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Design Discussions: Having fun with Basecamp business cards

Mig Reyes
Mig Reyes wrote this on 3 comments

I’m a sucker for “behind the scenes” articles on how other people made design decisions. They’re usually accompanied with neatly packaged lessons for everyone to walk away with.

Designing—especially during the early exploration phases—is anything but neat. There’s plenty of debates, countless iterations, and drive-by critiques.
I’m starting a new series here on Signal v. Noise called “Design Discussions.” Every so often, I’ll take a page out of our company Basecamp account and share the entire discussion behind a design project we’ve done. They’ll be raw and unedited. They might be full of insight, or they might be incredibly boring and expose the weirdness and silliness of each of our coworkers. That’s fine, too!
Either way, I won’t overly explain the reasoning behind what we were doing, nor will I share a top-ten list of things you should try in your own project. You’ll get an uncut backstage pass to the conversations that took our projects from A to B.
So, let’s start with something we had fun with. Around this time last year, we were Becoming Basecamp. With so many employees, it was high time for us to have a new identity, and that included business cards. (Chances for free lunches via fishbowl drawings, as I like to see it.)
If you happen to come across one of us happy Basecampers, be sure to ask for our card. They look like this.

Designing and illustrating the cards took a day. You can see how quickly other folks in the company chimed in to help me try new ideas throughout the day. The full-sized screen capture of the design discussion follows. Click-to-enlarge it to 100% if you’re on a desktop.

Continued…

Combine

Nathan Kontny
Nathan Kontny wrote this on 2 comments

Some people are destined for mediocrity.

Take this guy for example: A college kid, who, despite a semi-decent college showing as an American football quarterback, was drafted 199th by a professional team. You don’t have to be a football or sports fan to realize how terrible that is.

And he wasn’t drafted for anything near a starting position. He was drafted as a fourth-string quarterback. You’ll hardly find any active fourth-string quarterbacks. In the rare occasion the third-string gets hurt during a game, you’ll sometimes see a random player, like a wide receiver who played quarterback in high school, come in. That tells you how valuable a fourth-string quarterback is: about the same as a high school kid who doesn’t even play the position anymore. Fourth-string quarterbacks are often just practice squad dummies – fresh meat for the real players to pound on, maybe they get a few throws in during the last seconds of a pre-season game.

And sure enough, our bottom-rung quarterback, during his rookie season, got to pass 3 times. 1 completion. For a total of 6 yards.

But then things turned around. He moved up to second-string the following season, and the starting quarterback was injured, which gave him a chance to start.

That season, this mediocre quarterback, Tom Brady, won the Super Bowl for the New England Patriots. And not just a win, but he was their MVP. He went on to win the Super Bowl again 2 years later. In his career, he’s made the playoffs a dozen times, been to the Super Bowl five, and won three of them. He might even be on the way again this year.

Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks of all time. And everyone almost missed him.


Photo by Kowloonese

A combine is an intimidating looking machine for harvesting grain. The name is derived from what it does: combines the steps for harvesting – reaping, threshing, and winnowing. Those things are also often metaphors for how we do hiring. Reap the best candidates. Harvest the top prospects. Winnow the resumes.

Professional league sports teams have no shortage of young athletes who want to play for them, so they’ve created their own combines.

For example, the NFL invites about 300 college kids in February for a weeklong trial. They are put through the things you probably assume they are put through: running, jumping, lifting heavy things. They even go through interviews, intelligence tests, and have half-naked photos taken of them for later scrutiny.

That’s why Tom Brady was picked 199th as a fourth stringer. He was terrible at the combine. The 40 yard dash is one of the combine’s tests. Tom Brady ran it in 5.28 seconds – the worst score in the history of the combine. And those photos they take? Here’s Tom in 2000:

Doesn’t scream world class athlete. But fortune would lead to Tom getting a starting job where he could show off his true performance.

Here’s the funny thing, though, Tom Brady isn’t the exception at the combine, he’s the rule. In 2008, Dr. Frank Kuzmits and Dr. Arthur J. Adams from the College of Business at the University of Louisville began publishing their research of the NFL combine. Those physical tests don’t actually predict how athletes perform. Bottom scoring combine players find themselves at the top of the professional world all the time. And top scoring combine players, contain a ton of washouts – top draft picks who you’ve never even heard of because they lasted just a single season.

And it’s not just the physical tests that don’t work. The intelligence tests fail too. Kuzmits and Adams also studied the Wonderlic, which is a rudimentary test of intelligence given to all NFL quarterbacks. NFL quarterbacks have a lot to process. They need to be sharp.

Except, again, no correlation was found for the scores on those tests and the performance of quarterbacks in the NFL. Dan Marino has one of the lowest Wonderlic scores of all time, but Dan Marino is also one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Hockey and basketball scouts have the same problem.

