Jeff Bezos has always been one of those people whose ideas and thinking make a lot of sense to me. When he talks, I listen.
So when I recently came across a fantastic interview with Jeff Bezos, I jumped right in. The entire interview is great and I really think watching the whole thing is worth your time. But there was one section that really stuck out to me: his prioritization of sleep, calm, and quality.
8 hours of sleep a night. He goes to bed early and wakes up early. He thinks better, has more energy, and his mood is better when he gets the right amount of sleep, all of which contribute to making him an effective decision maker. The opposite can hold true too — being tired or grouchy can lead to bad decisions.
Puttering (yes, this is an official Bezos term). Bezos’ morning routine isn’t manic or hectic, it’s quite the opposite — he putters around, taking his time and slowly ramping up. This is his time to read the paper, have coffee, and eat breakfast with his kids. It’s really important to him that he have a slow, calm start to the day, which is also why he insists on no meetings before 10 a.m.
High quality decision making. He likes to do his “high IQ” meetings before lunch because that’s when he’s sharpest, and he knows by 5pm he’ll be wiped. Anything that’s important that pushes late into the day gets rescheduled for 10 a.m. the next day. He recognizes that he “only” needs to make a few key decisions a day, not thousands of small ones. If he can make three high quality decisions a day, that’s plenty good.
This is astonishing and inspirational for all the right reasons. For all we hear about how awesome it is that people are constantly “hustling”, working 20 hour days, sending 50 emails from bed, and squeezing every minute of the day for max productivity, we have in front of us Jeff Bezos — one of the most successful business people in the world— puttering.
Sleep. Calm. Prioritizing. Quality over quantity. Recognizing limits. These are the kinds of principles that have made him a wild success in the long run. I think we’d all do well to mimic these practices.
Basecamp 3’s Message Board is a central place for your team to post updates and gather feedback on the record. It’s great for announcements, internal pitches, and just bouncing ideas back and forth.
Since Basecamp 3 first launched, the Message Board has been sorted so new posts appear at the top with older ones below. That’s great most of the time, but many of you have asked for other ways to sort your posts.
New ways to sort
With this update, we’ve added a new sort order setting to Basecamp 3’s Message Boards. You can access this setting on your computer, tablet, or phone from the menu in the upper right corner of the Message Board:
Now, you can sort your posts three ways:
By original post date: Messages posted recently will always be shown first. This is still the default setting.
By latest comment: Messages with new comments be shown first. This keeps the most active discussions right up at the top.
Alphabetically A-Z: Messages will be sorted based on their title. If you use the Message Board like a table of contents for your team or company, this option will come in handy.
Applies to everyone on the project
Whatever you choose, this will affect everyone on the project. That way, everyone will know where to put things and where to find things—you’ll all see posts in the same order.
Different projects, different settings
Each project has its own setting. If you prefer organizing your Company HQ alphabetically, your client projects by latest comment, and your marketing team by original post date that’ll work great!
What’s more, Message Board posts on your project’s home screen will remember your sort order, too:
We hope this update gives you more flexibility and makes the Basecamp Message Board even more useful. Let us know what you think!
Right now I’m exploring designs for a new product idea. R&D work like this depends on having good mental and emotional energy. Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t.
When you’re energetic and motivated, great things happen spontaneously, in unpredictable bursts of inspiration.
But when you’re tired, distracted, or in the weeds on something, it’s usually better to stop working. Just admit (temporary) defeat and give yourself a chance to regroup. Do something else that’s less taxing, or call it quits and start again later.
I always find this difficult to do, because the working world tells us that full-time employees should put in 8+ consecutive hours no matter what. So what if you’re frustrated, burned out, or not making much progress? Too bad, gotta punch the clock! Back to the grind! Grind it out!
The problem is, grinding it out is counterproductive for creative work, because creativity doesn’t happen on a linear time scale. Forcing it usually makes things worse. If you drain your human gas tank all the way to empty, you’ll get even more burned out. And then your bad mood and low energy spills over to another workday, prolonging the creative drought.
Don’t do that! Walk away instead, and leave it for your future, better self to look at with fresh eyes.
Then start thinking about productivity in terms of quality time instead of clock time. You might end up making the same progress with only 20 energetic hours that you would have made in 60 tired hours.
