“In design, there are so many stakeholders—the tech people, the client, the designers—and designs are hard to describe in words,” he says. Having examples on hand helps speed the process: “In creative work, you infer and build expertise from looking at a huge corpus of examples.” Klemmer notes that art students learn what makes a good painting not by studying lists of criteria but by looking at example after example, good paintings and bad. What makes good design can be as difficult to articulate as what makes a good painting, especially when people with different vocabularies—Web designers, programmers, and customers—are trying to communicate.
Klemmer, who is 33, initially planned to be an artist and graphic designer. When he was doing his undergraduate work at Brown University, he says, he was inspired by how much computers could do to facilitate creative work. An internship at Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen’s think tank Interval Research cemented his ambition to create software tools for designers. Klemmer says one of Interval’s goals was to develop the generation of user interface tools that would come after the graphical user interface.
A similar ambition underpins Klemmer’s work today: he wants to make the Web more accessible. Today’s Web user is probably on a mobile device, and as the population ages, more Web users will have limited vision or motor skills. But making a new version of a site for every type of user or device is incredibly time-consuming. With the tools he’s developing, a designer could make one canonical version of a website and then develop software that automates the conversion of this design into versions that work for the increasingly wide variety of people who may be viewing it.