I was asked to speak at TEDx Midwest by Brad Keywell. Brad was one of the Groupon co-founders, and I met Brad because I served on the Groupon board from 2009 to 2010.
Andrew Mason, Groupon’s CEO, asked me to be on the board.
Scott Heiferman, co-founder of Meetup.com, and a mutual friend of ours, introduced Andrew and me and we had lunch in early 2009.
I had gotten to know Scott over the years after 37signals designed the original Meetup.com site back in 2001–2002.
Scott emailed me back in 2001 asking if he could meet while he was in Chicago visiting family. He liked our early web design work at 37signals. No one had ever asked to meet me out of the blue before — and barely anyone knew who 37signals was — so I was flattered and said yes.
I had started 37signals with two co-founders in 1999. One of those founders was Ernest Kim and the other was Carlos Segura.
A few years earlier, I had interviewed for a job at Organic Online in Chicago. Ernest Kim was the creative director. I didn’t take the job, but Ernest and I hit it off over design and Nike, so we kept in touch.
A few years before that, I was hired on a contract basis by Carlos Segura to help them redesign and rewrite their internal FileMaker Pro database they were using to keep track of their clients.
I made a popular FileMaker Pro-based app in the 90s called Audiofile which helped people keep track of their music collection. Carlos liked the app and the design and found out I was behind it.
I couldn’t find a simple tool to keep track of my growing music collection.
…I can’t remember enough specifics before this, but the chain obviously continues — each link connected to another by a seemingly unrelated event. And I’m sure I’m passing right over a handful of subtle links that made the major links happen.
When you look back on events, it’s pretty incredible how things come together. Nothing happens independently. Everything is tied to something before it. Sometimes the links are more obvious than others, but it’s healthy to take a few moments to reflect on how many things — and people — had to come together in order for another thing to happen.
Osmo Wiio is a Finnish researcher of human communication. He has studied, among other things, readability of texts, organizations and communication within them, and the general theory of communication. His laws of communication are the human communications equivalent of Murphy’s Laws.
If communication can fail, it will.
If a message can be understood in different ways, it will be understood in just that way which does the most harm.
There is always somebody who knows better than you what you meant by your message.
The more communication there is, the more difficult it is for communication to succeed.
And I particularly like his observation that anytime there are two people conversing, there are actually six people in the conversation:
Radically more powerful than any Basecamp before it, it still maintains — and expands on — the straightforwardness and ease-of-use that people around the world have come to know, trust, and love about Basecamp. Basecamp Just Works.
This combination of power, ease of use, and unique approach is why over 5,000 companies and organizations sign up for Basecamp every week. We’re dedicated to continuing to delight them and to try win over a million more with Basecamp 3.
Basecamp 3 is built around the premise that no matter what kind of work you’re doing, there are a few things every team needs: A way to divvy up work, hash things out quickly via chat, make big announcements, keep discussions on-topic, store and organize key files and assets, lay out milestones and deadlines, and have regular check-ins to make sure everything’s all right. These are the simple truths of working together well.
And rather than have to duct tape together a DIY-suite of separate products by separate vendors with different interfaces, separate user accounts, different billing schedules (and prices), and decentralized storage of information (some stuff in this one, some stuff in that one, end up with stuff all over the place, etc), we’ve built everything you need into a single, coherent bundle. That’s what Basecamp has always delivered. And now it’s delivering more of it, better than ever before. There’s nothing else out there like it!
Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing a lot more about Basecamp 3, but I wanted to start by focusing on a few big new things in Basecamp 3:
A large portion of our customers are client services firms. Designers, agencies, dev shops, lawyers, accountants, you name it. People with clients. Client work is their bread and butter, and we wanted to make them the best damn sandwich they’ve ever had.
So with Basecamp 3 we introduce The Clientside — an entirely new, fresh take on working with clients. It’s built right into Basecamp 3 is it’s available on the Basecamp With Clients package.
Basecamp 3’s exclusive “Clientside” feature keeps client feedback on the record and completely separate from the rest of your project. This means your client never sees anything they shouldn’t, and your team doesn’t have to tip toe around worried about saying the wrong things. It eliminates all the anxiety and fear that are often tied to the client-firm relationship.
