In the last few months I have seen a whole slew of new tools enter my design process. Sketch, Framer, Macaw, Origami, Pixate, and the countless JavaScript libraries have changed not only how I design but what I design.

McLuhan once said “We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.” He may have been talking about TV, but its an apt statement to describe the influence that our tools have on what problems we solve. But, what are the traits of a good tool?

  • The best tools build on themselves. They are extensible beyond what they were originally built to do.
  • There is a path to mastery. Every verb can be prefixed with adverbs to extend the actions the tool supports. While the tool may have scaffolding to get you started, the training wheels come off as you move faster.
  • Good tools encourages play and exploration. You learn by doing it yourself. Feedback is immediate and every action you take can be undone.
  • The best tools are the ones that get the job done. The actions you use everyday are front and center. They make every second count.
  • People will go to great lengths to learn a tool which paints the vision of what it can help them achieve. If they know what’s possible, they will push the tool to it’s edge to make it happen. Good tools don’t come with instruction manuals, they come with a story of what you can do with them.
  • A good tool encourages a dialog. It learns from you and adapts to your behavior. A good tool isn’t directly interchangeable with an identical copy someone else has, because it’s been molded to your exact workflow.
  • The best tools build a community. Mastery is collective. We grow because the advances that one person make can be remixed and built upon further by others.