Make Music Not Noise

Summary

Can the values of music guide us to create better documentation? We’ll look at examples of noisy documentation and consider how we can use the noise vs. music distinction to improve the world by documenting it better.

sound without structure = noise sound + satisfying structure = music information + satisfying structure = successful documentation

First we’ll examine cases of intentional noise – documents that are designed to be hard to follow. Think convoluted cable bills or droning usage agreements. This is noise with a purpose: if we give up on following along, the document has done its job because the original goal was to make us surrender, not understand. We’ll talk about how to isolate the noise and demand higher standards.

And then there are documents that mean well but perform badly — the audience can discern a melody, but it’s either buried or gratingly inconsistent. Examples include tediously detailed consent forms, haphazard project documents, or reports that drift through random facts and jargon. This is the dissonance of badly structured information — making sound without making sense. Applying a musicality standard can guide authors out of the muck.