Further, the Clientside puts zero demands on your clients. They never have to create an account, they never have to log in, they never have to learn a system or install any apps. Everything they do happens via email so there’s no burden on them whatsoever. They don’t have to change a thing, and it’s so much easier for you since you never have to feel like you have to tell them they’re doing it wrong. They can never do it wrong in Basecamp 3. No awkward conversations about tools! Your clients will love you!
If you’ve used a modern chat, collaboration, or messaging app, you’ve probably noticed that there’s a growing expectation of being available all the time. Someone at work hits you up on a Saturday, you get the notification, and what are you supposed to do? You could ignore them, but what’s the expectation? The expectation is “if you’re reachable, you should reply.” And if you don’t reply, you’ll likely notice another message from the same tool or a tool switch to try to reach you another way. And then the pressure really mounts to reply. On a Saturday. Or at 9pm on a Wednesday. Or some other time when it’s life time, not work time.
We don’t believe tools are at fault for this — tools just do what toolmakers build them to do. But we do believe toolmakers can build tools that help you draw a line between work and life. We’ve baked these good manners into Basecamp 3 with a feature we’re calling Work Can Wait.
Work Can Wait lets you set your own notifications schedule. Each person in Basecamp 3 can set up their own work schedule with their own hours. You can of course choose to to receive notifications all the time, 24/7/365, no matter what. Or, you can say Work Can Wait — only send me notifications during my work hours. Then you can set the start time and end time and also mark off which days you work.
Outside of this range, Basecamp will basically “hold your calls”. Notifications will automatically be silenced until it’s work time again. Once the clock strikes 8am, notifications will start back up again. Of course at any time you can go into the web app or native apps and check your notifications yourself, but that’s you making that decision rather than software throwing stuff at you when I’m going for a walk with my son on a Saturday morning.
The more customers we talk to, the most interesting and unusual uses for Basecamp we find. People are using Basecamp for all sorts of things that aren’t traditional “projects”. Us too — we use Basecamp in sorts of ways that no one would define as “projects”. Yet, we’ve always called things “projects” in Basecamp. It’s just too limiting. Time to change that.
For now on, you don’t make projects in Basecamp. You just make Basecamps. This closely follows the language our customers have been using anyway. “Go make a Basecamp for that”… “Let’s make a Basecamp for that!”… “Kick it off by setting up a Basecamp for the client”, etc. Rather than try to swim upstream against our customer’s vocabulary, we’re going to adopt their language and go with the flow. So “projects” are now simply “Basecamps”.
And now when you make a Basecamp for your company intranet it won’t feel so weird. Or a Basecamp for your customer support group. Or a Basecamp for that event that’s coming up. These things aren’t just “projects” — they’re teams, and groups, and departments, and moments. So calling them Basecamps opens up a whole new set of opportunities for everyone to use Basecamp in new ways. We can’t wait to see where people take it.
Communicating in high and low gears
We’ve been running group chat in our business longer than nearly anyone. Back in 2006 we invented the modern business chat tool when we introduced Campfire. For nearly 10 years we’ve experienced all the pros and cons of different kinds of communication methods. So with Basecamp we wanted to introduce a balanced attack. Not just chat. Not just direct messaging. Not just message boards. Not just threads. But all of the above in just the right way in just the right places.
Chat is fantastic for hashing certain things out quickly, but it’s also terrible for long-term organization. And organization is a very important thing when you’re trying to make progress on something with other people. With chat, stuff speeds by on a conveyor belt, conversations are crossed, and it’s just so easy to lose context. People feel like they need to pile in and pile on just so they’ll be heard before that part of the conversation scrolls away forever. Speak NOW or forever hold your peace isn’t a great way to think things through and give ideas due time to develop. Chat also causes anxiety of fear of missing out — they’re often like being in an all-day non-stop meeting.
And traditional message boards are great for long-term organization and keeping discussions threaded, focused, and on-topic, but they are typically too slow for discussions and decisions that require back and forth real-time speed. They can feel frustrating if you want to move quickly or just “toss something in the ring” to see what people think.
So in Basecamp you get both. Chat (we call them Campfires), and traditional threaded discussions (on the Message Board). The best of both worlds in a single tool. We don’t lean in one way or another — they are both equal since both are equally powerful, depending on the situation. You also get “pings” in Basecamp — our version of direct messaging — so you can reach out to people in a separate, personal backchannel.