Once you get in the habit of that, you can optimize your schedule around your own energy and enthusiasm. I’m usually at my creative peak in the mid-morning and lose steam after lunch, so I shuffle my work accordingly. I do exploratory freeform stuff in the morning, and I save routine tasks (like implementing something I already know how to do) for the afternoon. I also have a rather short attention span, so I take tiny breaks a lot.
Your schedule might be the opposite. But whatever it is, give yourself the freedom to go with the flow, or shut off the flow altogether. Some days suck and you have to cut your losses. Other times you just need to walk away for 20 minutes to get a flash of inspiration.
The key is to be self-aware and completely flexible about time. Dump the clock. You’ll be much happier and more effective, and your work will still get done in the end.
There’s a sentiment in hiring I’ve run into recently. The idea goes that you want to see how someone works “under pressure” before you hire them. What does that look like? You build in a step with a task, add a tight deadline, and wait to see how the applicants cope.
In the worst cases, there is an expectation that giving any help to the applicant would skew the results. And besides, that quick turnaround helps keep the hiring timeline nice and short! That’s always a win. Or is it?
Let’s think about what this looks like to your new colleague. On their first few interactions with you, they get an arbitrary dreadline. The first taste of working with you is rancid and sour and artificial. Stress Max. All the angst, none of the calories. You’ve told them that applying for this job is the most important thing in their life. To drop everything and show you how they cope when times are tough. That asking for help is a weakness.
You’ve also rigged the result. You are far more likely to end up with someone who looks like the people who already passed through the fire. That pressure you are applying presses harder on people who are shorter on time. You might rationalize it to yourself with a “it’ll only take an hour, two tops”. And it is easy to feel that way when it’s your only responsibility. When you are finishing up your 3rd job, or working and caring for a relative, finding precious minutes to do this extra task well can feel impossible. You either accept that you’ll do second-rate work, or you cut into your sleep, or you let down the people relying on you for a chance at a better life. Suddenly, that pressure is costing you a chance to see the potential of your candidates. And for what? A weak simulacrum of the worst possible experience of working at your company.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look at the work. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have constraints. Looking at the work is one of the best tools we have to decide on who to work with. You can and should choose the scope of the work with care. Show the applicants what working with you looks like for real. Warts and all. If your business values thoughtful, careful work, give the applicant the time and support to do their best work. Treat them the way you treat the rest of your colleagues. Build up the trust battery, from the very first interaction. Make it clear how to get help, and what good work looks like.
Adding pressure to a system without a safety valve is a recipe for explosions.
Jason Fried and DHH talk more about dreadlines and the trust battery in their newest book: It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work. Check out the chapters “Hire the work, not the résumé”, “The trust battery” and “Dreadlines”. You can find out more at basecamp.com/books/calm
Every essay in Jason and David’s previous titles, REWORK and REMOTE is accompanied by an illustration that captures the key message of the essay. Contract llustrator Mike Rohde’s iconic original art perfectly compliments the irreverent and contrarian tone of the books. We love the format and it has worked well for us but when it came time to design the new book, Jason was eager to try something new. He reached out to the Basecamp team for fresh ideas.
At the time the working title of the book was The Calm Company, which was less provocative but perfectly captured the kind of company we want to have here at Basecamp—the kind of company prescribed in the book. Jason had already asked our team to pitch ideas for the jacket design and with two best-selling books behind us there was a sense that we could take even more of the production in-house. Having already contributed some spot illustrations to Basecamp’s marketing in recent years, I eagerly started work on concepts for It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work.
From the onset, I felt pretty strongly that the illustrations could be valuable content in themselves rather than simply complimenting the text. So I explored ideas that featured a running narrative that could tell a parallel story of a company that’s anything but calm. I considered graphic novel style spreads, comic strips and even something like Sergio Aragones’ “marginals” in Mad Magazine. I also explored ideas in the style of cartoons in the New Yorker that wouldn’t directly relate to the essays but would be satirical vignettes of situations where it’s crazy at work.
Here are the original sketches I shared with Jason and Basecamp marketing designer, Adam Stoddard, a few weeks later in a video call.
I pitched each of these ideas but it was the sketch featuring a blurb about Charles Darwin that we found ourselves most excited about. I had remembered reading an article about Darwin’s daily routine several months before and that had sparked the idea to feature famous people—both current and historical—who had done great things without embracing the extreme work habits that are so often praised today. The illustrations would introduce these figures to readers, reinforcing that it truly doesn’t have to be this way. After all, if Darwin could write one of the most important works in modern science working only 3 hours a day whatever you’re spending 80+ hours a week doing probably isn’t quite as important. So I ran with the concept enlisting our own Wailin Wong to identify, research, and write the blurb for each figure.
