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Look and Feel and Feel

Jason Fried
Jason Fried wrote this on 16 comments

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.

BTW: You can follow me on Twitter at @jasonfried or on Instagram at @jason.fried. I promise to keep both positive.

Our favorite stuff

Emily Triplett Lentz
Emily Triplett Lentz wrote this on 4 comments

A few weeks ago, via Know Your Company , we asked folks at Basecamp what brand-name items they couldn’t live without. (We have strong feelings about yogurt, and Chicagoans are extremely serious about their skin care regimens.) Here’s what everyone said:

Emily Triplett Lentz, Support: Ha! I’m sure I could live without my favorite stuff. But I’m glad I don’t have to.
Hearos earplugs. I’m a light sleeper, so I’ve tried lots of different kinds. These expand fully and block a lot of noise. I probably get at least an hour or two more of sleep with them in.
Dreaming Cow yogurt. The flavors are unusual, like blueberry cardamom. They’re fatty but not too sweet. I have one every day.
Burt’s Bees lip balm—the original kind, with the peppermint oil in it. Hurts so good.

Mig Reyes, Designer: My moisturizer game on fleek:

Shaun Hildner, Video Producer: Aquaphor—I’ll get almost anything in a generic, but Aquaphor.

Wailin Wong, Reporter: Like Mig, I take my moisturizing regimen very, very seriously. CeraVe and Aquaphor all the way. Also in the realm of personal care: Mario Badescu Lecithin Nourishing Shampoo; Cetaphil cleanser; Clear Care or PeroxiClear hydrogen peroxide contact lens solution (every drugstore brand I’ve tried has burned my eyeballs); bareMinerals Original Foundation; Glide floss.
My iPhone, I guess. My Zojirushi rice cooker. The New York Times. The Bobeau sweater. My Uniqlo capri jeggings. That’s right. NAME-BRAND JEGGINGS.

Ann Goliak, QA: I’m real big on skin care products for my face—Cetaphil face wash, Kiss My Face sunblock, Clinique and Philosophy lotions, and of course, Aquaphor.

Andrea LaRowe, Admin: Saucony running shoes. I’ve tried soooo many other brands, but I always end up with yet another pair of Sauconys.

JorDanée Key, Support: Right now it’s So Delicious’s brand of coconut milk. It’s the only coconut milk without a carcinogen preservative. ... Thankfully Costco carries it in bulk.

Natalie Keshlear, Support:
Nike shoes for running.
Klean Kanteen for water.
Happy Socks for happy feet.
WildFang anything.

Taylor Weibley, Ops: Arcteryx jackets. They are expensive but they are also very comfy, durable, well-fitting, and they do their job well. (Wait for summertime sales.)
Costa sunglasses are great when you are out on the water. Their customer service has been good too.

Sylvia Chong, Support: Y’all should try an Asian skincare regime if you care about moisturizers. You could have up to 9 steps/products. Here’s a beginner’s guide if you’re interested:
Laniege Water Sleeping Pack
Laniege Balancing Emulsion (Sensitive)
My Beauty Diary masks
Etude House eye makeup because they have products to make your eyes look bigger
Cetaphil gentle skin cleanser: the only cleanser that doesn’t burn my skin off
Shiseido Tsubaki shampoo and conditioner

Jason Zimdars, Designer: Upon reflecting on this question I realized I don’t have very strong brand loyalty. I suppose one thing I never compromise on is my Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Been wearing them since I was maybe 9 or 10 years old and they’re still my go-to shoes today.

Dan Kim, Programmer: The only product I can think of that I would never switch from is my Mac. Not Apple broadly, but Macs specifically.
Cars, phones, clothes, food, whatever else brands—I have preferences, but those are all pretty negotiable. But I can’t see myself ever switching from a Mac.

Tony Giang, Support: I have minor brand preferences (Nikon cameras, EVGA graphics cards, Iron Edge gym equipment etc.), but there aren’t any brands that I couldn’t just drop for another.
Being disloyal means I can try out new things without feeling tied down. It also means I probably end up spending more money than I should when I want to try ALL THE THINGS.