So two gears… Use Campfires when you want to shift into high-gear and go really fast. But use the Message Board when you want to shift into low gear, get some traction, put together a complete thought, and give people a chance to respond. Use Campfires when you don’t really care about the past, use the Message Board when you know you may want to refer back to something later.
Further, in Basecamp you can have an organized, threaded, on-topic discussion attached to anything. This is one of the real secrets to why so many people love Basecamp. Attach conversations directly to to-dos, files, calendar events. Keep the conversation in context, right next to the thing you’re discussing. It’s so much simpler, tidier, more organized this way. Because discussions aren’t just for who’s part of them now, but also for whoever comes into the company later. Preserve your knowledge in away you can point back to it later — don’t let it just float away.
Simplified packages and unlimited for everyone!
Basecamp has always been “project-gated”. This means you’d have to pay more the more projects you wanted to manage. We’ve torn down the gate in Basecamp 3! Every package includes unlimited Basecamps, plus everyone gets one Basecamp for free forever. Use that one Basecamp however you’d like. When you want to make another, you can select an unlimited use package.
We’ve simplified down to just three straightforward packages. Basecamp For Us for those who aren’t doing client work. Basecamp with Clients for those who do work for clients (this includes the awesome Clientside feature). And Basecamp Big for enterprise customers.
Prices start at just $29/month. That’s total — we never charge you per user. Basecamp pricing is flat and predictable, never variable depending on how many users you invite. People don’t cost a thing in Basecamp. Find out more about our pricing here…
So that’s enough for now!
There’s so much to check out! Please go and sign up for Basecamp 3 and give it a whirl. It’s free to try it out. No time limit.
Thanks to everyone who’s helped us build, test, and beta Basecamp 3! It’s gotten so much better because of you. Check out all the new stuff!
A couple of years ago, I did an experiment: I kicked sugar for three months. I’d have whatever naturally occurred in foods, but I wouldn’t eat anything with added sugar. The goal wasn’t to eat like this forever. I just wanted to know what it felt like to get all that sugar out of my diet. How would I react? What would be different? Would I like it?
The short answer: I felt great. I had way more energy, more balanced days, better mental clarity. But the most surprising outcome came when I reintroduced extra sugar into my diet. During the sugar fast, I wasn’t eating apples, but I tried an apple again. And wow, did I feel it. A sugar high from an apple? That was an eye opener. Even today, with my just-a-tad-of-sugar diet, I can feel the effects of the sweetener in ways I never could before.
I realize this isn’t a health magazine — so why am I talking about sugar? The food detox inadvertently got me to try cutting back on something else I was unknowingly overdosing on: industry news.
Up until about a year ago, I read industry news religiously. I’d load up Hacker News a few times a day, clicking away on the top-voted stories. I’d head over to Reddit and do the same thing on its tech-news subreddit. If I saw something on Twitter linking up a tech-news story, I’d be all over it. Clickity, click click click. I was a tech-news binger.
Then, last summer, I stopped. Cold turkey — just like when I stopped sugar. I had just reached the point at which I could feel an unhealthy level of toxicity piling up inside of me. I felt myself getting too involved, too absorbed, and a bit too anxious about what I was missing, and about what I knew or didn’t know, but thought I should know. I was checking Twitter too often and reloading sites too often. If someone told me about something I hadn’t heard of, I felt like I should have already known about it. Industry news was becoming an addiction.
The first couple of weeks after I cut the cord were challenging. My mind was craving the latest on tech as if it were a substance. While I could steer clear of the tech-news sites, it was difficult not to get hit by friendly fire. I was still on Twitter reading non-tech banter, but then a tech story would suddenly appear in my stream and that uneasy feeling would strike.
Finally, after a few weeks, I began not to miss the news. Whenever I’d see a headline on Twitter, or see people I follow chatting about some new company or technology, I felt a little disgust. It was similar to how I had felt when I saw people gorging on decadent desserts after I’d kicked sugar: It made me sick. So I came up with a new ritual. Every time friends tweeted about tech, I’d use Tweetbot to mute them for 30 days. Eventually my stream was cleansed of all the content I was trying to avoid.