These combines don’t work.

But this isn’t just a problem for professional sports. There’s plenty of other studies showing how tests we’ve created to find top candidates in fields like academic recruiting and finding good teachers fail at predicting anything.

The only way we can judge someone is by observing their actual performance.


Highrise is the small business CRM tool that recently spun out from Basecamp. One catch: As the new CEO of Highrise, I needed to find a brand new team. No one from Basecamp was coming over in the move.

I reached out to some folks I knew, dropped hints we were looking for people in blog posts and Tweets, and the process began. But instead of relying on tests, and multiple rounds of grueling interviews over weeks and months, I just followed my gut and kept what I was looking for simple (inspired by Joel Spolsky):

  1. Do they do the thing that I’m looking for. Ruby developer? Designer handy with HTML/CSS? Experience doing customer support?
  2. Are they nice?
  3. Are they smart?
  4. Do they get things done?

And after about the first 10 minutes of a phone call, I had a pretty good idea if you fit. But I didn’t belabor the decision. I know I don’t have a test that could accurately predict whether you were any of these things. So I didn’t spend time trying. We immediately went into short term contracts to observe real performance. And away we went.

We saw if we worked well together and if we got a bunch of stuff done. And we did. A lot, very quickly. And with that real world evidence, I had the data I needed to bring together the official new team behind Highrise!

Please, let me introduce you to:

Chris Gallo

You’ll hear from Chris if you need help with Highrise. He’s head of our customer support. Chris got my attention when out of nowhere he started doing customer support for a software project of mine when I hadn’t even hired him to do so. Then he sent me a job application, when I wasn’t even looking yet, using my very own software to create the application. Chris knows how to communicate and how to help. He’s been an incredible asset to Highrise.

Michael Dwan

Michael is the new CTO of Highrise. I met Michael in 2011 when we were in Y Combinator together. He was the engineer behind creating an awesome photo application called Snapjoy. Great guy and wickedly smart. We hit it off immediately. Snapjoy was quickly acquired by Dropbox, and you’ll see his handiwork all over what Dropbox has done with Carousel and photo storage.

Wren Lanier

Wren is our lead designer. After a small test project for one week, I knew I wanted to work with her full time. She’s quickly improved and refreshed many areas of Highrise, including a beautiful redesign of the homepage. You should catch one of the talks she’s giving at a design conference soon.

Zack Gilbert

Zack is the first software engineer and resource I brought in to help me at Highrise. We had a ton to learn and juggle instantaneously, but if you’ve noticed the extremely fast pace of improvement we were able to make as soon as we started, it was because I had Zack.


I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have found such a talented group of people. But it was also because I didn’t rely on a combine of tests and artificial situations to judge these folks. We got nice, insightful people together to work on actual problems. Our performance in the real world did the rest.

Stay tuned, we’ll be using SvN to share a lot more of the interesting things we discover while we build Highrise. Please feel free to say Hi to all of us on Twitter too; we’d love to meet you. And if you want to follow the fast pace of things we’re getting done at Highrise, you should check out our product updates: here.

What our desks look like - 2015 edition

Dan Kim
Dan Kim wrote this on 31 comments

Nearly three years ago, Nick posted about what our desks look like. It was a fun little peek into how people work and what they like to keep close by. But a lot changes in three years, so we thought it’d be fun to revisit our setups.

Since Nick’s post, a bunch of new folks have joined our team from around the world, and some have even brought new people into the world!

Some have moved into new homes or to new locations, and some are always on the go.

One has called an Airstream home for months, while others have been forced to move…err, “relocate due to circumstances”...to the deepest, darkest corners of their homes (aka, the parents).

These pictures give you just a small glimpse into our team—one built on a wonderful mix of cultures, interests, and personalities. Having such a diverse team is one of the greatest benefits of being a 100% remote company, and it’s a privilege to work with such incredible people.

So, without further ado…


Andrea (Chicago, IL):

Continued…

Bots are boring

Nick
Nick wrote this on 5 comments

Our setup at Basecamp for testing our iOS apps is pretty neat. It (synonymously) involves Xcode’s CI Bots, but that’s easily the most uninteresting part of it. Here’s how we continuously integrate our iPhone and iPad apps at Basecamp and get build results into our Campfire.

Build your bot

This is easily the trickiest part. However, it is pretty boring. Once you’ve followed Apple’s tutorials to setup OSX Server and the Xcode service (which I will skip or lose pretty much everyone reading this for several hours), you just need to head to Product > Create Bot inside of Xcode.

I recommend creating an empty Xcode project first to just make sure everything is working – don’t start with your main iOS codebase. I named it “Placebo”.

