Labyrinths

An example labyrinth

As a kid I had the chance to play a game, whose goal was to lead two small metal balls through a maze. This was done by holding the board in hands and tilting the closed surface slightly, so that gravity can move the balls in the right direction. It required a lot of concentration since small changes in the board position greatly influenced the behavior of the balls. Many obstacles and dead ends limited progress along the way. Once I tried to move only one ball, I was mostly happy with its direction. But the second ball always found a reason not to follow my instructions and diverged further from the right path. At best I had mixed feelings, since the better I was doing with the one ball, the worse I was with the other. I did not know what exactly to do—move the ball on the right path to the end, but then risk it to not stay there while I was moving the second or choose to improve the position of the second at the expense of the first. Switching my attention between the balls was exhausting and often led to suboptimal positions for both of them. This was sometimes frustrating to the point that I chose to simply shake the board, hoping that the balls will magically find their way. (Yes, kids do it.) But then they got stuck in the most narrow places in the maze which required even more shaking for them to be released.

Eventually, I realized that it's best to not do the same job twice, so I tried to keep the balls close together along their entire journey, even if that meant that they should move slower. At least their direction was now uniform and the paths in front of them equal. This made focusing and decision making simpler. It even allowed the balls to "help" each other, because when one of them got stuck, the other could lean on it and avoid that trap.

We often forget that our life is labyrinth-like and that we choose our direction on a daily basis. Getting stuck doesn't mean that we should always stubbornly go straight, because life itself isn't linear. We need to be aware that we can go and test multiple directions and see where they lead us and not simply persist in not moving further. If we assume to have 8 possible directions (N, E, S, W, NE, SE, SW, NW or the multiples of 45 degrees) at every step of our way, we can see that there is practically no limit to the number of their possible combinations to form a path that solves our own labyrinth. At the same time, no obstacle is powerful enough to be able to block all of these directions. Trying to move obstacles away can be much slower than simply trying to circumvent them. In the long term we'll always need our energy and for that we need to acknowledge that sometimes even if a path seems obvious, it could easily exceed our capacity. We have to remain flexible in what we do and be ready to change as soon as we see that we reached a dead end. Having too much baggage with us reduces this flexibility and accelerates us faster in the direction of our choice, whether it is good or bad.

Web design is also a balancing act. We have many things to keep track of and we couldn't possibly allow ourselves to see them in isolation or concentrate on some aspects to the exclusion of all others. We can't just spend a week creating content for a web site and then suddenly start to worry about its accessibility, the layer organization of visual assets or the logic that will determine how and when that content will be served to the user. By the time we have created the content, we would have lost touch with everything else. Keeping/juggling all balls together ensures that our thinking stays fresh and that we are able to see directly the value (and meaning) of our work and how it affects other people. This way we could move the design more easily in the right direction and not fear that its components won't complement each other well. Only the perception of a complete, technology-independent solution is what is important for clients. Because they have to progress in their own labyrinths. By working with them, we agree to switch boards—they can affect our game and we theirs, so it is a sign of responsibility to keep friction at minimum. This shows that our seemingly different labyrinths might be very well connected, possibly to the extension of each other. Only that we are so concentrated on the balls that we can't see it.

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