Tom Ward, Programmer: I can do without almost anything, but these are the few things I’d go out of my way to get hold of:
Dorset cereals Simply Nutty cereal
Arm & Hammer baking soda toothpaste
Body Shop shower gel

Eileen Uchitelle, Programmer:
Stoneyfield French Vanilla Whole Milk Yogurt—all other yogurt is inferior
Apple products—MacBook, iPhone, iPad
Klean Kanteen Water Bottle
Patagonia outdoor everything—laptop bag, rain jacket, down jacket
And I almost forgot that the one thing I probably can’t live without are my boots. Made by Timberland, awesome construction, even though they aren’t waterproof my feet never get wet. I’ve got a brown pair and a black pair. I wear them all the time with everything and anything.

The Coffee Test

Shaun wrote this on 14 comments

Some of the folks at our Chicago office drink a lot of coffee and have been known to have strong opinions on the quality. So I decided to see if they actually preferred the taste of really good coffee over a cup of something a bit more generic.

Taking off the developer goggles

Jason Z.
Jason Z. wrote this on 6 comments

One of the very best things about working at Basecamp is “Everyone on support (EOS)”. That’s our policy where everyone on the team—no matter what their normal job is—spends one day per month as a customer support agent.

Each time my turn comes around I marvel at the truly excellent service our team provides every single day in what is a very tough job. Our team’s ratings and response time are insanely good even with dead weight like me pulling down their averages one day a month. I have no idea how they all remain so positive in a role where it feels like all day you’re saying “no”. Let’s face it, many customers know the answer to the question they’re asking. They’ve looked everywhere and tried everything so they’re frustrated, defeated, and sometimes grumpy by the time they reach out to a support agent— one who is understanding, empathetic, but often powerless to fix the problem. They have work to do and all this tech stuff just gets it the way.

While I’m glad to gain in appreciation for my coworkers what’s even more important about those stints on support is that I always learn something.

I know a lot about Basecamp already. I’ve been working on the current version of Basecamp almost exclusively since before the first commit back in 2011, from the first napkin sketches to its launch on iPad. What that means is I have internalized a very intricate mental model of Basecamp. I know every feature inside-out—and not just that, but code, domain models and all the decisions and debates and history that lead to why things are the way they are, why they aren’t another way and what compromises fit in-between. That’s not to brag, many of us who make products can say the same thing. These apps are built from our passions, they’re our babies. We can feel them. We notice when an interaction takes a beat too long, when a button is a few pixels out of alignment.

All of this blinds us. We’re wearing developer goggles.


Reproducible research isn't just for academia

Noah wrote this on 2 comments

My wonderful coworkers here at Basecamp have discovered a surefire way to make my head explode. All you have to do is post a link in Campfire to a piece of flimsily sourced “data journalism” that’s hard to believe (like the notion that the top decile of American drinkers consume a mean of 10 drinks per day, every single day of the year).

Bonus points are earned for things that have ridiculous infographics and/or provide absolutely no source or methodology. Since I started my career by analyzing Census data, things about demographics are extra special catnip.

This is a fun game to play, but it’s actually a real problem. The bar for what passes as credible when it comes to data journalism is incredibly low. There are some shining examples of quality — FiveThirtyEight releases much of the data that goes with their stories, and some are advocating for even greater transparency — but the overall level of quality is depressingly low. It’s just too easy to make an infographic based on shoddy original data or poor methodology and publish it, and there’s little to no repercussions if it isn’t actually accurate.

Academia has been battling this issue for years under the banner of “reproducible research”. Peer review has been a hallmark of academic publishing since at least 1665, but it hasn’t solved the problem. Still, there’s awareness of the issue, and some efforts to improve it: training, policies requiring data release in order to be published, etc.

It’s easy to take shots at data journalists and academics for shoddy methodologies or insufficiently reproducible research because their work is public, but the truth is that those of us in industry are just as susceptible to the same flaws, and it’s even easier to get away with. Most analysis done for private companies isn’t peer reviewed, and it certainly doesn’t have the wide audience and potential for fact checking that journalism or academic publishing has.