We have some specific settings on our bots. Here’s a screenshot for each screen in the bot wizard, since there’s no way to share them outside of the Xcode walled garden. The first screen is the easiest:

Continued…
Request an Invite | Cloudpipes.png

Playful touch spotted on the Cloudpipes invite request page. They keep a list of companies they like and show a little thumbs-up whenever someone signs up from one of those domains!

Michael Berger on Jan 13 2015 1 comment

Forecasting support response times with the Support Simulator 4000

Noah
Noah wrote this on 1 comment

Kristin wrote about our efforts to achieve 24/7 support, and it reminded me of a project I worked on last year. When we started talking about expanding the support team to improve our coverage outside of US business hours, David asked me to take a look at what we’d need to do to achieve a response time of under four hours for every case that came in, and related to that, what response time we could expect with each hire.

Framing the problem

When we talk about “response time”, we’re really talking about about one specific measure—the time from when we receive an email until we send an initial personalized response back (we stopped using autoresponders over a year ago, so every response we send is personalized). That encompasses exactly what we can control — how long we let a case sit in the queue and how long it takes us to answer. We exclude emails that don’t result in a reply (vacation messages sent to us in reply to invoices, spam, etc.), but otherwise include every single email in measuring our response time.

When we look at response time, we usually look at it one of two ways:

  • Median, 95th percentile, and max response time: the point at which half, 95%, and all cases are answered by, respectively.
  • Service level: the portion of cases that we reply to within a given time period.

So the goal that David was asking about can alternately be framed as a max response time of 4 hours or a 100% service level at 4 hours—they’re interchangeable.

There’s a really simple mathematical answer to “what do we need to do to ensure a max response time of no more than 4 hours”: at a minimum, you can’t have any gaps in scheduling that are greater than four hours. In reality you need a slightly smaller gap to actually achieve that service level, because after any gap in coverage you’ll come back to find a queue of cases, but at a minimum, there’s no way you can do a four hour max response time if you have a gap in coverage of more than four hours.

That’s a pretty easy and straightforward answer, and gives you a pretty clear idea of how you need to grow the team: hire such that you can make a reasonable schedule for everyone that doesn’t leave any gaps of more than four hours.

That didn’t answer the question of what we should expect in terms of response time as we grew the team over the course of many months, so for that, we moved to a simulation.

Simulating our support workload

Continued…

Ta-da List – Until the end of the internet

David
David wrote this on 12 comments

Almost ten years to the day, we launched a free service called Ta-da List: A simple way to manage and share to-do lists online. It’s funny to read the announcement now. You need a MINIMUM of Internet Explorer 6 to run it! Ha.

Well, we retired Ta-da List in May, 2012, as it had run its course, and we weren’t looking to update it to keep pace with progress. But what we didn’t do, was to kick off everyone who was happy to use what they had. Ta-da List is part of our legacy, and the courteous thing to do is to respect your legacy.

If you have a Leica M3 – a camera produced between 1954 and 1967 – they’ll still fix it for you in Germany. Half a century after they stopped selling it! That’s legacy, and an inspiration.

In 2014, there were just under 5,000 people still happily using Ta-da List to track their todos. That makes me smile. No, it’s not the best to-do tracker in the world. There’s no mobile app. It’s antique software. But it’s our legacy, and it feels good to be there and be dependable for the users who are happy with what they got.

When we Became Basecamp that was a theme we talked about a lot. The internal phrase is that we want to produce software that’s around #UntilTheEndOfTheInternet. So much software and so many services these days are unreasonably flaky and undependable. Not in the sense that they crash (well, that too), but that they simply disappear from one day to the next because of whimsy, acquisition, or worse.

I don’t want to be a digital landlord that evicts people who placed their trust and their data with us, just because “our priorities have changed”. At the same time, we also don’t want to continue selling or offering antiques to new customers. This is the compromise: No new users, but the ones we got we’ll take care of forever.

So cheers to Ta-da List and the 5,000 people still using it. We’re glad you’re still here, reminding us of who we are and where we came from.

How we achieved 24/7 support without compromising our culture (too much)

Kristin
Kristin wrote this on 5 comments

It’s been a big year for our support team here at Basecamp, as Noah wrote last week. We’ve gone through lots of change and added several more people to the team.

Back in 2012, a few of us began working swing shifts to help clear the queue for the morning staff. Emily also started working Sundays to make Monday easier on the team and clear out some older cases from Friday night and Saturday. While the majority of our emails come in during traditional US business hours, we all know that work doesn’t necessarily happen between nine and five (for example, I’m writing this at 9pm PST). When we saw how well the Sunday and swing-shifts worked, we hired Jim to answer emails in Manchester, UK. That covered our butts from 2am-9pm CST, leaving only 5 hours of unanswered emails Monday through Friday. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but five hours can feel like an eternity if you’re locked out of your account or have a worrisome billing question. Shortly after we hired Jim, we decided to grow the team to include Natalie in Berlin and Chris, also in Manchester.