We had a tight deadline—only about 60 days from concept to delivery of the final art—so I got right to work exploring visual styles. Modern illustration, especially in the tech world, seems uniformly clean and over-simple so I knew I wanted to try something more unrefined and irreverent. I also had the sense that these should be draw by hand with real materials. Partly for practical reasons like printing at high resolution but also so that the original art would actually exist for posterity. Maybe we’d frame and display them in our office or give them away. So I explored several approaches that shared a loose, rough feel and Adam popped them into the interior layouts he’d been working on.
They ranged from just bad to outright weird but the idea seemed to be taking shape. I especially liked the ones that were in a more editorial cartoon style and include a prop or other visual gag (such as Darwin’s iguana) but these illustrations needed to feel like a consistent set and I was concerned about finding equally interesting themes for 20+ figures. We decided the more realistic, but slightly unhinged portrait (second row, left) was the way forward. As a final proof of concept I drew two additional subjects from our list in the same style and we submitted the idea to the publisher.
With approval in-hand I got down to work. How many illustrations would ultimately appear in the book depended, in part, on the final page imposition. We hoped for at least 12 but I drew about twice that many so we were ready if there was room for more and so that there was some opportunity for editorial changes. That meant I had to average about one finished illustration per day to meet the deadline—oh and still leave enough time for my normal work.
At first I started splitting my days in half. In the mornings I’d do my normal design work at Basecamp and then I’d switch gears and work on illustrations for the book in the afternoons. This didn’t work out well at all. For one thing, it was easy to let the morning’s work spill over into the early (or late ) afternoon. It was also really difficult to switch between such different tasks. To boost my output and provide less frequent context switching I tried splitting my week into two parts: two days on product design and two on illustration. It was better but I still wasn’t working at full speed. Things only kicked into high gear once I decided to go all-in on drawing and fully immerse myself in the project, ignoring everything else. How much difference did it make? In the first 10 days of the project I did 7 pieces. In the last 6 full-time days I completed 17! Even though it meant putting my regular work on hold for a few days, ultimately by focusing intently I finished the work far ahead of schedule and spent less time than I anticipated overall.
Since the art would be printed in black and white in the book, I settled on ink and paper for the original art. Even though it would be hand-drawn on paper, I actually did my rough sketching digitally with Procreate on iPad Pro. Why? Speed. Working digitally meant I could easily erase, redraw, resize, move, stretch, copy and skew my drawing as I refined each sketch. Nose, too big; eyes too small? It’s just a matter of seleting and resizing instead of erasing and drawing again. What I could do in seconds with the tools in Procreate would have required dozens on redraws on paper.
Drawing portraits of people you don’t know and can’t observe in-person is a tricky thing to do so I had to gather publicly available image references for each figure. Google Images was instrumental in this, in particular because it allowed me to see many images of a person all together. Studying a subject from many angles, in different situations, and even at different times in their lives allowed me to create exactly the portrait I imagined for each person.
The portraits of Maya Angelou and Stephen Hawking are examples of this that I’m particularly proud of. I had a pretty clear idea going in about how I wanted to represent them and a wide range of reference photos of these well-known figures gave me all the image data I needed. In both cases the final piece is a somewhat ageless portrait that represents their character without recalling a particular, recognizable moment in their lives. I found that the younger reference images didn’t have enough character, but the images in their later years exaggerated their features in a way that helped me understand them better. The final art is more like a set of caricatures than serious portraits.
After completing the rough sketch, I would resize it for consistency and print it out. Then using a classic technique, I’d transfer the image to paper for inking. This made the task of drawing a set of 20+ images at a consistent size and laid-out nicely on the final page mistake-free. If you’ve ever drawn something starting in the middle only to run off the edge of the paper, you know what I mean!
This project was unlike anything else I’ve attempted. All said, I completed 25 drawings, 18 of which appear in the first print and e-book editions of It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work. I’m incredibly proud of the project and even more grateful for the opportunity Jason and David gave me to contribute to this wonderful book that speaks so clearly about how we work. In fact, the entire project was done almost entirely in-house at Basecamp. It was written by Jason Fried (CEO) and David Heinemeier Hansson (CTO), jacket design and interior design by Adam Stoddard (marketing designer), illustrations by me, Jason Zimdars (product designer), and research by Wailin Wong (producer of The REWORK podcast).
