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A Battle on the Verizon

29 Jul 2003 by

As part of our search for the new member of the 37signals team, I asked a select group of finalists to redesign the Verizon Wireless homepage in 5 days (note, the home page I linked to was the original one they were asked to work from — Verizon has since redesigned their home page). I gave them no directions — except to make it better in their eyes.

The goal was to see: 1. Their design skills in action, 2. Their thought process (what’s important, what isn’t important, how should the page be prioritized, etc.), 3. How they worked with little to no direction, and 4. How they worked in a high pressure, quick deadline environment.

Well, now that we’ve added Ryan Singer to the 37signals team (more on Ryan shortly), I thought I’d share the designs and open them up for discussion (permission was granted by the designers). The designs themselves are anonymous so I’d appreciate if the designers would keep them that way (at least for the next few weeks). Also, some designs were submitted with detailed documentation of the design process, while others were submitted with a simple link. For this review I’ve chosen to just display screenshots of the final design comp. Thanks to everyone who was involved — you are all very talented professionals. We will definitely stay in touch.

Design 1, Design 2, Design 3, Design 4, Design 5, Design 6, Design 7

143 comments so far (Post a Comment)

29 Jul 2003 | ek said...

Hmmm, can we pick bits and pieces from each? ;-)

29 Jul 2003 | Pedro said...

Number 5.

29 Jul 2003 | Chris said...

Yeah, number five.

29 Jul 2003 | anon said...

oh, you can't see the second half of mine...

29 Jul 2003 | Matt Haughey said...

Number 5 looks totally like a 37signals design, but I would say after looking at them all, and at the functions available on the original, number 2 looks intuitive and useful, if a bit sparse. I like the number 5 too, but hiding all the current customer functionality beneath a tab is what put me off. It'd be nice if a quick login form could be worked into the default homepage, so people could jump to their current customer page that way (it'd save a step).

29 Jul 2003 | Me said...

I like the obvious split between current customers and new customers in #5. But #2 is sooo much cleaner.

29 Jul 2003 | trk said...

so tough... I like most of them ...they are all so good.

29 Jul 2003 | JF said...

BTW... Since I don't want the designers to speak to their designs just yet (unless they do it completely anonymously), the concept behind #5 was that the "Current Customers" tab would be selected by default (via a cookie) if you had already logged in previously.

29 Jul 2003 | me 2 said...

yeah, but what's the giant phone photo for on the right hand side of #2?

29 Jul 2003 | Aaron Swartz said...

I also really like 5. A minimum of branding fluff and all the information I, as a prospective customer, would need is right there.

2 is nice but it feels like there's a bit of polish or something still missing.

29 Jul 2003 | Darrel said...

I can't believe no one decided to tackle a redesign of the ugliest of ugly corporate logos. ;o)

29 Jul 2003 | anon said...

out of scope!

29 Jul 2003 | peterme said...

Verizon's redesigned home page is the only one worth considering. Because it's the only one developed in the context of an actual design process, with it's attenuating trade-offs, political battles, objectives to be met, etc.

Presenting designs outside of such a context borders on meaningless, because successful designs must serve a whole host of factors.

I suppose it could be interesting for the folks at 37Signals to use this bake-off as a way to get inside potential designers' heads. Offering the outputs to a general community, though, adds no value, because 1) it's an unrealistic process and 2) unless their members of Verizon's web team, they can't speak to all the issues that are necessary to consider when evaluating this page. All that we can respond to is aesthetics, which is a wee portion of a design's value.

29 Jul 2003 | anon said...

so... peterme, which one do you like best?

29 Jul 2003 | brian said...

i liked 3 and 5, just my personal opinions. i think something like this would make for an interesting competition. you could have the winner be a guest @ your next conference/workshop, not necessarily speak, but a free admission.

I would happily redesign a page, and then fly to chicago once i win ;-)

j/k of course

29 Jul 2003 | peterme said...

Sorry... one more thought. Such exercises made public get my dander up because they recapitulate two of the gravest faults of design school processes:

1) being a Lone Designer
Successful corporate design happens only in teams. Designers with "visions" that are unwilling to compromise only impede progress. And will be routed around by the rest of the organization.

