Synaesthesia: What a common neurological condition taught me about context within web applications

This fall, thanks to some inspiration from a few of my fellow developers, I finally finished up an MVP version of the Chrome Extension I started early this summer. It’s my first Extension, is very simple in nature, but accomplishes a goal that’s very important to me as a developer: make use of simple visual cues to indicate to me which Google AppEngine application dashboard I’m viewing at any given time. In other words, have Chrome alert me as to whether I’m dealing with dev, test, demo, or prod data (prod being the most sensitive by virtue of it being live customer data).

As someone with colour-grapheme synaesthesia, I’m very familiar with the benefits of added visual context, so this certainly influenced my development. And, since synaesthesia seems to be a universally-interesting topic (to non-synaesthetes, at least), I decided to talk about it at both BarCamp Saskatoon and Ideas On Tap (a monthly open-house at my workplace).

I’m always amazed at the number of questions people have for me when they learn about my ‘condition’. Keep in mind that synaesthesia is about as exciting to me as your sense of smell is to you. Despite the absurdity (to me) of the questions, I’m always happy to answer, so this was a particularly fun talk to give.

Bottom line: When it comes to creative writing (be it essays or software), write what you know.
Next-to-bottom line: Your name is probably red.

If you’re a GAE developer, check out my extension on the Chrome Web Store. Or, if you’re really enthused, submit feature requests, bug reports, or pull requests on GitHub.

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