Thorny explained with gifs


I feel pain designing software because of all the decisions. A design problem is not just one but a whole bunch all tangled together. Change one decision and I have to revisit the rest e.g. if we move the sign-in to the top, now we have to move the search somewhere else.

Our typical method is to make each decision in turn. If we hit a problem, backtrack and revisit past decisions. This is quick and easy for small projects but as we scale up, it all changes.


When we tackle big problems, this happens:

The limits of our working memory mean that as we bring something into mind, something else is lost. When we design something over months with 100s of pages, we have so many interconnected decisions that it exceeds what we can keep in mind at one time. We often can't even recall our reasoning and start to make silly mistakes and change things we shouldn't. It's so painfully overwhelming we want to rage quit just like the poor fellow above!


Great designers can do this:

They can think holistically and can keep all the decisions in mind at once. They can optimise an outcome as a single problem. But, add a few more oranges, and they too come undone.

I want to make us all 10x greater designers. I think it's possible by capturing rationale as we make decisions. This can help us solve our immediate problem, let us master tangled complexity and make it effortless to revisit and improve past decisions. With the right tool, we can make thinking additive, and not drop any balls at all.


I have experimented with visual tools like flow diagrams and mind-maps but I found that if the tool added any friction, like clicking around, then I didn’t want to use it. When I needed the tool most was when I was tired and frustrated. It could not add mental effort otherwise it would gather dust. To make a tool I would actually use, it had to be no more effort than quick note-taking.

So what I have today is simple flavours of bullet-point to capture reasoning. It has a solver to bring this notation to life and ripple the consequences through networks of decisions. It means I can work on a project containing 3000 active decisions interconnected by 10000 reasons and I don’t feel overwhelmed. I feel in control.


Would you use it?

Drop me a line and tell me why [email protected] or subscribe with the big green button.