Nintendo Switch Does Multiple Accounts Right

Multiple Accounts in a product is a difficult to design for. It’s not a typical thing, though. Most have just one Google, Apple, Instagram account. However, some might want to share an iPad or HomePod with family. Since those don’t support multiple accounts, the owner’s profile ends up overrun by someone else’s preferences. It’s an edge case that’s difficult to design.

Basecamp 3, the product for which I design the Android app for, does support multiple accounts. You can flip between your Personal Basecamp, Work Basecamp, and other Basecamps you’re part of. The design keeps each Basecamp’s data and preferences separate.

A few months ago our family got a Nintendo Switch. I didn’t think too much about how easy it is to share. The system is so intuitive that you actually don’t have to think about it too much. It wasn’t until today that I really looked at how simple and elegant the multiple account setup is on the Switch.

The Switch Home Screen displays the game library

Nintendo has the benefit of just dealing with one thing: Games. But each game has its own preferences, save data, difficulty settings, etc. I might be further along than my 9-year-old. My 14-year-old might be further along than me, etc.

Our Switch has 3 accounts

The coolest thing is you can see what game was last played and who has been playing it. Currently it’s my 9-year-old.

Currently playing

When you select “Change User” you get this panel. This panel also displays if you select a game that isn’t currently being played.

Each account can have its own instance of the game

If you want to add a new account you can just tap the “+” button.

Easy to add another account

When I select my account…

I’ll change the instance of the game to my account

The Switch shows that my instance of the game.

You can tap the Profile pictures in the top left corner of the Home Screen to get to the Account profiles.

View my account

Each Account has stats and settings that are separate from one another.

My profile

The best detail about this system that Nintendo designed is that every Account is “logged in” when the device turns on. The Games, however, can be switched between Accounts so that each player can start again where they’ve left off.

It’s a novel approach that doesn’t get into the business of switching the entire Home Screen for each Account. Nintendo’s Multiple Account system gets out of the way so you can all enjoy sharing the Switch and playing games as a family. Pretty cool.

Any other devices or apps that handle multiple accounts particularly well? Let me know in the comments below.

How a roadside rest stop inspired an entirely different approach to FAQs

Introducing the YesAQ

Years ago I was driving back to Chicago from Wisconsin. On the Illinois side there are a couple of rest stops over the tollway. It’s a great place to get some gas, grab some caffeine, and stretch your legs a little before the final 50 miles home.

The rest stop usually has a booth where you can buy a iPass so you don’t need to stop and pay tolls all the time. During the day there’s a person in the booth to help answer any questions you have.

It appears that a lot of the same questions are asked over and over. Enough, in fact, that the person who answers them is sick of giving the same answer. That answer is “Yes”.

So they jumped on a computer somewhere and put together what I can only describe as one of the smartest formats for an FAQ I’ve ever seen. A single answer on top, and all the questions below. The answer is always YES!! YES, YES. YES!! Then they taped it to the outside of the booth. You can’t miss it.

I thought this was brilliant. I just love it. Yeah, it’s full of passive aggression and spelling errors and formatting problems, but the idea in itself is so refreshing. It’s folk information art.

Inspired by this, we whipped up our own version of a YES! page for Basecamp 3. It was a fun exercise in messaging and design. We call it the YesAQ.

Check it out.

A bunch of big updates for Basecamp 3

A first-year birthday + big stuff launching to everyone next week

First, a quick birthday celebration

We launched Basecamp 3 about a year ago. It’s been a huge hit so far — we’re closing in on half a million new company accounts, still coming at the rate of around 8,000 new companies signing up a week. Basecamp 3 is growing 30% faster than Basecamp 2 was — and in a much more competitive market. What’s particularly rewarding is that many people are rediscovering Basecamp after having left it years ago. They’re finding a whole new world in Basecamp 3. “Woah, I didn’t know Basecamp could do that.” “You mean I can replace four different products with just Basecamp?” Thanks to all our customers — old, new, and renew!

It’s been a fantastic year so far. We’ve made a ton of improvements already, but we’re only getting started. Which brings me to…

Big updates launching over the next week

This morning (Thursday, October 13th) we’re beginning to roll out a large collection of improvements. First to a random 10% of our customers today, and then the rest of our customers over the next week.

