He said, “Draw me a sheep.” So then I made a drawing.
He looked at it carefully, then he said: “No. This sheep is already very sickly. Make me another.” So I made another drawing.
My friend smiled gently and indulgently. “You see yourself,” he said, “that this is not a sheep. This is a ram. It has horns.”
So then I did my drawing over once more. But it was rejected too, just like the others. “This one is too old. I want a sheep that will live a long time.”
By this time my patience was exhausted[...] So I tossed off this drawing. And I threw out an explanation with it. “This is only his box. The sheep you asked for is inside.”
I was very surprised to see a light break over the face of my young judge: “This is exactly the way I wanted it!”
— Excerpt from The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Web Department at the Library is daily asked to solve problems ranging from a single sentence on a web page to designing and building, and redesigning large, complex websites for a wide audience. Some solutions seem easy and obvious, but too often we discover that the easy, obvious solutions are not always the best.
Three lessons in creative problem solving from The Little Prince:
- Don’t be afraid to abandon what has already been built. Just as the little prince chose to leave his planet to explore other worlds, sometimes the best way to create a better user experience on our websites is to let go of everything we have and begin at the drawing board. Old solutions can blind us to the possibilities that creative new solutions can offer.
- What seem to be matters of consequence can distract from the truth. The businessman who believes he owns the stars because he can count them, write down the number, and put it in a vault fails to see that his claim to ownership provides no benefit either to him or to the stars. In web design, we must understand the purpose and benefit of each piece of content, function, and element of design to our audience.
- Leave room for imagination. The sheep in the box given by the narrator to the little prince is unseen by all, yet both characters agree that it will be exactly the sheep that the little prince needs. Good design can allow different audiences to experience the same website in the way that meets their needs, whether it’s to find a book, learn about an event, or research local history.