Design lesson: Consistency, confusion, and context

CONSISTENCY

When looking at a single screen, the button shape and centering is consistent. Further, a primary button is called out using size, color, and placement – in line with interface guidelines.

CONFUSION

Stop up top on the Timer, stop down at the bottom on the Alarm. The Timer and Alarm designs look so similar that visual/muscle memory can lead you to tap the wrong button. Confusing!

CONTEXT

Ah, this is what you really want. A design steeped in context. It’s an alarm clock, and you often want to snooze one of those – especially early in the morning when you’re randomly smacking at things, hoping to hit the right thing. So make Snooze huge – no more hunting for that small button in a field of black. And make stop larger too. You could use this with your eyes closed as long as you know the shape of the phone, and which side is up/down. (Note: this is a conceptual design by Alex Cornell)


Finding a mentor

People tend to look for mentors who are too far afield. A mentor who’s 20 or 30 years on in their career. I think this is misguided.

I think most are far better off seeking mentorship from someone who’s just a little bit ahead of them. Someone who’s a year or so in front. Someone who just went through what you’re going through, not someone who went through it a decade ago.

So if you’re starting a brand new business, talk to someone who started theirs a year ago. Or if you’re about to sign your first office lease, talk to someone who just signed theirs. Or if you’re about to hire your first employee, get advice from someone with a two-person company, not 200. I think there’s a good chance the advice will be more helpful.

That’s not to say you can’t learn from an expert in their field, or that you shouldn’t trust anyone who’s been there done that years ago, but that I believe most of your advice should be relevant advice. And relevancy benefits from recency. Memories fade and myths form over time – the closer someone is to the actual events you’re asking them about, the more relevant the advice has a chance to be.

Yes, history has much to teach us, but history also has much to trick us. Last week is a better predictor of this week than last decade would be.


Basecamp turns 15

Yesterday, February 5th, was Basecamp‘s 15th birthday. As a company we’ve been around for 20 years (we used to be called 37signals), but one random Thursday back in 2004 marked the beginning of Basecamp, the product.

And we launched it right here in this post on this very blog, Signal vs. Noise. The blog looked a lot different then, but the spirit’s the same. And here’s a link to the original home page, as well.

The comments are especially interesting to read after all these years. They give you insight into what a launch is like – uncertainty, “I needs” and immediate feature requests, doubt, praise, questions, etc. Every launch is a mixed bag of emotions and opinions. Ours, potential customers, lovers, haters, etc. But that’s what makes it exciting! No one really knows what’s going to happen. Launch day is the easiest day you’ll ever have – it only gets harder from there on out.

There are so many people to thank. Our 100,000 paying customers, our incredible crew who’ve put in over a million collective hours developing the product, supporting our customers, and keeping the machine humming. It’s truly a continued honor to get to work with such bright, interesting, talented, thoughtful, and kind human beings.

But let’s also recognize that we have luck and fortuitous timing to thank. They are a large part of our success. I didn’t used to think luck played a part. I didn’t believe in timing. It’s easy for your ego to dismiss those things as something you didn’t need because you’re so fucking good. Probably not. Of course I was younger and dumber back then. I’ve since learned that luck and timing play an outsized role in anyone’s success. No need to hide from that. It doesn’t make you less of a person, or less of an entrepreneur, to admit you rode the wave of luck.

So, here’s to continued luck! Let’s make it another 15, 20, 25! Thank you everyone.

Psst: We’re hoping luck and timing come together again later this year.

I’ll pay what they’d pay

I wish ad-supported services could look at my average usage (# of pages I’ve viewed, ads I’ve seen, etc), and give me an option to directly pay them the same amount they would have charged the advertisers for my slice of views/clicks/etc. No ads for me, they get paid as if they were serving me ads.

I’ll even put my credit card on file. Just show me a running receipt of the charges I’m running up. They get paid the same amount as an advertiser would pay them, I get to support a publication I like, everything’s transparent, and anyone can opt in or out. Don’t want ads? Pay your own way. Ok with ads? Let advertisers support your usage.

Silicon Valley has become especially good at turning software, the highest margin product ever, into many of the worst performing businesses imaginable. With few exceptions, the amount of money being lost by the leaders of the new school is absolutely staggering.