NEW: The Home screen replaces the Basecamp menu

Once this rolls out, the first major change you’ll see is that we’ve replaced the Basecamps menu with a new Home screen. It looks like this:

The new Home screen

The Home screen is a more visual approach to listing your projects (and teams, and Company HQ — I’ll get to these two new things in minute). Before we had a small list in a menu. Now we have a dedicated screen with cards for everything in your company. A place to land, not just a menu to select from. The name, description, and who has access are now shown. You can pin cards if you want them to jump to the front of the line.

We also moved the key My Stuff links to the home page. before they were hidden behind your avatar in the top right corner. A lot of people didn’t even know they were there. Now you can get to your assignments (and stuff you’ve assigned other people), your bookmarks (we’ve redesigned this screen as well), and your drafts (unpublished posts and documents).

And you can also brand your account with your logo. Small thing, but a big deal.

NEW: Your Company HQ

One of the most common questions we hear from people: “How do you guys use Basecamp?” Everyone wants to know how we, the people who make the thing, use the thing. One of our long-held secrets is the idea of setting up a “Company HQ” in Basecamp. It’s huge for us. It’s our company intranet right inside Basecamp.

Your HQ would have your company’s name on it. We’re using 37signals as an example here.

A “Company HQ” is a place for your whole company. It’s where we post company-wide announcements everyone should know about, where we say hi to each other every morning and chat socially around the Campfire, where we post key documents like our benefits package, health insurance information, and other stuff everyone needs, tell each other what we all plan on working on this week and what we end up doing every day. It’s also where we get to know each other better as people — sharing books we’ve read, vacations we’ve taken, fun stuff we did this weekend. It’s a big deal at Basecamp — especially because we’re a remote company and don’t get to see each other very often.

So what we’ve done is given everyone a Company HQ (named after your own company) so they can take advantage of what we’ve always known — the HQ is a wildly valuable thing. It’s like getting a whole intranet for free. Your Company HQ is always at the top, next to your logo, and the My Stuff section.

Not seeing your HQ on the home page? If you don’t see the HQ on your home screen, click the “Settings” link top right corner of the new Home Page and flip on the HQ section. Voilà!

Flipped off? Flip it on.

NEW: Teams

Another thing we’ve done for years in Basecamp is created team projects. We have projects set up for designers, customer service (they call themselves “Team OMG”), ops, managers (“The Small Council”), programmers, data, finance, C-level execs, etc. These are spaces for those teams to share idea, rap a bit, ask each other questions, share stuff they’ve seen that their colleagues would appreciate, etc. These aren’t projects with beginning and end dates — they are perpetual spaces. Clubhouses, if you will.

So we’ve baked this into Basecamp and created a section called Teams on the Home page. This is where you can set up your own teams, just like we do in our own account. Go on, make a few, invite the people on those teams in, and give them a space to work amongst themselves.

Not seeing Teams on your home page? If you don’t see the Teams section on your home screen, click the “Settings” link top right corner of the new Home Page and flip on the Teams section. Voilà!

NEW: Faster project (and team) creation

Creating a new project used to be a three screen process. It was a big deal, loaded with process and instruction. We’ve simplified it drastically. Now when you want to create a new project (or team), jump down to the appropriate section, and click…

Quick! Easy! Other positive adjectives!

NEW: Redesigned bookmarks screen

Bookmarks used to be kinda hidden features —mysteriously piling up under project names in the old Basecamps menu. Now they have a dedicated screen where they’re organized and grouped together under the HQ, team, or project they’re part of. They’re linked up under the “My Stuff” section on the home page.

Bookmarks, nice and neat

NEW: Invite people after you create a team or project

It used to be when you created a new project you’d be asked to invite people immediately. But this caused some understandable anxiety. What are people going to see? When I make a new project there’s nothing there yet anyway — why invite them to a blank project? Etc. So we’ve improved this and made invitation more deliberate.

Now when you create a team or project, it starts out with just you. Then you can add whoever you want when you’re ready. At the top of a team or project there’s a clear “Invite people to the project…” button.

I just created the project so you’ll see it’s just me up there for now. I’ll add more people when I’m ready.