It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work
I did this work at Basecamp where 40 hour work weeks are the norm, no one checks email on the weekend, and our benefits are focused on getting people out of the office, not enticing them to stay longer. We’ve stepped out of the hustle game in Silicon Valley and designed our company differently. This book will show how you can have a calm company too.
There’s a term we use in software design called the happy path. It describes a best-case scenario, in which customers use a product exactly as intended, without bumping into any edge cases or uncommon problems. This includes the interface you see when you sign up, setup steps you have to complete, and so on.
For software designers, a happy path is also an extremely powerful psychological tool that allows us to control people’s behavior and direct them to do whatever we want.
If that sounds surprising—and slightly terrifying—think about how many times you’ve blown past a lengthy software license agreement and clicked the Agree button without looking.
Were you thinking deeply about what you were doing?
Probably not. And you’re not alone! Research shows that humans have a natural aversion to decision making. As Smashing Magazine describes it, people simply don’t like to make choices unless they have to:
Making an explicit decision requires effort, after all. Time, thought and consideration are often required to determine the best choice. It turns out that people are remarkably sensitive (and averse) to the amount of effort that making a choice demands.
And therein lies the trouble.
If you pay close attention, you’ll notice something else about software happy paths. Like a tell in a poker game, they subtly reveal a company’s underlying motives.
Since designers know you’ll probably avoid making difficult decisions, they take advantage of your passivity and coax you into doing anything they want.
For example, if you’ve ever installed the Facebook Messenger app, you were likely encouraged to continuously upload all of your phone’s contacts to the service. This is framed as a way to help you text people quickly.
Look at that screen for a moment. There’s no opt out button! You can only choose OK or Learn More.
And who wants to Learn More when they’re signing up for a chat app? Almost nobody.
I’m guessing at least 80% of Facebook’s users just tap OK and move along immediately. There’s even a little animated arrow encouraging you to tap OK, in case you momentarily considered doing something else.
But let’s say you’re among the 20% that happens to pick the Learn More button. You’ll get a cutesy second screen:
This screen finally has an opt-out button, in plain text, buried underneath some repetitive copywriting that vaguely implies you’re wrong for questioning any of this.
Tapping that OK button is a trivially small decision. It takes just one minuscule tap of your finger. It’s done in less than a second.
But the impact is quite large indeed! You’re implicitly agreeing to send Facebook little bits of info about everyone you know. Now imagine the network effects when you multiply that by the millions or billions of users who also tapped OK in the blink of an eye.
This little happy path is feeding a massive data beast, which probably has details about almost everyone on Earth. And Facebook had ample space — two separate screens! — in which to mention anything about this.
So why didn’t they?
Because endless growth and data collection is the foundation of their business, and that necessitates doing gross invasive things to their users.
They need you to feed the beast, and they certainly don’t want you to think about it. So they use cartoon animals and sneaky happy paths to make sure you stay blissfully ignorant.
Now, of course happy path design also happens at companies that don’t have any nefarious hidden intentions.
When you sign up for Basecamp, we don’t trick you, coax you, or collect any more information than we need to get your account working properly.
However, we’re also a for-profit software company, and business performance is one of our considerations when we design our interfaces. When you sign up for Basecamp, we encourage you to take actions that give you the best chance of having success, and (hopefully) becoming a paying customer.
The difference is, our approach is fully above board. If you have success with Basecamp, your life gets a little easier, and we earn a new paying customer. We promise to support you and protect your data. You pay us for that. Cool for everybody.
Using software is inherently a handshake agreement between you and the service provider. It’s not unlike paying for a physical service.
The problem is, many of the dominant software makers are abusing your handshake in increasingly dastardly ways. They treat their customers like sitting ducks — just a bunch of dumb animals waiting to be harvested. And when growth slows, they resort to deceptive and creepy tactics to keep the trend lines pointing skyward.
So what can we do, as consumers?
First, keep your eye out for sneaky manipulation, especially when you’re first signing up for a service. If you’re asked to share personal information or forced to commit to something that makes you feel uncomfortable, you’re probably being used.
Second, slow down and thoroughly consider the choices you’re making. You’ll end up discovering weird, surprising things about services that you thought were harmless.
