On documents

Rodrigo Tello

I've been asked, more than once, what have I brought from the architecture world into the software design world. People, or colleagues specifically, are usually intrigued about thinking in 3D and spatial metaphors in architecture, some others see it as a craftsmanship. I'll say that the first thing you learn as an architect, which I value and keep with me to this day is, "thinking like an architect" - which sound obvious and hard to articule, but I'll take the time to explain that later. However, the second thing that I've came to my mind after thinking it for a while, is this: documents. Architects need to produce document. And if it's not a proper document, it should be thought about it like a document. I've been told by architects, professionals and prophersors, that "you need to specify everything, you need to be very specific in your blueprints and plans, because if you don't decide and specify something, someone else will, and there's a high chance that they'll fuck it up. They don't know what you're thinking, they won't care, and they will fuck it up." Now, this is in no way taking merit out or diminishing the craftsmanship of carpenters, construction workers, steel weilders, and many other artisians involved in the construction process, who are the most underrated creators of modern times, but it's more pointing towards the inherent complexity that represents the act of transfering ideas from an idea, to a visual design, and into technical document finally, and how design is the process of thinking and understanding materials, so design ideas can be expressed via document, so that a craftsman - like a carpenter or a construction worker - can build it.

Documents. Clear, beautiful, understandable, readable, organized, documents. Documents is the key word. I know many disciplines, including and specially architects, can fall into the fetishize the intermediary artifacts they produce and confuse it with the final craft, sure. But documents do matter.

We can make an argument that many issues in the political climate of the USA is arguing about documents that are not clear enough. Documents that were not clear about what is free speech, what is it good for, and why people should have some leverage against their governments. Philosophical thinking tying to be explained through semi-legal words, in paper.

Treat everything like a document. I try to do that now. Your sketches, your personal notes, your to-do lists, emails to a coworkers, text messages to your boyfriend, invitation parties. Do they have date? Are you being clear about what you want and what are the next steps the other person should do? How do I cancel plans or bail out, is that specified in the invitation? Do I need to confirm? If you don't know if something is already clear and explained in the document, add with explicit words. Quite often, when we're trying to review that an artifact (before it becomes a document) has clear information, re-exlpaining what its mission or goal is in plain words, read out loud, will ratify that the document, in fact, is not accomplishing its initial intended goal, therefore, the document should be modified.

Documents should be self-contained, everything you need to know should be in that document and should not refer to another document. When the physicality or nature of the document can't contain all its message, make sure there's a reliable and consistent way to point at another document in very celar way, make sure the "pointing at" is clear, either that's by physical address, naming, section, page, whatever. Documents should have consistent label. The most important thing about document creation might be consistent. If the labeling or date goes on top right or bottom left it's less relevant as much as it is consistent with the rest of the family of documents, consistent with your own documents, or if it lives across a field of documents, then do it that way. Knowing when to break the rule of a document is also important and its a beautiful art on itself. The ultimate form of operational sophistication a document can achieve, is a document that specifies how to create more documents and most important, it explains how to modify itself.