NEW: Better blanks

The core tools on new teams and projects are now better defined — helping new people get the hang of things faster. “Oh, that’s where I’d do that…”

NEW: Who clapped for me?

This one isn’t really new, but it wasn’t noticed much before since it was buried at the bottom of the avatar menu. Now we’ve moved it to the Reports menu (it’s still at the bottom, but much easier to find now).

The menu (option at the bottom) and the report

NEW: A helping hand right from the start

As part of these major changes, we wanted to help new customers have a great experience right from the start. And now that we have the HQ, teams, and projects, and we create an HQ automatically for all new customers, we wanted to give them a head start setting up a few teams and projects. They’ll feel more at home when the Home screen looks more like their company.

So when people sign up for new accounts we ask three simple questions. Just check a few boxes if you have any teams that are listed, and select a project or two that you might want to manage with Basecamp and we’ll set everything up for you ahead of time.

Easy setup

And plenty more…

…in addition to all the new big stuff above, there’s a zillion small changes under the covers. And we’ve got more in store. And for those who’ve asked, yes, templates are on the way! Sorry it’s taken so long — we had to find the right time to do them right.

The changes above will first roll out to the desktop versions of Basecamp. iOS and Android will follow in the next few weeks. We’ll also be launching a whole new marketing site next week as well, so stay tuned for that.

So, we’re ending year one of Basecamp 3 with a major bang. And setting the foundation for a killer second year. We’ve got a bunch of big ideas in the hopper, and we will be getting to those once the calendar hits 2017. We’re going to finish the year out building the templates feature and then tighten up a bunch of loose ends that we’ve been meaning to get to, but had to put on the back burner. So optimize and refine the rest of the year and then full speed ahead in 2017.

If you’re a Basecamp customer, thank you so much! We’re 100% funded by our customers, so customers are everything to us. Thanks for keeping our lights on for 17 years and running!

And if you’re not a Basecamp 3 customer, please join us! I know Basecamp 3 will help you run a better business. If not, I want to know about it.

Thanks for listening, I know it was a lot.

-Jason Fried, CEO, Basecamp

Why I love ugly, messy interfaces — and you probably do too

Illustration by Nate Otto

Beautiful. Fresh. Clean. Simple. Minimal. These words have been dominating design discourse for a while now. In case you’ve managed to miss them, check out this review of portfolio websites over on Creativebloq. The word beautiful is used 6 times, and simple 11 times. In one article.

Designers use these words to describe their values, goals, and results. They plaster their portfolios and resumés with them. Non-designers use them too. They’re everywhere.

If you’ve hitched a ride on this wagon, you might have a website that looks something like this:

Lovely designs like this have become so commonplace that beautiful and clean are almost baseline constraints for new projects. It’s like every designer had the same Pinterest coffeeshop fever dream, and decided the whole world had to become lifestyle-chic.

And that makes sense, really! Everyone likes easily digestible things that look bright and stylish. Nobody wants ugly, messy stuff.

Or do they?

Here’s some ugly design that’s unbeatable.


Here’s some cluttered design that’s quite popular.

Adobe Photoshop CC

Here’s some complex design that 1.5 billion people use every month.


So…wait. If beautiful, fresh, clean, and simple are so important, why hasn’t someone upended all of these products with something nicer? It’s not for a lack of trying. There are countless simpler, better-looking Craigslist and Photoshop competitors, for example.

The answer is that these products do an incredible job of solving their users’ problems, and their complex interfaces are a key reason for their success.

Let’s say your goal is to make a global peer-to-peer commerce network. That’s a big, complicated project to tackle.

You could attempt to reduce your solution down to a minimal version, cutting out features and reducing density in the name of beauty and simplicity. Here’s a Craigslist redesign concept like that. (Designers sure hate Craigslist, don’t they? Has any other site had more unsolicited redesigns?)

Craigslist redesign concept by Aurélien SALOMON.

Or, you might decide that you really can’t cut features, because it’s more important to nail every use case you care about. (Remember, you have to support a huge number of scenarios to reach table stakes for this project.) Now beauty and simplicity are instantly a much lower priority. Making something useful comes first.