Third, be wary of any “free” software platforms. Sure, you’re not giving those companies any money directly. Instead, you’re giving them something else they’ll use to get money — your attention, your time, your personal information—all things that are arguably more valuable than money.
And finally, pay for software! When you pay real money to software creators, you’re supporting them, and they’ll support you in return.
More and more independent software makers are standing up and defending users against data misuse and manipulation. Recently, Feedbin significantly altered their tech to protect their users from being tracked by the likes of Facebook or Twitter. That’s a great example, and there are many others like it.
Vote with your wallet, and support the people who really do have your back.
At Basecamp, we write a lot—from announcements to pitches, and everything in between.
Quite often, we’re presenting something that has a Before and After, like a mockup or interface design that’s been revised. Until now, this was always kind of frustrating. Basecamp only supported full-width images, so it could be difficult to quickly compare two images at once.
Today we’ve added support for side-by-side image galleries inside written posts!
This is a subtle but substantial change: galleries support and enhance your writing by making it more fluid, expressive, and precise. They’re great for sharing screenshots, comparisons, mockups, sketches, photos, and so on.
Here’s how it works.
Creating a Gallery
In any rich text field in Basecamp 3, you can make a gallery of images by uploading multiple images at the same time. You can do that in the file-browser dialog, or by dragging and dropping files into Basecamp directly.
When you do that, Basecamp will automatically group the images together in a nice arrangement. There are a few different layouts based on the number of images you’ve posted together.
If you upload two images at once, they’ll be oriented side by side.
If you upload three images at once, they’ll be shown 3-up in a row.
If you upload four images at once, you get a 2×2 grid.
And then finally, if you upload 5 or more images, they’ll be arranged in 3-up-sized rows.
You can also make a gallery by uploading images one by one. Just upload one image, then immediately upload another. Basecamp will notice that the images are directly adjacent and bundle them for you.
Adjusting a Gallery
If you don’t want the gallery layout, you can split it up by putting your cursor between images and hitting return. That will break up the gallery at that spot and resize things accordingly.
If you prefer a different arrangement (for example, maybe the second image should be first) you can drag and drop them to reorder.
You can also drag and drop images outside of galleries into galleries, and vice-versa.
It all works like you’d expect images in a text editor to work!
New toolbar for images
Clicking on attachments in Basecamp’s text editor has changed a bit. You’ll now see a balloon at the top that shows the file name, size, and the trash button. (Formerly this was just a trash button.)
A more prominent caption field
Did you know you can write custom captions for any image you upload in Basecamp? If you didn’t, you’re not alone! This feature used to be rather hidden, but we coaxed it out of its hiding place.
Now just click on any image in the editor and you’ll see the Add a caption… field at the bottom. Click on that to type any caption you like.
Popup menus on gallery images
Every image in a gallery has a small ••• menu adjacent to the caption. Click that and you’ll see a popup with the original file name and file size, plus links to download the image, or view it at full size.
Galleries work everywhere right now, in our mobile apps and on the desktop. We hope this update helps you create richer posts, and makes writing in Basecamp a little more enjoyable. Let us know how you like it!
New to Basecamp? Head on over to basecamp.com and see what it’s all about.
I spend a lot of time as a data scientist thinking about how to use data responsibly, particularly when it comes to privacy. There’s tremendous value to be found by analyzing data, but the only way the data science field will continue to have data to analyze is if we are responsible in how we use it.
As a company, Basecamp strives to have the respect for user privacy that we’d like in every service we personally use.
I could talk about the things that we do relating to privacy:
We use encryption for all communications between Basecamp and your browser, and we encrypt our backend services as much as is practical.
When you cancel, we delete your account and all your data.
We purge log data and database backups after 30 days.
But I think our privacy philosophy is better defined by the things that we don’t do.
We don’t access customer accounts unless they ask.
The only time we’ll ever put ourselves into a position to see a customer’s account is if they grant explicit permission to do so as part of a support ticket. We log and audit all such access.
We don’t look at customer identities.
Many companies, especially startups, review every signup manually and reach out to interesting looking customers. I get lots of these emails, and every one leaves me unsettled.
I find both of these practices to be distasteful. There’s no reason I, or anyone else here, needs to know the names of people who are signing up for Basecamp. It’s unnecessary.
We don’t share customer data.
There are a few aspects to this, but our basic premise is that it’s your data, and not ours, so we shouldn’t be sharing it.