2) designing outside business context
Some strange assumption that The Designer Knows Better. Designs created outside business context inevitably fail.

29 Jul 2003 | JF said...

Thanks for your comments, Peter. And I fundamentally agree with your points, but that wasn't the point of this excercise. I do believe that good designers can think on their own. I don't believe that good designers are paralyzed unless they have business context as part of the process. I think that this was a very worthwhile design-brainstorm excercise, and opening it up to public viewing and commentary is equally good. It was part of the interview process. Where's the harm in this Peter?

29 Jul 2003 | omit said...

Verizon's new home page is a morass of text, which leaves the eye lost wondering where to go first.

And aesthetics are more important than you realize. Now, aesthetics without thought, process, analysis and research (while using previous experience and learning) lead to folly. But thought, process, analysis and research without consideration for aesthetics is also folly.

I pick #5 for aesthetics and #2 for usability.

29 Jul 2003 | lbj said...

Gosh, peterme, I guess I shouldn't take inspiration from anything unless I know every intimate business detail. I guess I shouldn't surf the web and check out sites to see what other people are doing unless I have their business plan in hand. Lighten up, bro, there's plenty of value in what 37signals is showing. Maybe the value is below you, but it's not below me.

29 Jul 2003 | Didier Hilhorst said...

Everything Peter said makes sense. It's just that I don't think the 37Signals team intended to reproduce a full blown design process (how would that be possible in 5 days?). They're looking for someone to hire. Except disecting their CV and portfolio the only other method to test their skills within a tight timeframe is issuing a competition. Each designer has 5 days to make the Verizon website better according to their design skills, usability skills, etc. Does it matter that Verizon was chosen in this excersise, in my opinion not. Any commercial site would've done the trick. Designing a complete website is something different.

This discussion sounds like hiring a cyclist for a Tour the France team (say US Postal, or any other). Every cyclist starts his career by doing small races that certainly do not last 3 weeks and are physically less demanding. But to hire a new cyclist, team managers need to evaluate their skills by looking at past performances or even organize a competition to see who's best (the latter doesn't really happen, but it's nice for the analogy). Does that mean that these off season, small races are the same as the Tour de France. Of course not. But odds are that a cyclist that is performing well on these races will have more chances to survive the Tour the France.

To conlude: the Tour the France is still another game, but you have to start somewhere. In design it's somewhat the same. You start small and along the way you get good (atleast let's hope). Finally you'll be able to handle the real big stuff, eventually beating everyone. And yes, designing a complete site is something different than a creative burst lasting 5 days where there's no need to compromise (except with yourself, which can be a frustrating habit).

29 Jul 2003 | ~bc said...

Here's some initial reactions (just what first came to mind for each, may be nitpicky)

#1) Nice, clean.

#2) Two things: a) "en espanol" spelled wrong. In English, it's close enough, but in Spanish "n" and "" are two different letters. "en espaol" and technically, I believe Espaol should be capitalized. I think this is important to show respect for different languages. b) third picture down on the left shows a bluetooth headset. I don't believe any verizon phones use bluetooth. Neither of these affect the visual design, but I think show the process of a designer. I don't know if I would base my decision on hiring on something like this, but these were the very first things I noticed on the page, after 3 sec. of looking. Visually very appealing (with the exception of the gray-screened phone pic on the right bottom).

#3) Strong understanding of Verizon-like corporate branding shown in the design. Nice.

#4) Nice. I would vote against the "!" around the Spanish, and against the font used in the horizontal navigation. It's fine down the left side in red, but I don't feel it works across the top. Trying to determine the relation to links that are big red buttons (which are strong visual elements), versus all the other links on the page. Are these the most important links on the page (they certainly stand out the most)? What's the relation between "learn more" (marketing) and "send txt message" (already paying customer, or for someone not there to buy) links which both occupy such buttons. I think perhaps their semantics need to be explored more. Perhaps not as big of a deal as I'm making them.

#5 Big fan of the "new" and "current" customers: allows each to not get lost in the other's links. Not overly long (horizontally) which is a nice aesthetic.

#6 A corporate site this clean is almost unheard of. I like the use of the clean 3 pane layout with the billboard top, nice over lapping of layers. Good use of color to set off the most important links.