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

David Foster Wallace, “This is Water”

Kara Swisher and I shoot the shit (and some sacred cows)

Last week I was in NY to record a podcast with Kara Swisher of Recode. I’ve been reading and watching Kara for years, so it was a distinct thrill to finally get to sit opposite her and talk tech, business, VC, why it doesn’t have to be crazy at work, and a variety of other topics. We covered a ton, and it was a fun conversation.

You can listen to the full podcast here. You’ll also find an intro article as well as a lightly edited transcript for the roughly one hour conversation. Hope you dig.

And BTW, if you didn’t know, we have our own podcast called The REWORK Podcast. We record new episodes every two weeks, and sometimes hit with a bonus episode on off weeks. We hope you’ll listen in there as well.

Busy is the new stupid

Looks like I may be doing it right. This is exactly why we don’t have shared calendars at Basecamp.

At Basecamp, everyone controls their own calendar, and no one can see anyone else’s schedule. You can’t claim time on anyone else’s calendar, either. Other people’s time isn’t for you — it’s for them. You can’t take it, chip away at it, or block it off. Everyone’s in control of their time. They can give it to you, but you can’t take it from them.

And by the way, this isn’t a special privilege for ownership or the CEO. Everyone controls their own days at Basecamp. Time isn’t a commodity we trade. No one can turn your day into theirs.

Note: We have a whole chapter called “Calendar Tetris” in It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work on this very topic. You’ll find it on page 62.

Get to know Max Büsser – a creative powerhouse

Maximilian Büsser is the MB in MB&F. They make wholly original mechanical creations – most of which tell time and fit on your wrist. MB&F’s machines are an acquired taste, and they’re priced out of reach for most, but they’re undeniably creative. I have deep respect for what they make, and how they make it.

Max is the creative force behind the whole thing. And he’s a remarkably thoughtful and insightful fellow. Humble, too. It’s hard to imagine how he manages to make a business like his work, but he does. And then some.

In this wonderful interview (embedded below), Max explains how and where he got his start. How he serendipitously found a mentor. How he mustered the courage to just go for it. Why he collaborates and who/what inspires him. How being a trained engineer allows him to push through and find solutions rather than be roadblocked at someone else’s “this won’t work”. Why creativity isn’t a democracy. He goes into just how challenging it all is, but also how natural it all feels. He also gets very personal and honest about his painful childhood – a childhood which clearly fueled his future drive to find his friends and collaborators.

The one-hour interview is one of the best things I’ve heard in a long time about creativity, business, product design, art, purpose, challenges, going your own way, seeing a vision through, and figuring it all out as you go.

It’s well worth your time. Please listen in:

Note: If the embed above doesn’t work for you, here’s a link to the interview on HODINKEE.com. You can also find the HODINKEE Radio podcast anywhere you subscribe to podcasts.


Putting on some wait

I’m generally patient over the long term, but I can be impatient in the short term. But, really, what’s the rush? Why the hurry? I’ve been asking myself this question more and more lately.

A new year is a good excuse to make a change, so in 2019 I’ve decided to put on some wait. In practice this means choosing the slower option whenever possible.

For example, when shopping online, I’m picking the slowest shipping option (I used to always pick the fastest one). Related, I’ve also cancelled my Amazon Prime membership. I only used it for fast shipping, so it’s of no use anymore.

When confronted with two lines at the grocery store, I’m choosing the longer one.

Even small things like waiting for the next walk symbol. Yeah there’s a good 8 seconds to get across the street, but it’s close enough to just wait.

Whenever there’s an opportunity to pick the wait, I’m picking it. And I’m not filling my time with other things I have to do while waiting – I’m genuinely waiting. Waiting while doing nothing. Idling. If I’m in line, and it’s moving slowly, I’m not reflexively reaching for my phone to soak up the dead space. I’m just enjoying having absolutely nothing to do.

In the end, after all this waiting, I suspect I won’t miss anything. I’ll just have waited. In fact, I think I’ll actually find something: Additional, special moments with nothing to do. Sacred emptiness, a space free of obligation and expectation. New time to simply observe.

In a world where everyone seems to be super busy all the time, bumping into more moments with nothing to do seems like a real discovery.