We get lots of people writing us from big companies asking “does anyone else at Acme use Basecamp?” or people asking “can you tell me any companies in our industry that use Basecamp?”. Just like we don’t look at identities ourselves, we also don’t disclose them to people who ask.
We’ll only provide customer data to law enforcement agencies in response to court orders. Unless specifically prohibited from doing so, we’ll always inform the customer of the request.
It should go without saying, but we don’t sell customer lists or any other data to anyone.
We don’t look at identifiable usage data.
To make Basecamp better, we do analyze usage patterns, and we have instrumentation to enable us to do that. This inherently requires us to in some form look at what people are doing when they’re using Basecamp.
Where we draw the line is that we never look at identifiable usage data. Any data that we use for analysis is stripped of all customer provided content (titles, message or comment bodies, file names, etc.), leaving only metadata, and it’s blinded to remove identifiable information like user IDs, IP addresses, etc. We try to do these things in such a way that it’s impossible for anyone analyzing data to even accidentally have access to anything identifiable.
This choice to never look at any identifiable data (or even be able to) does place minor constraints on the analyses we can perform, but so what? There’s plenty of value left in what we can do. My job might be a little bit harder, but I’m happy to spend the extra effort to be respectful of customers’ privacy.
We don’t send customer data to third party services.
As much as possible, we avoid the user of third party services that require any customer data to pass through them. There are many cases of such tools capturing too much, and we can’t control what happens with data once it reaches them.
There are a few cases where we do use third party services, which I’m happy to disclose:
We use Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform to host some parts of our applications. In those cases, we use available encryption options to prevent the platform provider from having access to the underlying customer data.
We use third party analytics tools (currently Google Analytics and Clicky) on public facing websites only. They capture IP addresses, etc., but are not put in any place where they could capture user provided content.
We use a third party helpdesk tool for answering support cases (HelpScout). This mean that HelpScout has any data that gets sent in a support ticket.
We use third party tools for sending some emails (MailChimp and Customer.io), which have access to customer email addresses and metadata required to know when to send an email. We don’t send any customer provided data to either service.
We use third party CDNs (Akamai and Cloudfront) for serving static assets. Those services have access to IP addresses, etc.
We don’t want you to feel creeped out.
At the end of the day, this is the bottom line. We don’t want to do anything that feels creepy or that we wouldn’t want done with our data.
We know that you’re putting your trust in us when you use Basecamp, and we want to do everything we can to honor and live up to that trust.
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…and it just keeps going like that, into an overenthusiastic pit of armchair psychology and semi-authoritative pseudoscience.
As the gurus tell it, A/B testing is like Vegas slots: plunk some crap into a machine, score a handful of 🍒🍒🍒s, and voilà, Easy Bake Revenue!
With a pitch like that, who could resist? It sounds so simple. If you don’t do it, you’re obviously a fool who’s leaving money on the table.
Welp, I have a couple of hard truths for ya:
It’s not as easy as it sounds, and those big gains aren’t such a sure thing.
Setting out to dramatically boost some arbitrary metric (signups, conversions, revenue, whatever) is exactly the wrong way to approach a design problem.
How do I know this?
I spent most of last year testing dozens of conversion-related design ideas in Basecamp, and I found that the JACKED UP PERFORMANCE aspect is the least interesting part of the process, by far.
The most interesting part is how it can change your thinking. Testing is a ticket to ride. It energizes your adventurous spirit, introduces you to uncharted territory, and lands you in cool places you never expected to go.
Here’s what I learned, and why I’ve come to love doing experimental design.
Testing turns your designs into trash.
After running tests for a while, you’ll find yourself throwing away mountains of design work for just a handful of meaningful improvements.
Do that enough, and you’ll notice something: Maybe design isn’t such a special endeavor after all!
The truth is…a lot of design is ephemeral, malleable, disposable…garbage.
Anything you make today merely represents one moment in time. Maybe it’s your best idea now, but it’s not necessarily the best idea you’ll have in another two days or two months.
Testing makes this painfully obvious on a shorter time scale. You’ll soon become less emotionally invested in your precious creations, and more focused on the problems you care about.
Testing strengthens your gusto.
I don’t know about you, but it took me years to build up the confidence to make hard design decisions. I still struggle with it sometimes.
You have to succeed and fail a lot. You have to take criticism a lot. And you have to trust your gut and keep at it, day after day.
