have tools that we know many other people swear by. There might be a whole community of people who use the same product or gadget. We get to participate in discussions about it, if we want to, learn tricks or teach new techniques. Perhaps another person is equally obsessed with a brand.
Or perhaps it is a looser connection – people who love antique tools or some class of gadgets in general.
I’ve been on a Design Team for a collection of terrific paper crafting products. It is fun.
On the other hand, not everything about our favorite tools is wonderful. Some might be problematic in different ways.
4. Is it replaceable? Are parts still available?
It’s an awful feeling to know that your favorite cutter might end up useless if the replacement blades disappear from the shelves. Sometimes it means going out in a blaze of continued use glory – all while searching the internet for those old caches and stockpiles.
Or the obsolescence problem could lead us to hold on to our tool and avoid using it (just in case) while still preventing us from moving on. We would call that “being sensible.” I recommend finding alternatives before the wear makes your previously beloved tool too hard to use happily.
Have you ever felt guilty for liking a brand new thing more than the tried and true gizmo? That’s just anthropomorphism. Your old pliers won’t mind being turned into a piece of wall art, I promise.
5. Are we just being stubborn?
If we cling to an obsolete version, because it is familiar, we might be missing out on some great new features in the latest iteration. Is affection preventing us from growing into a new tool or method.
I used to be afraid of sergers (aka overlockers). They struck me as too industrial and I had always heard that they were complicated. I stubbornly stuck to my belief that a zig-zagged edge was just about as good.
Well, it’s OK I guess, but nowhere near as fast or neat as the serged edge – and by the way sergers make knits so much easier to use. So all those years when I resisted trying the new tool remain regrettable.
Meanwhile, I’m guilty of liking the old editing platform here on WordPress better than this new, unfamiliar method that uses blocks for some reason. I feel like they fixed something that wasn’t broken. But I suppose I’ll come around eventually, if I can ever find out how to insert links into the text.