Why Medium’s interface matters.
Can a better text editor really help me write better?
I like to write. I always say that I’m going to write more. Every now and then I’ll start a new blog or redesign my website because I believe that it will inspire me to write more. “If I have a fresh start,” my thought process goes, “I’ll feel more inspired.” And then I’ll write a post or two consistently for a few weeks. Every now and then one of those posts will even be a hit. I’ll get some comments and tweets; I’ll feel motivated to keep writing. And yet, without fail, the motivation eventually goes away.
I know, anecdotally at least, that I’m not the only one that has this problem. Blogging is hard. But am I unmotivated to write because I have nothing to say or because the interface I write in is uninspiring?
Recently, I have found myself enamored with John O’Nolan’s Ghost blogging platform and Medium. Both offer far simpler interfaces, less options, less buttons and less distraction. Here, on Medium, I don’t even have to worry about choosing a theme because there’s only one theme and six formatting options.
The concept is logical and appealing: including only elements necessary for writing results in better and more frequent writing. The screen is completely white except for the words that I’ve written. The only three buttons on the screen are Cancel, Save draft and Publish. I want to hit that Publish button. Medium’s UI is dead-simple and, already, I think it’s better and more inspiring than any word editor I’ve used before.
So I’m curious to find out if this new interface appeals to me simply because it’s novel or because it can actually promote better writing? Can a nice interface actually motivate me to write more?
Why I think a limiting interface matters:
Professionals like choice, not hobbyists. Having such a wide-variety of options is appealing to the professional photographer or wine connoisseur. When I worked at a Best Buy in high school, the dozens of buttons on d-SLRs scared many customers away. 9 out of 10 customers wanted to leave their cameras on automatic. Only professional photographers care about setting the shutter speed — the rest don’t want to think about it. For a hobbyist (in Medium’s case: someone that wants to publish ideas without worrying about monetization), we don’t need and shouldn’t want the extra buttons or distraction.
Creativity can stem from limitation. Twitter’s 140-character limit, Instagram’s curated selection of filters and Vine’s six second limit are the already-classic examples of the way limitations can make us more creative. But don’t forget about when Facebook forced everyone to have the same profile and the entire Internet left Myspace’s “anything-goes” environment. Or the million uses a little kid can come up with for a cardboard box.
Medium introduces deliberate interface limitations from which more creative and meaningful writing can stem.
Medium can not do everything nor does it try to. It won’t let me tag posts or embed HTML or edit SEO or manage analytics or let me find a million other ways to get distracted. It embraces those limitations (and hopes its users will too) because what it does do it seems to do really well: promote the creation and consumption of high-quality writing. Medium puts the content front and center without distraction. I hope that it works for me, that I write consistently about things other than the interface, because everything points to promising.
Medium only has an Automatic mode and, as a hobbyist, that’s all I want.
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