Experimentation is a great way to build that muscle. It’s an opportunity to try things you aren’t completely sure about, and gives you a sweet little safety net for failures.
Testing makes you thoughtful.
It can be tempting to do experiments like the lottery: throw a bunch of random shit at the wall and then declare victory when one thing performed best by random chance.
You might get lucky a few times that way, but it’s a terrible long-term approach. Without some overarching vision, you’ll be left with a gnarly mess of test results born from guesses, and no clear plan for what to do next.
The better way, of course, is to start with good ideas! Do some research, come up with educated hypotheses and concepts you believe in, then build and test them to verify your thinking instead of defining it.
Testing destroys perfectionism.
It’s so freeing to ship a bare-bones version of an idea because it’s “just a test” that you’ll either improve or throw away when it’s done.
If you thought that same design had to stick around permanently, you’d probably never launch it with a lot of known flaws or incomplete parts. You’d want to fix up every last detail and make everything perfect first.
Amazingly, those rough, imperfect tests often outperform the supposedly perfected version you already had in place. When you see that, you’ll realize your outsized attention to detail might not matter as much as you thought.
A license for imperfection is an extremely useful defense against Fussy Designer disease. We should all be vaccinated early and often.
Testing builds empathy.
This sounds counterintuitive: running an experiment is mostly a pragmatic and statistical kind of thing. How is that related to empathy?
It’s related because you’re forced to learn what happens when real human people interact with your work. Your choices all have directly measurable effects, so you can’t hide behind bullshitty designerspeak or vague justifications when the data shows you’re just flat wrong.
When you do that, the business boosts you want will happen as a natural side effect of continually tuning your product to serve your customers’ real-life situations. Making things clearer or more efficient for your customers always pays off.
Testing helps you make space.
One tough challenge in UI design is making physical space for new things you want to do. There’s only so much room on a screen!
You might have ideas that require injecting steps into an existing UI flow, adding more screens, revising a visual hierarchy, or rearranging certain navigational elements.
Doing stuff like that is a gamble. You might be confident that your new version is better in some way, but are you sure your improvements are worth the extra steps or added complexity?
Testing lets you dip your toes in the water. You can run a short experiment and see if you’re busting your business before committing to a direction.
Testing tells the truth.
The truth is weird. Sometimes common sense wins out. Sometimes a wild idea succeeds. Sometimes a version you hated performs the best. Sometimes your favorite design turns out to be a total stinker.
Where else in the design world can you get opinion-free feedback like this? There are no Art Directors or Product Managers or App Store reviewers telling you what they think is right. It’s real human naturetelling you what’s right!
It’s a fascinating, powerful, bizarre reality.
Do you use testing as part of your design process, and NOT just for improving some Haha Business metrics? I’d love to hear about that. Drop me a comment below or holler on Twitter.
A couple weeks ago we decided to get an artificial Christmas tree. I love real trees, but years of evidence have proven I’m allergic. We think the dog is too. And the cleanup is a nightmare.
So we went to Target looking for one.
I didn’t want to go to Target, but my wife and kid were going and I didn’t feel like spending the day by myself. Plus, I wanted to improve our Wifi network and Target carries the Google Wifi mesh devices.
I begrudgingly went along.
My hangup with Target is that everytime I go to look for something specific, they don’t have it. Which was made abundantly clear again on this trip. They didn’t have any Christmas things left. They didn’t have a Google Wifi mesh network either.
I began regretting tagging along.
But that Saturday I didn’t want to waste my energy on a bad attitude, so I decided to treat Target a lot less specifically.
I went back to the Electronics section and browsed what they did have. Turned out they had something called the Orbi from Netgear. I hadn’t heard of it, but a quick Google scan seemed to show it performed well despite some drawbacks in its application design. Ok, I’ll try it.
Also, my three year old’s interest in building things keeps growing, but she doesn’t yet care what kind of things we’re building. So we went on the hunt for the cheapest LEGO’s we could find to continue adding to our set at home.
What once seemed like another trip to Target coming home empty handed turned out to be quite the win. I’m enjoying the Orbi network we now have at home, and my daughter has torn through these multiple boxes of LEGOs we’ve purchased. We also bought a ton of other stuff we didn’t even realize we needed :).
This random trip to Target reminds me how important it is to know our place as businesses. Sometimes people need the accurate solution to the one specific problem, and sometimes people just need something that works most of the time.