Recap #4 – How Languages Affect Systems

This was originally published by Chris Guimarin on June 16th, 2020. Subscribe to his weekly collection of thoughts here!

Analyzing concepts and systems through different languages creates a deeper understanding of a topic and provides new insights.

? Design and Developer Communication

Design and development are two different systems that work together. Two methods that use different languages but are talking about the exact same thing, the product. This is the cornerstone for the developers should design, and designers should code arguments. Essentially both sides are saying that the other doesn’t listen to them and wants the other to bend to their language. Instead of fighting over the modality of communication, there should be an acknowledgment that there is a communication breakdown. There is no need for one to say that the other is better; they simply have different strengths and focuses. Thankfully some individuals are creating shared languages within their organizations; this comes in the form of blended teams, transparent repositories, or a design system. Creating a design system emerges when there is a disconnect between how the designers envisioned the product and how the developers interpreted and built it.

I’d encourage you to look through the documentation created by Invision; they’ve created a deep repository of articles, guides, and how-tos.

On Twitter, I’d recommend you follow Jina Anne and Brad Frost. Jina is a design systems advocate, founded the Clarify Conference, and has been influentially in companies and the community in moving design systems forwardBrad Frost’s book about atomic design is also a must-read as he will outline the process and methodology when approaching design systems.

? Design Industry

The design industry continues to introspectively review the disparity between those who enter the industry and those who lead it. I encourage you to participate in events like “Where are the black designers?”

?‍? Unpacking Systems

When are we creating companies on what layer of the system are you creating for? When we look at new technologies and new companies, they get this edge by finding ways to rethink existing paradigms. Super excited for the work that Pinwheel is doing to create an API layer for payroll data. So much of our financial data is stuck within silos, usually under the auspices of privacy and security; however, it makes transferring information for example when securing a mortgage or transferring money onerous. These ideas identify themselves when we unravel how systems are interconnected showcasing where to layer in value.

?The Toolbox

A look at a tool that has improved my workflow.


I love Woven, it is my go-to calendar tool. I use it to my scheduled meetings through easily share my availability with other people. Previously, I paid for Calendly for the same features that Woven provides for free. I can set up a custom woven invite link, have it either automatically, or manually pick times that are free in my calendar and send it to the other person to choose. Especially in this WFH environment, it has been a great resource and a blast to use. My favorite use case is using it with students to schedule time with me for office hours when I am teaching at General Assembly.

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? The Bookshelf

Notes and ideas from books I have read or are currently reading.

In The Information, it breaks down George Boole’s Mathematical Analysis of Logic, Being an Essay Towards a Calculus of Deductive Reasoning and talks about the mathematics of language and breaking down concepts into their smallest parts. This discussion is a continuation of last week’s regarding design thinking about only through breaking down a design into their smallest parts can we devise a solution. Design, in my view, requires more of a middle way to simplify concepts, creating a space to test the impact of particular ideas on wicked problems. For example, take any extensive complex system like music and identify all the players, levers, and inputs created. Will that identification exercise reveal a clear solution, doubtful, but it will uncover space to run experiments and try out ideas and determine an impact. It becomes a way to re-imagine a problem and see it differently to uncover existing truths.

Boole was claiming possession on behalf of mathematics. In doing so, he devised a new form of encoding. Its code book paired two types of symbolism, each abstracted far from the world of things. On one side was a set of characters drawn from the formalism of mathematics p’s and q’s +’s and -’s, braces and brackets. On the other were operations, propositions, relations ordinarily expressed in the fuzzy and mutable speech of everyday life: words about truth and falsity, membership in classes, premises and conclusions. There were “particles”: if, either, or. These were the elements of Boole’s credo:

That Language is an instrument of human reason, and not merely a medium for the expression of thought.

The elements of which all language consists are signs or symbols.

Words are signs. Sometimes they are said to represent things;sometimes the operations by which the mind combines together the simple notions of things into complex conceptions.

Words… are not the only signs which we are capable of employing. Arbitrary marks, which speak only to the eye, and arbitrary sounds or actions… are equally of the nature of signs.

The encoding, the conversion from one modality to the other, served a purpose. In the case of Morse code, the purpose was to turn everyday language into a form suitable for near-instantaneous transmission across miles of copper wire. In the case of symbolic logic, the new form was suitable for manipulation by a calculus. The symbols were like little capsules, protecting their delicate cargo from the wind and the fog of everyday communication. How much safer to write:

1 – x = y(1-z)+z(1-y)+(1-y)(1-z)

Than the real-language proposition for which, in a typical Boolean example, it stood:

Unclean beasts are all which divide the hoof without chewing the cud, all which chew the cud without dividing the hoof, and all which neither divide the hoof nor chew the cud.

The safety came in no small part from draining the words of meaning. Signs and symbols were not just placeholders; they were operators, like the gears and levers in a machine. Language, after all, is an instrument.

This passage from The Information pgs. 164-165 reminds me of the stories my grandmother would tell me when she translated for the International Criminal Court, she talked about how it was never about an exact literal translation but about having the empathy to understand what is the individual expressing in their words, their context, their mood and translating that expression to the other language. Language allows for ideas to be codified and enables them to be viewed in new ways through new filters. If we continue the instrument idea, playing a chord on a piano is vastly different then playing a chord on a violin. The instrument is suited for particular types of music, at times through experimentation a structure originated on one instrument sounds better or worse when transplanted to another instrument. Like language, the focus rests on what is the desired expression and matching the instrument afterward.

Check out more of my recommendations here

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