Fast forward six months to a few weeks after we launched our phone verification feature, when DHH was traveling and didn’t have cell reception on a Saturday. He was essentially locked out of his own app. Saturday, however, was the one day we didn’t have someone answering support emails. When DHH couldn’t log in to Basecamp on a Saturday in a timezone far from HQ, he felt the pain lots of our customers have felt. We decided to make a change to how support works.

I wanted to hire four new people to cover the world around, but DHH wanted me to hire no one and finagle the schedule with our existing staff [insert trollface here]. We settled on a compromise: If we hired four newbies, then we had to also implement phone support, such that we wouldn’t just have a big surge in employees (from 8 to 12: a 50% increase) without also expanding the scope of work. We opened four new positions: US Saturday-Wednesday, EU Saturday-Wednesday, Asia/Pacific Monday-Friday, and Asia/Pacific Saturday-Wednesday. While we searched for these four candidates, the existing team took turns trading one full day of work for a 4-hour Saturday shift. After an exhaustive search, we found our newbies: JorDanée in Florida, James in Berlin, Tony in Sydney, and Sylvia in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, Noah, our self-described (and self-deprecating) Data Monkey, built a simple call-back platform for our Support page. We started slowly and worked through a lot of in-house anxiety and assumptions around phone support: people get angry, people interrupt, people express frustration more easily, people yell. At first, Noah and I were the only people taking calls, and the call option was only available to account owners and administrators. Then, the rest of the team joined us. We started opening the call-back option to more and more users. Now, any logged-in user has the option to request a call from us Monday through Friday from 5am until 5pm CST, with the occasional wee hour and weekend option. (For the record, our users are as sweet as freshly grated palm sugar and super happy that we call them back within a couple of minutes, so that in-house anxiety has mostly subsided.)

You can check out Noah’s comprehensive summary of the support stats here, but I’d like to point out some stats to celebrate. We made a huge dent in email-response times this year, with the median time to response across the entire year falling to three minutes. For comparison, back in 2011 and 2012 our median response time for email cases was over two hours. Additionally, we’re now answering emails on weekends within six minutes on average, whereas customers would wait upwards of eight hours for a response before 24/7 email was implemented. In our first year of phone support, we averaged about 250 calls per month despite having millions of customers. The median call-back time is under three minutes.

Not a call center.

Many of us have been working together for nearly four years now, so we’re a close-knit group of diverse weirdos. The major anxieties that cropped up during these proposed changes were based in the fear of culture shifts; we did not want to lose the senses of freedom or autonomy that come along with remote work, and growing the team 50% meant introducing more (potentially not weirdo) people to our existing, comfortable culture. Every time you introduce a new person to a culture, the culture shifts a bit. While we’re happy to include more people on our team, we also know that we want to remain relatively small.

The biggest cultural shift was with phone support. We were a team used to writing emails to customers all day, not speaking with them on the phone. We all identify as writers and introverts, so the idea that we’d have to speak to people on the phone felt icky. There were lots of “I was hired to write, not to speak” and “I’m not comfortable on the phone” and “I refuse to work at a call center.” Once everyone started taking calls, those anxieties wore away for most of the team. (I now compare talking on the phone with my days teaching university English: it’s all a performance.) Yet, we still had to navigate working with people in a new, real-time format. People are complicated. They do get mad, interrupt, and yell. Those calls are hard. They make us feel helpless in a position where we’re meant to be helpful. After a rough call or email, our team is still here to support each other. We encourage each other to debrief those rough interactions and step away from work for a few minutes.

Phone support also inhibits some freedoms of remote work. While many of us work from our homes, there are times when we get stir crazy and want to venture off to a coffeeshop to work. We all know that it’s rude to take calls at a coffeeshop, so we cover for each other if someone wants to get out of the house just like we would if someone were sick or on vacation or having an off-day. A huge part of working a customer support job is supporting each other, and we’re getting better and better at that with each new challenge we introduce to our workflow.

We may still be a small team, but our culture has grown significantly this year. From a Jiu-jitsu’ing cat lover in Oregon, to a working Paleo mom who likes to #liveriveted, to a car-obsessed deadlifting vegemite-eating Aussie – we know that our small team still means everyone knows each other, gets each other’s jokes, understands each other’s work ethics, and most of all, trusts each other wholeheartedly.

Why you should share your dirty work

Jonas Downey
Jonas Downey wrote this on 13 comments

When you look at most designers’ portfolios, you usually see beautiful, polished work — finished products with plenty of spit and shine.

Those examples are great for showing off your talents and the culmination of your hard work, but the final product is only a small percentage of your total effort. It just represents your last decisions that made the cut.

