Serpent Feet

by Jin, 09-30-08 // 5 comments

Throughout history and cross cultures, the snake is often used as a symbol. One of my favorite Chinese idioms was originated from a lore involving a snake.

“Drawing a snake and adding feet to it.”

Drawing Snake

During the Chu era, a Noble man rewarded his servants a bottle of fine wine after a ceremony. The wine wasn’t enough for everyone, so the servants decided to have a snake drawing contest. Whoever finished first would keep the wine all to himself. One servant finished drawing very quickly. Seeing that the others were still nowhere near being finished, he went ahead added feet to the snake. Then another servant finished, and grabbed the bottle started drinking the wine. As the first servant was about to object, the second servant said to him “A snake doesn’t have feet. What you drew isn’t a snake.”

Knowing when to stop is a difficult thing to do. As designers, we like to put that “finishing touch” on our work. However, our creative and anal retentive (generalization alert) nature tends to make us put that “finishing touch” on the previous “finishing touches,” and so on. Over elaboration not only causes us to spend unneeded time and effort, but also, the end result may not be what the client wanted. Thus is the danger of scope-creep.

I was certainly guilty of this when I first started my career. I think the root of this was because I often associated the quality of design with the amount of time spent on it. When in fact, the quality of a design has nothing to do with time spent on it. The quality of a design comes from simplicity and a clear vision.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

- Leonardo da Vinci

Even these days, I’m notoriously excessive when it comes to post processing a photo. Sometimes, a single adjustment layer achieves the effect perfectly.

I’m just as bad when it comes to writing, though getting slightly better. The quality of writing isn’t measured by its length. On that note, good night and thanks for reading.


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Bob J 10-01-08

I can relate to this completely.

Bryan Chain 10-01-08

I also can, I consider myself a bit of a “feature whore” when it comes to building websites. If a feature is available, I feel compelled to use it.

Jin 10-01-08

@Bob, Bryan: I think we all can relate, regardless the field we work in. Yes, totally feel you on the “feature” thing. I think programmers have it worse than designers.

Dmitry 10-02-08

What the hell — now you beat me to my post ideas ;P I’ve drafted a similar post for my blog — but don’t like what I have so I keep reworking it, which is ironically what the post is about.

I love the story about the snake feet though. Post more Chinese lore ;)

Jin 10-02-08

@Dmitry, YUS! +1 for Jin! I hear ya about the draft. the original version of this article was four paragraphs longer. So I took my own advice and trimmed it down.