Mr. Jobs had a fascinating desire to make the internals of his Macintosh computer as aesthetically pleasing as the outside. There is something uniquely meaningful to us about this aim that at first thought one cannot describe. The affect of his aim lies in something we call "artisanship". That is: a perception of additional value that is orthogonal to the perceivable value that could have otherwise have been excavated if the producer had chosen to invest time in it.
Perhaps because we realize time is finite and intrinsically meaningful we perceive the time invested into the intrinsic beauty of the totality of the object as aesthetic and are more willing to ascribe it a higher value.
Software is different from hardware in that a physical product is, in a way, an authoritative truth: it is materially in front of you as a "thing" that isn't easily transformed into something else. Software, on the other hand, suffers (and benefits) from the attribute of being an "iterable truth". It has little to no material cost besides time and due to its non-material anchoring is infinitely malleable. Unlike a physical good, software does not trigger the instinctive quality heuristic to "measure twice cut once". An incorrect cut may be metaphorically "undone" by throwing away the wood because the wood costs little to nothing. There is no penalty for the failure to prepare and measure it seems.
In the continued search for universal principles of application I often wonder whether the artisanal dimension of a product is applicable to the digital world. While that would be my hope – as there is little more satisfying than the comfort of a universal principle to justify your stubborn investment in perfection – evidence continues to suggest the contrary.
Perhaps the phenomenon of artisanal beauty is unique only to products that exist in material domains; however, at times I wonder if the contemporary technology myth of "moving quickly and allowing things to break" has become too saturated in the collective compass to see other approaches. Does real world artisanal software exist? Would the end customer even care?
Maybe artisanal software is produced for the joy in craft of the creator rather than the consumer. Comically a lot like life in a way.
Kind thanks to Alex Y of Pexels for the cover image