The incredible thing is that a few months into the industry-news detox, I felt better not only mentally, but physically, too. My mind wasn’t on edge, waiting for the next big thing to hit. I was calmer, I found myself with more time, and I was far more focused on stuff I could control, like my product, my company, my person, rather than stuff I couldn’t, like the next “Basecamp killer” or some hot new startup.
It’s now a year later and I still don’t read industry news. Sometimes I’ll accidentally run into it. Sometimes someone will mention something to me wondering whether I’ve heard of it. I’ll often say no and ask for details. And then he or she will tell me about it in a way that’s actually useful, not sensationalized, as most coverage of new things is. I don’t feel disconnected. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s no longer just empty calories: I eventually hear about what’s really important.
Most of the people I know who are money-making-machines got started really early. Lemonade stands, car washes, lawn mowing, baseball card trading. I think the reason they are money-making-machines today is because they started early. They learned the skills of negotiation, pricing, selling, and market-reading early. They have more practice selling than most people. That’s one of the reasons they’re better at it than most people.
Making money takes practice, just like playing the piano takes practice. No one expects anyone to be any good at the piano unless they’ve put in lots practice. Same with making money. The better you practice the better you get. Eventually making money is as easy for you as piano is for someone who’s been playing for 10 years.
This is one of the reasons I encourage entrepreneurs to bootstrap instead of taking outside money. On day one, a bootstrapped company sets out to make money. They have no choice, really. On day one a funded company sets out to spend money. They hire, they buy, they invest, they spend. Making money isn’t important yet. They practice spending, not making.
Bootstrapping puts you in the right mindset as an entrepreneur. You think of money more as something you make than something you spend. That’s the right lesson, that’s the right habit, the right imprint on your business brain. You’re better off as an entrepreneur if you have more practice making money than spending money. Bootstrapping gives you a head start.
So if you’re about to start a business, or if you already have a business and you’re thinking about taking funding, or if you’ve already taken funding and are considering going back for more, consider the alternative. Don’t raise money, raise prices. Sell sell sell. Get as much practice as you can. Force yourself to practice. Force yourself to learn how to make money as early as you can. You may hate it in the short-term, but it’ll make you a great businessperson in the long term.
Much of the tension in product development and interface design comes from trying to balance the obvious, the easy, and the possible. Figuring out which things go in which bucket is critical to fully understanding how to make something useful.
Shouldn’t everything be obvious? Unless you’re making a product that just does one thing — like a paperclip, for example — everything won’t be obvious. You have to make tough calls about what needs to be obvious, what should be easy, and what should be possible. The more things something (a product, a feature, a screen, etc) does, the more calls you have to make.
This isn’t the same as prioritizing things. High, medium, low priority doesn’t tell you enough about the problem. “What needs to be obvious?” is a better question to ask than “What’s high priority?” Further, priority doesn’t tell you anything about cost. And the first thing to internalize is that everything has a cost.
Making something obvious has a cost. You can’t make everything obvious because you have limited resources. I’m not talking money — although that may be part of it too. I’m primarily talking screen real estate, attention span, comprehension, etc.
Making something obvious is expensive because it often means you have to make a whole bunch of other things less obvious. Obvious dominates and only one thing can truly dominate at a time. It may be worth it to make that one thing completely obvious, but it’s still expensive.
Obvious is all about always. The thing(s) people do all the time, the always stuff, should be obvious. The core, the epicenter, the essence of the product should be obvious.
Beyond obvious, you’ll find easy. The things that should be easy are the things that people do frequently, but not always. It all depends on your product, and your customer, but when you build a product you should know the difference between the things people do all the time and the things they do often. This can be hard, and will often lead to the most internal debates, but it’s important to think deeply about the difference between always and often so you get this right.
And finally are the things that are possible. These are things people do sometimes. Rarely, even. So they don’t need to be front and center, but they need to be possible.
Possible is usually the trickiest category because the realistic list of things that should be possible will often be significantly longer than the list of things that should be obvious or easy. That means that some things on the possible list might be better off off the list completely. Instead of making them possible, maybe not making them at all is the right call.
Coming to know the difference between obvious, easy, and possible takes a lot of practice, deep thinking, critical analysis, and, often, debate. It’s a constant learning process. It helps you figure out what really matters.
But once you’re able to see the buckets clearly, and you begin to think about things in terms of obvious, easy, and possible instead of high, medium, and low priority, you’re on your way to building better products.