I’m as guilty as anyone else in industry when it comes to being less than perfectly transparent about methodology and data sources. I’ve even published plenty of tantalizing charts and facts and figures here on SvN that don’t meet the standards I’d like to see others held to. Mea culpa.

I’m trying to do better though, particularly with what I share internally at Basecamp. I’m footnoting data sources and methodologies more extensively, doing more work in Tableau workbooks that show methodology transparently, including my analysis scripts in writeups, and trying to get more peer review of assumptions that I make. I’m fortunate that the Basecamp team trusts my work for the most part, but I shouldn’t need to rely on their trust — my job is to bring impact to the business through responsible use of data, and part of being a responsible data analyst is being transparent and reproducible.

It’s not the easiest path to work transparently or to ensure reproducibility. It takes extra time to explain yourself, to clean up scripts, and so on, but it’s the right path to take, both for yourself and for your audience, whoever they may be.

Welcome Jay Ohms, programmer

Jason Z.
Jason Z. wrote this on 1 comment

Today we’re excited to announce the latest addition to the Basecamp team: Jay Ohms joins us as our lucky 13th programmer. He’ll be working with our mobile team on Basecamp for Android.

Android enthusiasts will know Jay as the one part of the duo behind Press, the popular Android RSS reader. Press arrived at a time when great design was hard to find on the platform. Jay’s focus on quality and eye for detail made Press a favorite and caught our attention, too.

After spending a week working with our Chicago-based Android team on a trial project we knew Jay, who also happens to live in Chicago (did someone bribe an alderman?), was a great fit. Jay makes us better on Android and we’re excited to show you what we’ve got in store for 2015.

Everyone, Jay; Jay, everyone.

Did y’all know you can share stuff directly to Basecamp from apps like Paper? Resident illustrator, Nate Otto shows it off.

Behind the scenes: From Herding Cats to Finishing a Project Together

Jamie wrote this on 4 comments

Nate Otto and I made a new Basecamp homepage illustration based on a vector drawing I made in Adobe Illustrator. Initially I didn’t intend it to be hand drawn. I thought I’d refine the vector drawing. Somewhere in the middle it turned into “herding cats”. In the end the spirit of the concept was intact, but the result very different from what I’d envisioned.
Here’s how we got to the final idea: Basecamp helps you wrangle people with different roles, responsibilities, and objectives toward a common goal: Finishing a project together.

First pass: Basecamp is a central hub. All the things going into it are like train lines.

Train lines are pretty boring. What if it was about herding cats? Lemme put some vector cat heads on there.
The vector style doesn’t fit with the rest of the site. I work with Nate on the idea of Basecamp as being the ultimate “cat herder”. Give the cats some human accessories…
Jason Fried is concerned that “herding cats” may come across as insulting. The idea of herding cats may be lost on some potential customers. Maybe we should just be clear.
Final: Let’s add all the people involved in the process.

This process took about one day of back and forth (in Basecamp) between me and Nate. So, that’s how we made the illustration for the idea: Basecamp helps you wrangle people with different roles, responsibilities, and objectives toward a common goal: Finishing a project together.


Nate Otto
Nate Otto wrote this on 6 comments

About five years ago I consciously willed an art career into existence. At that point I had been working a social services job for about five years. I initially took the job because it wasn’t specifically art related. It was a job I could feel good about — helping people with disabilities — but it wouldn’t tap my creative juices. I had learned many years before when I got a job doing graphic design that being creative at work drained my creative life bars during my down time. This social services job would leave me with enough creative energy to work on my art when I got home, but in reality that wasn’t really happening. Furthermore, the job itself was becoming a frustrating dead end. I had learned that working in a large organization with seven direct bosses wasn’t an environment in which I would thrive. What would my next move be? I was grown up and competent. I felt as though I could do pretty much anything.


