Are You Micromanaging Your Font Manager? Part Three of Three - Extensis.com

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Are You Micromanaging Your Font Manager? Part Three of Three

Thursday April 15th, 2010 by Extensis

Over the past two parts of this three part series on the “entropy of over-organization,” we have been discussing the central theme that technological innovation should make things easier not harder. If you’re not feeling your hair blow back when you use a new toy then odds are good you’re still doing it the hard way even though you have new tools. An example: you get a new 1000 rpm food processor with enough torque to crush coal into diamonds. You decide to make a nice gazpacho and spend the next two hours meticulously dicing all your vegetables by hand. Doh! That’s two hours wasted for no reason. Your new food processor has more horsepower than your old car so get into the driving lane! Skip the hand dicing; place whole vegetables into the machine and hit the “puree” button for five seconds = done! It can be that easy if you accept the idea it doesn’t have to be hard. I’m not sure what it is but somewhere between OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), most of us are GUILTY (create your own acronym) of simply spending way too much time obsessing about the wrong things.

Entropy # 3 : Why Have Multiple Font Libraries For No Reason ?

In Suitcase Fusion 2, The “Font Library” is essentially the big box you put your fonts into to keep them separate from your system fonts. You can then create sets and smart sets within the “Font Library” to organize your fonts as you please. An analogy I like to use is the Font Library is like your garage and sets are like cardboard boxes within your garage. All your “stuff” is in the garage no matter what and it can also be in a cardboard box, i.e. a set, if that’s useful for you. When you remove a font from a set (when you pull Aunt Thelma’s ugly lamp out of a cardboard box), the font is still inside the garage. Another simple analogy is iTunes: all your music is in the iTunes music library (“Font Library”) but may or may not be in your “Disco till Dawn” playlist (“set”).

You can only search and activate fonts from within one Font Library at a time so having multiple Font Libraries for no real reason creates entropy. It’s like having two garages for no reason; you have effectively doubled the potential for where the “item is NOT,” as the cat in the hat from Dr. Seuss would say. Here’s a screenshot showing a customer with three Font Libraries when one Font Library with two sets would achieve the same goal with no entropy.

SF2-extra libraries for no reason

Moving from a 1,000 square foot home to a 2,000 square feet home sounds fantastic until you remember oh yea, now I have twice as much to take care of. Honey, are we budgeting for a cleaning service for the new house or am I in charge of furnishing, decorating and cleaning twice as much space now in the same amount of time !?!?

We think we want “more” so we add complexity that creates “more” trouble, “more” maintenance, “more” stress but the path to nirvana is one of subtraction not addition.

Permit me another analogy: Gmail vs Outlook. When Goggle introduced Gmail “back in da day” of 2004 (beta in 2004; public in 2007), a lot of folks migrating from Microsoft Outlook complained, “hey, where are my folders? I need to “organize” my email”! Google replied, “folders are sooooooooo 1985. Search is faster. Don’t over-organize” and the rest as they say is history. A simple and elegant idea: as information scales, a good search algorithm is faster than hierarchical folders. Why? Back to our garage analogy: if you are trying to find Aunt Thelma’s ugly lamp, you can only look in one box at a time. The more boxes you have to look inside, the longer it could potentially take to find what you are looking for. This is the entropy of over-organization. Think of it as a mathematical ratio.  If you keep all your important stuff in the garage within one box you have a 1 in 2 chance of success or 50/50 odds; it’s either in the box or it is not and you will know quickly without confusion or dout. (For the record 50/50 odds is the best odds you will ever get. In Las Vegas it’s called “even money”. Many people think 50/50 odds is a “bad bet” i.e. flipping a coin to make a big decision but it is actually a fair 50/50 chance. Heads or tails. This or not this. On or off.  Zero or one. This is the fundamental duality of the universe and the basic building block on which computers are based). If you have two boxes in your garage instead of one, that is a 1 in 3 chance of success meaning you have a 33% chance of finding what you’re looking for. Aunt Thelma’s lamp could be in box #1, or box #2, or neither box #1 nor box #2. Keep going. 5 boxes = 1 in 6 odds or a 17 percent chance of choosing the right box. What’s the lesson? The more boxes you have to search though, the harder it is to choose the right box and the more likely you are to fail in your quest. Creating more boxes to “organize your stuff” actually decreases your odds of finding what you’re looking for. As a wise man once told me, “A man who has two watches never knows what time it is”.

Considering most of us have gigabytes of email, gigabytes of photos, gigabytes of music, and as a graphics designer, you may have gigabytes of fonts, keeping track of all your “stuff”, all your data, can feel like a full time job in itself. You can hire a physical secretary or a software secretary to manage your assets for you. At Extensis, we create software secretaries to manage your files so you can spend your time doing more exciting things. Perhaps one day we will make robots that can cook, do laundry and deliver beer. We spend a lot of time designing our software to automate mundane tasks and make your life more effortless. Naturally you need some system to keep your life organized but an over-complicated system may be worse than no system at all. You can keep beer in the trunk of your car and your car keys in the fridge if you want to but think of the legwork you’d save if you kept your beer in the fridge! As life gets more complex, always remember the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Sexy) and take as many kisses as you can get.