In reality, most projects are ugly and messy. There are piles of half-baked explorations and heated arguments left behind the scenes. That’s why the shipped version of a design can seem obvious in retrospect — you threw out all the confusing stuff along the way!

Most of this dirty work ends up in the trash or unseen, and that’s too bad. We should all show our dirty work more often, because it’s documentation of the real work. It explains your thought process and gives critical backstory to the final version. (By the way: having that backstory also makes it easier for employers to hire you. Sometimes it’s much more valuable than the end result.)

We’ve been doing this for years in our Design Decisions posts. In that spirit, here’s a bit of our recent Basecamp dirt. This is what it’s really like to make the doughnuts!

Example 1: Should we show a button or not?

Sometimes small things are unexpectedly controversial. When we worked on Archiving Discussions, we had a running debate about whether we should expose the [Archive] button on discussions all the time, or keep it hidden away in a “bulk archiving” mode.

Archiving is an occasional use feature, so we were concerned about making it too prominent. For a while, we even planned to hide the button behind a keyboard shortcut and make it a secret power user thing.

Finally, we all agreed that there was no harm in showing the button. It didn’t get in the way or make the Discussions page noisy — it made it useful.

Example 2: Writing a single link

There wasn’t much design work needed for multiple-file downloads, yet we fiddled with this link text profusely. We even changed it in production after we shipped the feature.

Example 3: Fixing an edge case

Working on a big product like Basecamp means there’s an edge case practically everywhere you look. When we added moving a single to-do, we had to accommodate what happens if there are no destinations to move to. Most people won’t ever encounter this state, but it has to exist for those who do.

Example 4: How should we show attachments?

One of the bigger challenges with attaching files to to-dos was deciding whether we should show each file’s thumbnail next to the to-do itself. To-dos already have a lot of UI chrome, so we wanted to tread lightly. We tried big thumbnails and tiny ones.

After several debates, we decided that big thumbnails were too intrusive, and small ones were too tiny to be useful. So we axed them and opted to show a paperclip icon instead.

Example 5: Basic grammar

There’s often a conflict between proper English and what wording can be programmed to fit a variety of conditions in software. This is why you see computers making silly mistakes like 1 to-dos added successfully. Carefully working around these situations is almost an art in itself. There’s always a push and pull between what you want to say, and what you can reasonably do without excessive conditional code.

During design for making templates from existing projects we included an option to remove to-do assignments in bulk. We had to try several times to find a version that was clear enough and didn’t violate basic English grammar in some way.

So there you have it — those are just a few of our recent examples! What stuff have you made recently that’s itching to see the light of day?

Against the Grain

Wailin Wong
Wailin Wong wrote this on 1 comment
“Every boat is copied from another boat….It is clear that a very badly made boat will end up on the bottom after one or two voyages, and thus never be copied….One could then say, with complete rigor, that it is the sea herself who fashions the boats, choosing those which function and destroying the others.”

- Émile Chartier

I thought of this quote while writing the latest Distance story on Van Dam Custom Boats, a Michigan-based maker of wooden boats that’s been in business for 38 years. Van Dam Custom Boats builds just two to four boats a year, and a single boat can take up to two years to complete because each one is made by hand—eight to 10 pairs of hands, to be more precise. It’s a small shop committed to craftsmanship the old-fashioned way, including thousands of hours of sanding the boats by hand.

Photo by Michael Berger

There are probably faster or cheaper ways to build boats. But the Van Dams have successfully put their boats up against unforgiving waters from Lake Michigan to the Mediterranean Sea for almost four decades. The sea, you could say, has validated the Van Dam way.

Introducing the 5x12

Jason Fried
Jason Fried wrote this on 15 comments

Last year we topped 40 people at Basecamp. And that’s when I began to notice that we didn’t know as much about each other as we used to when we were smaller.

When any group gets to a certain size, it naturally begins to splinter into smaller groups. Cliques form and conversations often stay inside those cliques. That’s natural and OK, but I thought it would be nice to force some cross-clique personal conversations so everyone could get to know everyone else a little bit better again.

So I had this idea to bring together five random people (plus me and David) once a month for a one-hour free-flowing anything goes conversation, and then share the conversation with the rest of the company after it was over. The topics weren’t forced or pre-determined – whatever emerged was fair game. I’d sort of moderate the discussion to get it going, but after that whatever happened happened. The plan wasn’t to talk about work – it was to get a glimpse of what was going on in everyone’s lives outside of work. Could be exciting stuff, boring day-to-day stuff, whatever stuff. Life stuff.

We called it the 5×12. 5 people, 12 times a year. Andrea, our office manager, would select the people for each call, and the participants on the call would be kept secret until the call started. No one would know who was on this particular 5×12 call until each person popped into the conversation. A little surprise would help break the ice and just generally make things a little more interesting.