#7 I feel the top treatment needs work: the white swath feels like wasted space. That's expensive real estate (and I'm not one for clutter, either). I don't like the use of text for the company slogan, I feel that (in this case) should actually be a graphic, or at least better treated css typography. Main nav is strong and easy to spot. I like the "get down to business" style in putting some calling plans right on the front page. However, I think the "new" and "current" customer stuff could be more clearly set apart. FreeUp is kinda hanging out there by itself without explanation at the bottom.

All in all, I think they're all good work. I did feel some were better than others. Brian's Top 3:

Third: #4
Second: #3
First: #6

Third place was nearly a tie between 4 & 5. 4 was just a little more polished.

I could go on, but I think I'll stop now. Anyone one looking for more critiquing, feel free to contact me.

29 Jul 2003 | ~bc said...

PS- I took so long doing the critiques (including cooking dinner, and eating) that I let 20 people pass me! At least it means I didn't get influenced by their opinions! Now on to see what the rest of y'all think.

29 Jul 2003 | Tom said...

I think 3 and 5 are the best designed in terms of looks but 2 seems to be the cleanest and the one that would work best for the average user. But as someone said above what's with "the giant phone photo on the right hand side"?

Still all the designs are better than what Verizon came up with. Despite what peterme says if you took designs #2, 3 or 5 and showed them to Verizon to illustrate how much better their site could be/function, I think they would agree.

Were all the participants Mac users, or was the Mac browser interface used just for consistency?

29 Jul 2003 | Didier Hilhorst said...

By the way: my favourite design was #5. I don't understand why #2 is so popular amongst commentors. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder (although let's face it: they're all good redesigns, they have my blessing, all seven of them). I'm pretty sure #5 won. I'd like to take a bet, anyone?

29 Jul 2003 | c3o said...

Darrel, #6 did redesign their logo in a subtle way: no gradients, and no font size difference between "verizon" and "wireless". I like that a lot better than the original.
My favorites: Usability: #2; Aesthetics: #3; Best balance of both: #6
No 5 is nice as well, but I doubt the location detection would work most of the time (AOL users all appearing to be from Virginia etc), the tabs look like they would logically just change the large center graphic, and it does really instantly make you think of 37s. Which of course is not a bad thing when you're applying for a job there, I suppose.
Anyway, they're all better than the old site, which by the way looks like a bit of an ripoff to me :)

29 Jul 2003 | grant said...

#3 then #6, cleanliness is next to godliness

29 Jul 2003 | Steve said...

I see a one huge problem with a couple of these. Go look at Sprint PCS. Now look at No. 3 and No. 5. You can't redesign in a vacuum, especially when you end up looking barely distinguishable from one of your primary competitors. It's a challenge when they both use essentially the same color palate, but it's not impossible by any means. (And if Sprint PCS hadn't redone their design a while back, both of these would *really* look like Sprint PCS sites.

I think the best one of the lot is No. 1. It needs some work - like some more color and a bit more livliness, but it's clean, eminently readable, calls attention to promotions very, very well and, in what I think is its strong suit - puts common functions in easy-to-spot locations on the left without having them overwhelm the page, reflecting the liklihood that the percentage of users looking for either function is going to be relatively small.

Some other comments - No. 2 has its visual emphasis and balance all wrong - my eye jumps to this giant, bad photo of some unknown phone, and shopping and login have equal weight - and special offers less weight. Most visitors to this site are shoppers.

No. 3 is good. Just reminds me way too much of Sprint. Good job of facilitating immediate entry into shopping and making shopping the dominant feature. But where's the current customer login?

No. 4 is very busy and crams a lot onto a page. It's also almost too segregated. Reminds me too much of a USA Today front page, with everything in its own little box.

No. 5 - I don't like the new/current customer dichotomy. But more from a business perspective than a design perspective - I don't want to maintain multiple home pages, etc. I think the 50-50 split below the top banner causes my eye not to know which one to gravitate toward. It's a challenge in wireless, though, because some people shop for plans, some people shop for specific phones, and you need to hit them both. One side note: If I was greeted with "We've detected that you're in Denver, CO" I'd get way too much of a Big Brother vibe, even though I know it's just an IP lookup. (Of course, you'd also end up with a lot of people being "detected" in Dulles, VA.)

