Walking through doors

On doors in life and in software

February 4, 2022
Jonathan Libov

The Doorway Effect is a psychological phenomenon in which one is prone to forget things they otherwise would not have forgotten had they not walked through a door.

Thank goodness for The Doorway Effect because for as much as we all strive to improve our memory — if I were a more accurate and fecund witness to my own history, I might be coaching in the Super Bowl — remembering everything, from the intellectual to the emotional, seems burdensome. Forgetting is part of how we cope with the monotony of everyday life and how we look at problems in new ways.

Doors are so important and so often overlooked. Walking through a heavy door with a tactile doorknob is one of the simple, great pleasures in life. Simon Sarris, in his series on Designing a New, Old Home:

Hardware [in modern homes] is of poor quality, even in half-million-dollar-plus homes. Cheap and ugly faucets, light fixtures, doorknobs, and paper-thin doors dominate...[These] homes are not built by people intending to live in them. Instead, they are built by builders, who mostly want to flash-form 60 “units” overnight out of sticks and drywall. Everything from sun positioning to doorknobs becomes not just an afterthought, but a no-thought…How much you spend on something like knobs is up to you, but my feeling is that the hardware you physically interact with, the things you touch every day, are worth the extra cost. They should be heavy and feel like solid, purposeful objects, and not a hollow piece of brass connected to a hollow door.

In my first few years living in New York City post-college, I lived in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn and took the Q train back and forth to the office where I worked near Union Square. The Q train travels on the Manhattan Bridge, which at the right times of day and times of year provides an immaculate, sun-low-in-the-sky view of the Brooklyn waterfront and the Financial District. When I crossed the bridge at the end of the day, daytime was unambiguously over.

I struggled severely working from home during the pandemic. Working from home while trading off with my wife looking after the kid, and then the kids as of July 2021, was unrelenting. Even our walks outdoors felt like a mere amble over to a different part of the room, or, at best, a slick passage through a cheap, hollow door.

I’ve been going to an office every single day since June 2021. The subway ride on the 4 train, from where I live in now in Brooklyn, isn’t as cleansing—inasmuch as a subway ride can be cleansing—as those rides on the Q train, but it’s cleansing nevertheless. As is getting up from my desk and walking over to a meeting room for a meeting, be it over Zoom or, ideally, in-person.

Surely some part of this is my approaching middle age. Like anyone who was young during the Great Depression who carried frugality and economic unease throughout their entire life, I have some calcified sense of how a productive day should be shaped. And that’s not to dismiss how much never-leave-your-home Zoom has changed my life: I raised money for a company that way.

Much as homes have exterior and interior doors, our work life has exterior doors (the office and meeting room doors) and interior doors (whatever is on our computer screen). These are doors:


In that vein, we ask every potential new hire at our company about their flow state. Where were you the last time you completely lost yourself in your work? What room were you in? What time was it? What app(s) did you have open? Who were you talking to, or not talking to? We think it’s our job to align everyone’s flow state with their personal mission at the company.

For now we don’t use Slack; we used Teamflow for some time but it fell into disuse. Strong opinions held loosely here, but I feel quite strongly that a team huddled in one giant room (where a different channel in Slack is more like ambling over to another part of the same room than entering a different room) is a huge tax on productivity and, in turn, improving and thriving in your craft. This is true even of group Figma collaborations; conversing and commenting in Figma is technically spatial but it’s mainly linear. That’s why it’s easy to discuss UI in Figma and very difficult to discuss product. We inevitably end up rewriting and organizing lots of comments from the Figma in a Google Doc, because doors.

Focusing almost exclusively on productivity rather than serendipity and camaraderie is of course a choice. It’s by no means to suggest that as a team we don’t experience any camaraderie; quite the opposite, when we congregate to show our work it’s all the more joyous because there are bright lines between meetings and the rest of our time, which is primarily devoid of meetings. I’d like to think we enjoy our time together all the more, because doors.