When Disaster Strikes

Taylor wrote this on 14 comments

Safety Camper Saves Basecamp From Disaster

Nearly 3 years ago we asked “What would happen if a truck crashed into the datacenter?” The resulting discussion could be summarized as “Well we would probably be offline for days, if not weeks or months. We wouldn’t have many happy customers by the time Basecamp was back online.” No one was satisfied with that answer and, in fact, we were embarrassed. So we worked really hard to be prepared with an answer that made us proud.

This past Sunday, February 15th 2015, we demonstrated that answer in public. With one command we moved Basecamp’s live traffic out of our Chicago, IL datacenter and in to our Ashburn, VA datacenter in about 60 seconds.

Chart: Traffic Swapping Between Sites

Not one of our customers even noticed the change, which is exactly as we planned it. A few hours later we ran one command and moved it all back. Again, no one noticed.

This probably qualifies as the least publicly visible project at Basecamp. And we hope it stays that way. But if it doesn’t, just know Basecamp will be online even if disaster strikes.

(There’s much to share about how we accomplished this and what we learned along the way. I’ll share the technical nitty gritty in future posts.)

37 pieces of life-changing business advice you'll have to see to believe

Jonas Downey
Jonas Downey wrote this on 17 comments

We write a lot of thoughtful stuff here on Signal v. Noise, but we noticed our headline writing hasn’t kept up with current trends. So, we’ve started revising all our past posts — you won’t believe what happens next!

  1. You might have thought design was about pictures, but what it’s really about will surprise you
  2. How to ease any situation by doing something unexpected in 5 minutes
  3. Unleash your creative potential by getting the truth in this unlikely place
  4. Find out why this billionaire just won’t make up his mind
  5. Watch out for these 7 dirty words that are totally NSFW
  6. You won’t believe what this brash young upstart thinks about his career
  7. Amazing! We found a way to make your life easier by avoiding something you thought was important
  8. There are lots of ways to get started, but the first step will shock you
  9. Don’t miss: This one simple trick will save you time and professional embarrassment
  10. Meet the person who just can’t stand what you’re writing
  11. Check out this hot commodity that’s even harder to get than the next iPhone
  12. How noisy is your office? If it’s louder than this, you’re doing it wrong
  13. This guy thinks it’s super fun to argue with everyone
  14. You need this revolutionary space-saving trick that’ll change everything
  15. Fortune Telling! This unbelievable product predicted the future, here’s how they did it
  16. Here’s a shortcut to make your wildest dreams come true right away
  17. Confused, anxious, or happy? We’ll tell you how you’re supposed to feel at a new job
  18. The worst thing that can happen in Vegas is way worse than you thought
  19. It only took these 3 charts to make this man happy
  20. This trendsetter convinced all her friends to wear the same shirt, here’s her wild story
  21. Health Alert: A common personality trait might be hurting your mind and body
  22. Meet the successful CEO who puts all his faith in one thing. It’s not what you think!
  23. This crazy company convinced everyone to do shit work. Here’s what happened next
  24. Pop Quiz: Do you have to love what you do? Come find out
  25. Call the cops? These people just won’t go away no matter what
  26. We found the easiest way to get famous people to talk to you
  27. When the whole world is speeding up, this man slows down. Does he have turtle DNA? Yes? He might! Or not?
  28. Vanishing! This classic animation trick disappears before your very eyes. Look now before you miss it
  29. 6 reasons you should throw your suit and tie in the trash right now
  30. Ouch! We found out how much surgery really costs (and you’d better hope that weird abdominal pain goes away on its own)
  31. 3 awesome ways to get people to speak words out loud using their mouth holes
  32. Which M&M flavor is the world’s best? We tried them all so you don’t have to
  33. In a race to the finish, these designers started throwing stuff out the window…then this happened
  34. These businesses didn’t go out of business. Or did they? Read this for the answer
  35. This marketing email has a funny detail (WARNING: can’t be unseen)
  36. 3 really disturbing examples of bullshit apologies that will make your skin crawl
  37. Spoiler Alert! This is what happens when Kenny Loggins and a semiaquatic animal get involved in a presidential campaign