When collaborating with others — especially when designers and programmers are part of the mix — watch out for these dirty four letter words:
They are especially dangerous when you string them together. How many times have you said or heard something like this:
“We really need it. If we don’t we can’t make the customer happy. Wouldn’t it be easy if we just did it like that? Can you try it real fast?”
Of course they aren’t always bad. Sometimes they can do some good. But seeing them too often should raise a red flag. Be careful when you use them, be careful when you hear them. They can really get you into trouble.
We’ve always felt strongly that we should share our lessons in business and technology with the world, and that includes both our successes and our failures. We’ve written about some great successes: how we’ve improved support response time, sped up applications, and improved reliability. Today I want to share an experience that wasn’t a success.
This is the story of how we made a change to the Basecamp.com site that ended up costing us millions of dollars, how we found our way back from that, and what we learned in the process.
This story starts back in February 2014 when we officially became Basecamp the company. This was a major change — a rebranding, the discontinuation of some products, the sale or spinoff of others, and more. As part of that process, we decided to redesign basecamp.com (our “marketing site”) to reflect that it was not only the home of Basecamp the product but also Basecamp the company.
The result was a fairly dramatic change, both in content and visual style. The redesign extended well beyond just the landing home page (you can browse the archived version before and after we became Basecamp), but the most noticeable change was to the main page, which you can see below.
One very significant change here was that we removed the signup form from the homepage. This wasn’t necessarily the most considered decision; we hadn’t done extensive research or testing recently on the role of the number of steps required to signup for a Basecamp trial. Over the years, we’ve long debated the value of a fast signup (which might bring in more people initially) vs. a well considered signup (which might have fewer initial signups but still retain all of the committed people who would ultimately become paying customers), but as far as I’m aware, we didn’t explicitly decide that we wanted to go for a slower signup. It was one of the many decisions that we made in the course of “Becoming Basecamp”.
We didn’t A/B test this new marketing site initially for a variety of reasons: we were too busy to prepare dramatically different variations, we wanted to present a consistent image at this time of big change, and we liked what we had come up with.
Immediately after we changed the marketing site I noticed that conversion rate had fallen on the marketing site; a smaller portion of people visiting basecamp.com were signing up to try Basecamp than had been before we changed the site. This wasn’t an unexpected effect: we had more traffic coming to basecamp.com because we were redirecting visitors from 37signals.com and we picked up some tech press coverage and traffic from other low-converting sources, so a smaller portion of people signing up wasn’t initially concerning. In the immediate aftermath of Becoming Basecamp, the absolute number of signups held steady, which fit with our expectation as well.
In the first couple of months after we changed the marketing site, signups trended lower than they had at the start of the year. This, too, wasn’t a hugely concerning event by itself: our biggest signup month is always January, and things slow down through late summer and then pick back up again in the fall. Because demand for Basecamp is driven in part by normal cycles within small businesses (many of which start new projects at the start of the calendar year), there’s a fairly strong seasonality to new signups.
It took a while to conclude that the decline in signups we saw through the summer of 2014 was more than normal seasonality. When things didn’t pick back up in the fall, it was clear that there was something else going on. In an internal writeup of our 2014 performance, I wrote:
Things didn’t improve through the first half of 2015, and we discussed it intermittently without making any major changes. Finally, in July we launched an A/B test that brought a signup form back onto the homepage, with immediate and dramatic results: signups increased by 16% in the with-signup-form group compared to the group without. The net impact upon finishing the test and rolling out the change to 100% of traffic was clearly visible:
We’re of course thrilled to have this performance back: at our scale, this sort of improvement is worth millions of dollars in revenue. The period of degraded performance was in no way threatening our livelihood (2014 was our highest revenue year ever, and 2015 is on track to beat it), but it certainly hurt.
Where did we go wrong and what can we learn?
There’s an obvious lesson here: in the specific context of Basecamp at the moment, we get more net paying customers when we make it as easy as possible for people to get started. The marketing site for the new version of Basecamp we’ll be launching soon will include a signup form on the homepage, but this is just the surface level learning from this experience.