Since we’re a majority-remote company, we’d hold these monthly 5×12 video sessions using Google Hangout. Only the people on the call would be in the Hangout, but Andrea would transcribe/interpret each call and then post that transcript to Basecamp a couple days later so everyone in the company could read it. This way the actual call would remain intimate, but the stories would be shared company-wide.

I wasn’t sure how it would go – it was just an experiment. We’ve done six of them so far and I think they’ve been a big success. We continue to do them today (in fact today is the seventh one). We all get to learn a bit more about each other every month, and everyone looks forward to reading Andrea’s often humorous take on the conversation.

If you’re finding that you’re not as in tune with the people you work with as you once were, I’d recommend giving the 5×12 idea a try. I think it’s especially important for remote teams. I definitely feel like we’re all a little closer than we were before.

I thought it would be nice to share one of the transcripts from the 5×12 calls so you can get a sense of how these go and the sorts of things that came up in conversation.

What follows is the transcript from the very first call back in July, 2014. Enjoy!


TRANSCRIPT

Partipants: Jason, DHH, Mig, Ann, John, Natalie, and Javan.

Ann asked about the metal chotchke in the team room. JF said Ben is researching BC stickers, and one idea was a metal emblem. He’s getting samples from people who do metal work, and that was one example, but it is too ornate. He’s also getting some other samples in wood and other materials.

John talked about moving to Indy. He lived there for 4 years during college, now back in the suburbs which is weird, little but of an adjustment living in a subdivision, and not where i saw himself living, but it’s okay. Jason asked how they decided to move. JW said the choice was between living close to Marie’s parents in Indy or JW’s parents in the middle of nowhere, so they chose Indy. They were in a motorhome for awhile, the idea was to keep traveling, “then Marie got pregnant, and living in a confined space with a pregnant wife is not the best option”. (<—quote) They still have the motorhome in storage and camp on a regular basis, just not going all the time. John bought the motorhome new, and there’s a warranty, but still tons of bugs to be worked out. The guy who sold it to them said “you’re putting a house on wheels with a big engine, things are going to break”.

DHH tries to get American motorhomes in Europe, because the European versions are shitty: “Americans know how to put a house on wheels”. At Le Mans, one of the racers asked about a hotel room, and his team got him a motorhome instead. It was a European “shed on wheels”.

Mig drew a mustache on DHH, and DHH danced like a mariachi and then stroked his chin, like an old timey train robber.

NK has been camping a lot this summer and went to Norway a few weeks ago, near the Arctic Circle to camp on an island for 9 days. She just signed a lease on a new apartment which has an office. Some questions from the group about the Arctic Circle — NK says she went to the highest area in Norway and camped, it was cold but not unbearable — 8 Celsius, and midnight sun. Sun didn’t set the whole time they were there.

Mig put a Cat In The Hat hat on DHH. Unclear if he noticed.

JF wants to see the Northern Lights one day (and space shuttle launch). AG saw the Lights in Door County when she was a kid and it terrified her.

Someone drew a monocle on John.

John and family are planning on going to Cape Canaveral to see a SpaceX launch. He doesn’t know which viewing areas are open to the public, but they’re just going to go and figure it out.

Mig & Javan had a weekend in Michigan “Basecamp boys weekend” for 4th of July with Michael and Trevor. JM showed them around, really fun, hung out in nature. Then they checked out Detroit and 1/2 were scared shitless. AG asked which half, and Mig admitted it was actually all of them. Every building was dilapidated, but then they ran into pockets of cool places and shops, followed by other scary pockets where you shouldn’t walk. DHH wondered how dangerous Detroit is. He said it’s funny how you get perception of an area – before the World Cup, you’d hear how Brazil is dangerous, and then you see the stats for Chicago (37 shootings in one weekend), and it’s interesting how relative “danger” is.

MR also saw Javan’s new car – MR knows a lot about cars, and described it as blue, shiny, vintage, well kept, “dreamy”, very nice. He shared the Instagram pics, and the guys looked like they’re in a boy band. DHH commented that there was not enough duck face.

Javan actually knows something about cars (not really) and described his new car: 1970 BMW 2002, 44 years old. He bought it on eBay, which was a weird experience. He never saw the car, he bought it from someone in Delaware. He took a blind leap and clicked “bid” and won. Two days later it showed up on a truck at his house, very bizarre, impulse buy on something that could be totally fucked up when it shows up. He’s been driving it more than he’s supposed to. It’s registered as a collectors car, legally supposed to drive it to only car shows and club trade events, but he’s been driving it on errands. It’s been raining a ton, and he can’t get the car wet because it leaks and will rust, so it’s been in the garage lately.