For another example, think of Photoshop. How many graphic designers who idolize Swiss Style also use Photoshop every day? Probably most of them. Yet Photoshop’s UI is the antithesis of minimal — it has more nasty junk drawers than your parents’ unkempt basement. It doesn’t matter at all, because people don’t come to Photoshop for inspirational UI. They use it to get the job done.

In other words, sometimes this isn’t so great:

When this is what you really need:

Now, obviously I’m not suggesting you should go clutter up your design work, or make it look crappy on purpose. I’m also not suggesting that the examples above couldn’t be improved.

My point is: there is no single right way to do things. There’s no reason to assume that having a lot of links or text on a page, or a dense UI, or a sparse aesthetic is fundamentally bad — those might be fine choices for the problem at hand. Especially if it’s a big, hairy problem.

Products that solve big, hairy problems are life savers. I love using these products because they work so damn well. Sure they’re kind of a sprawling mess. That’s exactly why they work!

We needn’t all pray at the beautiful minimalist design altar. Design doesn’t have to be precious. Toss out your assumptions and build what works best.

We made Basecamp to be one of those life saving, big hairy problem solvers. Check it out now at

This post was adapted from a talk I gave at University of Illinois Webcon.

The Fidelity Curve: How to weigh the costs and benefits of creating UI mockups

Here at Basecamp we do a lot of paper sketching. Usually we jump straight to code after making a rough sketch. But it’s not a black and white rule. Sometimes we make tappable prototypes to test an interaction, or a pixel perfect Photoshop image to communicate a concept. How do we choose which level of fidelity is appropriate for each project?

I think about it like this: The purpose of making sketches and mockups before coding is to gain confidence in what we plan to do. I’m trying to remove risk from the decision to build something by somehow “previewing” it in a cheaper form. There’s a trade-off here. The higher the fidelity of the mockup, the more confidence it gives me. But the longer it takes to create that mockup, the more time I’ve wasted on an intermediate step before building the real thing.

I like to look at that trade-off economically. Each method reduces risk by letting me preview the outcome at lower fidelity, at the cost of time spent on it. The cost/benefit of each type of mockup is going to vary depending on the fidelity of the simulation and the work involved in building the real thing.

Suppose we have four levels of fidelity…

  • Rough sketch (on paper or an iPad)
  • Static mock-up (eg. Photoshop or Sketch)
  • Interactive mock-up (eg. Framer, InVision)
  • Working code prototype (HTML/CSS, iOS views)

(I didn’t include wireframes in the list because we don’t make them at Basecamp. For us a rough paper sketch is the same as a wireframe, without the extra time wasted on sharp lines and shiny presentation.)

Depending on the feature you’re working on, these levels of fidelity take different amounts of time to create. If you plot them in terms of time to build versus confidence gained, you could imagine something like a per-feature fidelity curve.

Eg. take a simple CRUD web UI, where you’re just navigating between screens.

A fidelity curve for a simple feature. Building real code doesn’t take much more time than faking it.

It doesn’t take much more time to build the real version than it does to mock it when the design is simple. If you were to build out an interactive mock first, you would end up spending twice as much time in total without gaining much out of it.

Going straight to real code is more worthwhile for a simple web UI.

Contrast that with a complicated Javascript interaction. Or a native iOS feature that requires programmer time to build out.

The curve is different for a complex web or native app UI.

If it takes substantially more time to build the real code version, then it may be smart to do an interactive mockup first.

Here’s one thing to be very careful about. If you put too much fidelity into anything that’s not code, you can end up spending lots of time on deliverables that are thrown away in the end anyway. This often happens when people fiddle with colors, positioning, fonts, etc too early.

Spending time on unnecessary details stretches the curve.

These illustrations show that mockups aren’t good or bad, and there isn’t a black and white answer for when to make each kind. But there is a trade off to be made. Being conscious of that trade-off can help you make more rational, economic decisions when people have differing opinions about what to do next in a design process.

We still mainly draw rough sketches on paper or on our iPads when we’re working on UI for Basecamp 3. Now that we offer full-featured iOS and Android apps, I’ve learned that prototyping tools can be useful before building the heavyweight UI code those platforms require. See Basecamp 3: Mobile Prototypes for more.