The deeper lessons are really about process, and there are two key things that I hope we take away from this experience:
1. We don’t know what will work. We didn’t A/B test this change, which meant it took a long time to notice what happened. An A/B test of the new marketing site vs. old, conducted back in February 2014, would likely have caught the lower performance of the redesign within a couple of weeks. In an A/B test, you hold many external factors constant — the same seasonality effects apply, you can send the same mix of sources to each variation, etc. This lets you draw a more direct connection between what you are changing (the design, and more specifically the number of steps in the signup flow) and signup rates.
Because we didn’t test the redesign, we were limited to making longitudinal comparisons to see how the new marketing site compared to the old. With seasonality and other external effects (for example, when you rename your company and discontinue some products), it’s really hard to identify which of the many things that contribute to the ultimate number of signups we see had what impact, so it took us a while to nail down exactly what was happening.
It’s easy to decide not to test a change — you’re busy, you just know it will be better, you don’t want to risk the confusion that’s always possible anything you’re running a split test. In the future, it will be easy for us to justify spending the time and effort to test a marketing site redesign thoroughly in the future — we’ve learned the hard way what can happen if you don’t do that.
While we’re unlikely to make exactly this same mistake again, it’s worth considering where else we might be making a similar mistake that we aren’t even aware of. Are there areas of the product where we make untested assumptions that might have a big impact either on us as a business or on our customers success at using Basecamp? Can we test our beliefs in a quantifiable way?
2. We didn’t communicate effectively. Because we’re such a small company, many of the decisions about things like where to put the signup form are made by individuals or very small groups without a lot of broader discussion. In this case, that discussion might have brought up the risk associated with removing the signup form from the homepage, and we might have made a different decision back in 2014.
We also failed to take action quickly once we knew what was going on: over six months passed between when we clearly identified the problem and when we took action to address it.
We’re a very project-driven company: we tend to focus on a limited set of things at any given time and work on those very actively. In the time between the redesign and now we’ve collectively worked on a lot of different projects. We launched The Distance, added many new features to Basecamp, worked on many behind-the-scenes projects, and have been hard at work on the next version of Basecamp coming out soon. We also shifted a designer who had been working on things like our marketing site to work on Android, and we explored a bunch of new marketing ideas around advertising, sponsorship, etc.
All of this led to us just not spending a lot of time thinking about our marketing site, and that’s reflected in the pace of testing and refinement that it’s seen. We conducted only 1/3rd as many A/B tests in 2014 as the year before, and made significantly fewer commits to the marketing site’s repository. This all helps to explain why we were so slow to act: with no ongoing project working on the marketing site, we just weren’t spending any time thinking or talking about it.
As a data analyst, I could have done more, too — I knew that we should have A/B tested the redesign when we did it, and I knew that we needed to try bringing back the signup form months before we actually ran a test. In both cases, I either didn’t find the opportunity to make my case or didn’t do it vociferously enough to change the outcome. In hindsight I certainly wish I’d banged the table more loudly.
These were certainly painful and expensive lessons to learn, and we’re fortunate that the fundamentals of our business are strong enough that this wasn’t anywhere near an existential crisis. We’ll be a better company as a result of having gone through this, and hopefully we won’t make the same or similar mistakes in the future.
Today we’re feeling really good because we get to announce that Mercedes De Luca will be joining Basecamp as our first-ever COO.
Over the last few years, David and I have come to realize that high-level strategy and hands-on product development is what we enjoy doing most. But of course there’s so much more to running a company than just that stuff.
Products are products, but companies are products too. Your company should be your best product, since it’s the product that produces all the others. We should operate the company with as much love and attention and care as we put into building our products. We want Basecamp the company to be outstanding at every level.
Mercedes is going to help us be all we can be. She’s been a CEO, a CTO, a CIO, and a GM. She’s run big groups and small groups — local and remote. She has the right mix of a structured, analytical mind and an insightful, creative spirit.
She’s wonderful with people — warm, approachable, and motivated to help everyone else be the best they can be. She’s excellent at spotting gaps, identifying things we should be trying that we’re not, building up capabilities without introducing bloat, and pulling together a team that produces results without compromising what a company stands for. She’s a person of principle and strong character. Her references were glowing — and so many of them touched on just how wonderful a person she is. That had a big influence on us.
We’re fortunate to have her on our team. We’re going to learn a lot, do a lot, and have a lot of fun along the way. And like the majority of our company, she’ll be working remotely (she’s based in California).