JF asked Javan: why did you buy it? JM used to have a 1979 Saab he bought for $1000, not a fancy car but he loved it. Every single thing was mechanical, everything was solid, nothing broke because it was just metal. He got rid of it 5 years ago and was missing it. This winter was cold and boring, so he looked at fun cars and fell in love with this one. Old cars are romantic, they’re pleasing in a way that new cars aren’t, and they have character that new cars don’t have. Maybe some new small batch nice cars, but the factory mass produced cars today won’t age with the same character as old cars.

JF said old cars make people feel good. People smile and ask about them. He asked if Javan finds that true? Javan said that in Michigan, the car stands out a little more, there aren’t many cars like it on the road. “Lots of cheers & fist pumping when I drive by.” Lots of old timers want to know a lot about it, and young kids just want him to rev the engine and drive fast. The factory stats say the car does 0-60mph in 12.9 seconds, so it’s probably even slower now. JF’s dad has an early 1980s model car, and there are alway people telling him about it when he drives around.

Mig moved into a new apartment. He’s not been home much, but loves the place. He can see the sunset with west-facing windows. It’s his first time living alone and first time in a loft style place, and it’s great. It’s close to nice places in the neighborhood & transit, close to the office, but still in a separate neighborhood away from work. He’s having a fun summer, going on weird weekend camping trips. He is glad to go out and do things, but also thinking more about being home and enjoying alone time. He lived with roommates since leaving high school, so it took him a few weeks to realize no one was going to come home, which was weird at first. Mig wears pants “most of the time”. The building has a cool roof deck and MR meets new people every time he goes up there – likes talking to different people of all different walks of life. He gets the feeling of living mates, but no one bothers him.

JF asked if anyone wanted to talk about work stuff.

Javan has been working with Sam for 3-4 months on Trix. It’s been super fun, and it’s the first time he’s worked with another programmer closely. Usually, everyone works in a team with others, but it’s rare for 2 programmers to work together, and it’s been fun. “Sam is obviously the smartest person in the world”, and Javan has learned a lot working with him. Javan says it would be cool to do more projects like that. He does not know if designers or other people feel the same way, but JM things programmers don’t get enough opportunity to work together. A lot of that is the nature of the projects, but it would be nice to do more often. JF: we’ve been pretty optimized for efficiency, which doesn’t lend itself to the same groups of people working together. As a company, we’re trying to do too many things at once — last cycle, we had 8 projects running concurrently. When you have that many projects and a product team and only 15-16 people, it’s not possible for a lot of people to work together. Moving forward, we want to have fewer projects and more people on those projects. Not 8—8 means most people are working independently. DHH: And it’s not even efficient. It has a veneer of efficiency, but there are all these other coordinations costs. This cycle we did some things that weren’t of the highest priority because we had the people. We want to have slightly larger teams doing fewer things in serial, rather than small teams working in parallel. It’s also hard for JF & DHH to be involved with 8 concurrent things. And fewer projects means everyone is pulling in the same direction. JF has been working closely with Scott and Conor, and that pairing is going well.

Someone asked DHH if the math formulas on the blackboard in the storage room is real? When we first moved into the office, JF tweeted, asking someone to come put “a bunch of math” on the chalkboard for the hell of it. A mathematician from U of C agreed, and he “put a bunch of shit on the board”. He said it was real, but we’ve never checked. There are a few eraser marks from the guy who did it, so we think they’re actually real bc he screwed up as he was writing it.

Mig talked about being paired with Julia this summer. It’s cool to have an intern and fun to see someone wide-eyed about things that he thinks are basic. She gives a different perspective when working on The Distance, and she’s so curious. It’s fun to slow yourself down to teach someone else. A challenge, but fun. Hopefully she’ll be able to hang out with everyone and work on some other stuff. She wants to work on everything. She’s working on some postcards. Mig gave her general creative direction, but told her to “make it something you’re proud of, it’s going in the real world and that doesn’t happen at a lot of internships, so run with it”. MR is very impressed with her work and ambition. George is killing it, too. MR is happy we’re taking on “green talent”.

JF was in a room with Julia & Mig, and they talked about art school. In school, they never make anything for real clients, make budgets, they never send things to press/do press checks – all that real life stuff doesn’t happen in school, and it should.

Mig does portfolio reviews a lot, and it’s disheartening to see so much fake work that never goes into production. MR wants to help educate students by using real projects because “that’s weird that school doesn’t do that for designers”. School opens the doors to design work, but he did’t really learn anything in school. Half the people at Basecamp learned on their own, no formal school, so going to school a gamble. Students think “an adulthood switch flips” and you have a job, but design school doesn’t really prep you for real work. They sell you on a dream job, but then the industry is saturated with unprepared people.

