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“Sometimes you just have to see it”

Conor Muirhead
Conor Muirhead wrote this on 2 comments

“Sometimes you just have to see it to get a feel for it”

^ That’s what Jason said to me yesterday right after he pushed some tweaks to a design we’ve been ping ponging on this week.

When I read that I found myself nodding my head and thinking, “ain’t that the truth”. Now, if only I’d learned that lesson a few years ago.

You see, not long ago I used to spend a lot of time and energy pushing back on ideas. I think I must have seen myself as some sort of Design Guardian or something. I know, stupid, right? In that (ridiculous) role I seemed to think it was my job to protect the product from “bad” ideas. Only problem is, how did I know if an idea was “bad” or not?

One of my teammates would usually suggest an idea, I’d imagine it in my mind, and then (unfortunately all too often) I’d explain why it would never work. I bet I missed out on a lot of great ideas doing that, probably some good friendships too :(.

It gets worse though. When shutting down an idea without giving it a chance to be seen, I miss out in at least three ways:

  1. The idea could be fantastic once I saw it, used it and felt it.
  2. While trying it out, I may stumble into another, even better idea.
  3. I’m stifling my teammates, and discouraging them from jumping in and helping.

All three of those kinda suck.

Nobody Wants a Design Guardian.

I’ve learned that I’m not a guardian, and that I never should have tried to be one. The team didn’t hire me because they thought I’d be a great guard. No, they hired me to try things, to experiment, to build stuff, and to find out what worked.

The Good News

Here’s the good news though: it’s usually easy to try out an idea enough to actually see it, use it, and feel it. In fact, I think in the past I’ve wasted more time bickering than I ever spent just finding out!

So, the next time an idea comes your way, give it a chance. Try building or prototyping it, seeing how it actually feels. You’ll be done faster than you could even argue about it!

Ancient history, modern family

Wailin Wong
Wailin Wong wrote this on Discuss

We have a new episode of The Distance about a family of numismatists and antiquities dealers (listen to the episode to find out what a numismatist does!). As students of history, Harlan Berk and his three children know that circumstances around them can change rapidly. They’ve learned to adapt the family business through 51 years of buying and selling ancient coins, as well as antiquities and maps. From rare artifacts to a mystery involving long-lost valuables and the FBI, there’s no telling what might turn up next at Harlan J. Berk Limited.

What’s more important: An extra gig of RAM or 3D Touch?

David wrote this on 3 comments

The hardware engineering and software coordination behind 3D Touch in the iPhone 6S is impressive. It’s such an Apple feature. Executed with exquisite diligence because they control the whole stack. Marvelous.

But you know what, it’s not my favorite feature of the 6S. That honor belongs to the low-tech, behind-the-curve addition of an extra gigabyte of RAM. Something that probably cost Apple just a few extra dollars per phone and almost no engineering prowess. (Compare that to the probably hundreds of millions in revised tooling, advanced development, and more needed for 3D Touch.)

Doubling the RAM means apps aren’t constantly being swapped in and out. Which means switching between them is super fast more of the time. Which in turn makes the whole phone feel much better over the course of a day.

It’s been repeated ad nauseam, but it’s still so hard to internalize for most product people: Speed is a feature.

Usually, it’s one of the most important features. Yet it’s also one of the hardest to get right. Chiefly because every other feature is generally at war with speed. Any excess CPU cycles are quickly captured by new, advanced, and ultimately slowing features. Extra cycles are like a surplus government budget: The constituency is going to have a thousand ideas for how to spend it.

It’s not easy to get this balance just so. You have to be fast at what people want and expect. Being the fastest phone running iOS5 or Window OS isn’t going to get you any business.

Comparing this RAM apple and that 3D Touch orange, though, is also a worthwhile reminder that good product design doesn’t deal in distinct categories. It’s all a fruit salad! Customers just want it to be delicious and nutritious.

Service sunsets aren’t the least bit pretty

David wrote this on 4 comments

Software makers are obsessed with new. And of course we are, that’s our job: making more, newer, better! But as a lot, we’d be well-served to remember this affliction is generally not shared by our users and customers.

Sure, some people love upgrading to the latest version the minute it lands. It’s also a lot easier when it’s a personal device, like an iPhone, where the focus isn’t purely productivity.

But remember all those companies holding on to IE6 for their dear life? That’s the other side of ‘upgrading fun’. Disrupting workflow, processes, and institutional knowledge because the damn fax machine won’t send the important contract until the firmware is upgraded. What possible utility could a firmware upgrade to the fax machine provide that’s worth keeping a document from sending?


Back to Basecamp

Nick wrote this on 7 comments

There’s an entire slew of new features available in iOS9 — but there’s one that you’ll be using every single day. It’s called Go Back to App and it’s all over the place. If you open an app from another app, instead of doing a full “flip” like you tapped the home button, iOS slides the app in and you get right to work. It happens so smoothly that it’s hard to even see happen:

This is going to change how iOS apps are made. Combined with Universal Links for opening up http:// and https:// links from Safari (or anywhere) inside your app, the reality for how apps are opened and work together has forever been altered. I know Apple loves calling features amazing — but this time they’re right.


A rallying cry for the Weird Wild Web

Jonas Downey
Jonas Downey wrote this on 2 comments

This year, 2015, marked the 20th anniversary of the first time I stuck some HTML on a server and put it out for the world to see. (Sorry about that one, world.)

Twenty years! Twenty years is a long time to do anything, especially in tech. Given how fast things churn, it’s rather unbelievable that I’m still gainfully employed to write HTML for anything at all in 2015.

I’ve been reflecting on this recently, as the web’s future keeps sounding rather bleak. It seems that nary a week passes without someone predicting the end of the open web as we know it. Perhaps understandably so — at a glance, the web appears to be suffering a death by a thousand cuts.

Let’s recap a few of the most common arguments for why the web is totally screwed.


Cargo Culting

Nathan Kontny
Nathan Kontny wrote this on Discuss

I've been exploring Medium as a new channel for my writing. It's a pretty place to read and share my thoughts – though still written on Draft :) – and getting more and more popular. Yesterday I shared a post: Poison, which received some nice traffic and shares. A couple people began to comment. And that's where I started getting confused.

There's a comment, what Medium calls a "response", but it's not the full comment. In fact, I have to click Read More just to get to the meat of it. When I read the comment and wanted to respond, that even was a new affair, encouraging me to Publish or go Full Screen:


Making money along the way

David wrote this on 7 comments

Remember the Flip camera? From its premiere in 2006 until the business was sold to Cisco in 2009, the little video recorder was killing it. Lavish praise, booming sales, flying high. And then cell phones got good enough at recording video, and that was the end of that.

If you disregard the acquisition proceeds, was Flip a terrible business? Well, that depends: Were they taking profits along the way?

There’s no natural law that states all products and services must endure forever and always. Some companies are glorious sprints, others are slugging marathons. Both can work, but the former is especially sensitive to making money along the way.

The problem is that everyone thinks they’re going to run a spectacular marathon in technology these days. There’s no amount too great to be invested in future growth, because the future is infinite, and you’d be a fool not to capture as much of that as you possibly can.

But what if the time allotted to your capture looks more like Flip? What if your product is going to have a great, booming run, but not for the next 30 years, just the next five?


How we lost (and found) millions by not A/B testing

Noah wrote this on 8 comments

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 site that ended up costing us millions of dollars, how we found our way back from that, and what we learned in the process.