We were careful and deliberate with our COO search. We’ve got a great thing going here and the easiest thing to do is to fuck it all up. This is a major role and we don’t want to upset the balance that makes this company what it is today and what it’s been for nearly 17 years. We were looking for someone who would feel like they’ve been here for years, but also someone with a fresh outsider’s perspective. Someone who can push us in new directions and challenge us to do things we may have never done on our own — but never at the expense of the values we hold near and dear.
We talked to contacts we knew, asked others for recommendations, and ultimately hired an executive recruiter to help find the perfect fit. After interviewing an august collection of highly qualified and capable people, Mercedes stood out as the one for us. When it comes to considering a group of people who are all clearly qualified to do the job well, it ultimately comes down to something else — comfort. How do you feel about someone? Who do you click with? Who has the right combination of subtitles, perspectives, and life experiences that add up to something unique? For us, Mercedes had all the right stuff.
She’ll be starting in a few weeks. We think you’ll be able to feel her presence and influence in 2016. With an all new version of Basecamp right around the corner, with the best team we’ve ever had, and with Mercedes joining the crew, we look forward to the new year, the next decade, and beyond. Good stuff on the way.
Designers often talk about the look and feel of a product, an app, an object, etc. These are good concepts to be talking about, but how the thing feels isn’t really the important feel. The important feel is how it makes you feel. That feeling isn’t usually covered by look and feel discussions.
This has recently come into focus for me. The trigger? Instagram.
I’ve been on Twitter (@jasonfried) for years. Since I don’t have a Facebook account, Twitter has been my only social networking outlet. I mostly use it for sharing novel or interesting things I’ve seen or read, the occasional quote, or a point of view, perspective, or epiphany about something business related.
I follow just under 200 people. Some of them I know personally, others I’ve never met, some are brands, some are individuals, some are because of hobbies or special interests, some are dead serious, others funny or silly. It’s a healthy mix, and I try to pay attention to everything that shows up in my feed.
Twitter’s an amazing thing, no question. I think it’s one of the most important products ever, and it’s absolutely changed the way ideas, news, insights, complaints, and casual communications happen.
A few months ago I signed up for Instagram (@jason.fried). I started following a few people — some of the same people I follow on Twitter. Almost immediately I felt something — I felt good! Instagram makes me feel good. I enjoy thumbing through Instagram.
Since then, every time I’ve gone back to Twitter, I’ve noticed I’ve felt anxious, unhappy, uncomfortable. I didn’t notice this before I started using Instagram, because I didn’t have anything to contrast it with. It was just the way it was, and I didn’t think much about how it made me feel.
Every scroll through Twitter puts at least one person’s bad day, shitty experience, or moment of snark in front of me. These are good happy people — I know many of them in real life — but for whatever reason, Twitter is the place they let their shit loose. And while it’s easy to do, it’s not comfortable to be around. I don’t enjoy it.
Every scroll through Instagram puts someone’s good day in front of me. A vacation picture, something new they got that they love, pictures of nature, pictures of people they love, places they’ve been, and stuff they want to cheer about. It’s just flat out harder to be negative when sharing a picture. This isn’t a small thing — it’s a very big deal. I feel good when I browse Instagram. That’s the feel that matters.
So now I have a choice… When I have a few minutes to kill, and my phone is in front of me, I almost always reach for Instagram. I never regret it. I come away feeling the same or better. When I occasionally reach for Twitter, I discover someone’s pissed about something. I often come away feeling worse, feeling anxious, or just generally not feeling great about the world. Twitter actually gives me a negative impression of my friends. I know it’s not Twitter doing it, but it’s happening on Twitter. that’s how Twitter feels to me.
None of this has anything to do with how the apps look or feel. It’s not the buttons, it’s not the animations, it’s not the interface or visual design. It’s not the colors, it’s not the font, it’s not the transitions. It’s how using the apps make me feel before, during, and after. The sense of anticipation (am I about to see something wonderful vs. am I about to get a dose of someone’s bad day?), the things I experience as I scroll through (a butterfly vs. an injustice), and how I feel once I’m done (that was nice vs. fuck that — ugh).
The Twitter vs. Instagram experience is really reinforcing what matters when designing a product. What kind of behavior can we encourage? What kind of moments can we create for people? What do people anticipate before they use something? How does it leave them feeling when they’re done? These are now some of the most important questions for me when working on a design.