DHH: Denmark pays you to go to school for 6 years, and you’d think that would change the culture. You’d think everyone would take a graduate degree, but the rates of graduation aren’t very different than the US. It does change the makeup of students and degrees—which in the US seems to be changing too. Students in the US go into tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and the end degree is not something you would buy for that amount of money. MR: art school costs over $100k, and there’s no education about education.

JW: also, whenever people talk about student loan debt, they call it “good debt”, that’s the sales bit. DHH said, but it’s actually the worst – there’s high interest rates, and you can’t clear it in bankruptcy. JW agrees, but mentions that they say it’s worth the interest, but what they don’t tell you is that you’ll be writing checks for the next 15 years. DHH the market makes no sense – people tend have a native instinct of small items being too expensive (e.g. a hot dog should not be $5, it should be $2), but people don’t have the same sense about large-scale items like education. JF says people who pay for their own education seem to have a better sense of the cost. If you’re paying out of pocket with no loans, you are more realistic. The loan makes you feel like it’s not your money. People who pay out of pocket get the same level of education, but when you get a loan at 18 years old, you don’t know the consequences of debt like that.

AG got rid of her car, rides her bike everywhere now, and she gets rained on all the time. She doesn’t even think about the rain anymore – about 5 years ago, she just accepted it. DHH said, in the US, being a “bicycle person” is part of your identity, and in Denmark, it’s just what everyone does. Two months ago, he was home and noticed that literally everyone bikes, people in suits, in long dresses. In California, the only people on bikes have a full spandex suit. In Denmark, people bike to go places. JF: do people who own cars in Denmark have car culture? Since it’s a smaller segment of the population, in the way that there’s a bike culture here? DHH said no, you’d think the minority would have an allegiance to each other, but they don’t. Javan: how do people bike in suits and then go to work? Don’t people sweat? DHH said they just don’t bike that fast, and it’s cooler there. People are more leisurely. Another funny difference – in Chicago, everything has air conditioning. Nowhere in Copenhagen has AC. If it’s really hot one day, that’s just the temperature. Natalie says it’s the same in Berlin, no AC, “and I sweat when I ride my bike”. AG also sweats. Mig is Filipino, which means he does not sweat but glows. DHH said there’s always a difference in cultural comfort zones. It’s hard to even imagine something outside of that comfort zone, like not having AC when it’s hot. But people are so adaptable. Few people in Denmark care about biking/sweating, or thinking about AC when it’s hot. The drawback of amenities is that we’re continuously shrinking our comfort zones. JF said DHH should start the trend in Chicago and get rid of his AC and car. DHH agreed (no he didn’t).

John bikes in Indy. There are no hills, cornfields, flat as a pancake, so he rides around in big squares. He rides on the outside of town, low traffic. DHH saw study on the safety of helmets. Motorists who see bikers with helmets tend to drive closer to the bike than they would if the biker did not have a helmet. Same principle as another study about mountain roads. On mountain road turns with guard rails, the accidents/fatalites shot way up – people drive as fast as they want because of the illusion of safety. Where there are no guard rails, people were more careful. In some ways, it’s “unsafer to be safe.” It’s perverse that the behavior that protects you in an accident potentially gets you into the accident in the first place. Illinois state law says there should be 3 feet distance between driver and cycle. Indiana has weird laws – bikers have to have a bell on your bicycle. JW has no bell. He stares down cops when he rides by, like a young James Dean.

Natalie said that she and James are starting European-based classes for Support, next Friday. They aren’t changing the class, but the time zone will cover a lot more people. AG asked if she is using the metric system (no). DHH hears all the time from people about Support classes – they love it, and he feels like the classes have a positive affect on retention. NK is learning German using Rosetta Stone and it’s going well. She’s hoping to be more fluent in 6 months because she has her visa renewal in 6 months and needs to be “more German” by then. NK is already German in that she uses walking sticks, has tall socks, and “a version of lederhosen”. She also likes pretzels. She is not German in that she has not had cheeseburger in a can.

NK loves Rosetta Stone. If you’re speaking incorrectly, it’ll tell you right away. Some other programs, as long as you talk at all, it’s tell you you’re right. She also took group classes in person, and Rosetta Stone is better. DHH said, admiringly: “robots, man.” DHH’s wife is using Rosetta Stone for Spanish, and she prefers it even above a tutor. Her tutor’s pace was too slow, and Rosetta allows you to go at your own pace, review things. NK said you can also “make a fool of yourself to yourself” and it doesn’t matter, and there are no distractions from other students. This goes back to the value of education – a lot of people can probably learn better from cheaper classes online, robots, software. Robots, man, indeed.

DHH brought up the book on introversion (Susan Cain’s “Quiet”). Three-quarters of the population are extroverts, and the education system is built around them. The rest of the population probably learn better on their own, they find focus in isolation, so the move towards online distance learning is better for introverts.

THE END.