No. 6 is my second favorite. It addresses some of the color and liveliness issues I noted in No. 1. Not quite as elegant and smooth in its layout, though.

No. 7 doesn't give me much to focus on, and there are a couple false visual associations (the "Send a TXT message" - why can't Verizon just call it "text" like any normal human being? - band looks associated with the shop-for-phones box, to cite the obvious example.

What's more interesting here than the designs themselves is the reactions to them, and the very different reasons behind them. And several of the posters are professionals who do or evaluate just this sort of thing for a living. Good illustration of how difficult this is to do in front of real clients. If we can't agree, and can't agree why we don't agree, it's amazing we ever get clients to do it.

29 Jul 2003 | Eric N said...

My $.02, I was taking a look at all the layouts and they all seemed really good but, then I took a look at the current layout of the site. I actually think that the current design is significantly better than almost all of layouts submitted. The only two that seem to be par are the #5 (which everyone seems to like) and #6 (which is a little more corporate). I think I lean towards #6

Plus, I think #6 (as clean and sparse as it is) is actually truer to the current layout in addressing some of the functionality they want.

29 Jul 2003 | brian said...

one thing i find interesting about the current verizon page is that now it looks like t-mobile's site, kinda eery if you ask me.

brings up lots of these issues about looking like your competitor.

i wish i had been informed of this competition, i would have loved the challenge, even though i don't want a job...

29 Jul 2003 | brian said...

I actually think that #3 is the best. It's the only one with a real call to action. "Pick a Phone..." "Pick a Calling Plan..." And the phone really draws my attention to that left side where I can get things done.

29 Jul 2003 | omit said...

Wait a second...the Verizon site I saw linked earlier was different. The new Verizon site is much better than any of these candidates. I withdraw my earlier criticism, and my apologies go to peterme. Man, do I feel dumb right now. Here is the page you linked to originally. Did you change the link without telling us?

29 Jul 2003 | lucid said...

among the samples, I prefer #2.

and I also like the new Verizon Wireless design.

29 Jul 2003 | Jacob said...

Though not the main focus of the exercise, I'm really interested to see the process and reasoning behind the designs on display. The end product is what's important, of course, but how much did the documentation account for in the hiring process? (As analytical as 37s is of other designs, I can't help but think you would want a new designer to subject their own work to such rigorous and candid scrutiny.)

Care to shed some light on the issue, JF? It would certainly help me make better design choices (if they can't be 37Better...).

p.s. dooce. definitely. usability is key. (and where did designer six get dotted-border-fever?)

29 Jul 2003 | JF said...

Omit, the page you are linking to is the Verizon home page, which is different than the Verizon Wireless home page.

29 Jul 2003 | paul said...

i think it'd be interesting to see what normal, everday business users think of the designs - instead of just designers (who make up a really small percentage of internet users).

29 Jul 2003 | ML said...

Peterme...I agree that this exercise ignores many real world factors and should thus be considered in that light. But to argue that it's "not worth considering," "meaningless," and "adds no value" seems overly reactionary to me. Maybe this analogy, using your words in a different light, can help me make my point:

George W. Bush's foreign policy stance is the only one worth considering. Because it's the only one developed in the context of an actual political process, with it's attenuating trade-offs, battles, objectives to be met, etc.

Presenting policy views outside of such a context borders on meaningless, because successful policy must serve a whole host of factors.

I suppose it could be interesting for the folks at the Democratic party to use debates as a way to get inside potential candidates' heads. Offering the outputs to a general community, though, adds no value, because 1) it's an unrealistic process and 2) unless their members of the current administration, they can't speak to all the issues that are necessary to consider when evaluating this administration's policy...

In my opinion, dissenting views that come from outside the current administration (be it corporate or political) are indeed valuable, meaningful, and worth considering. The alternative (i.e. only hearing/seeing the views of those "in office") doesn't seem like the most constructive path.

30 Jul 2003 | petermetoo said...

perterme sounds pretty smart to me -- someone with a little real world experience who understands that a web site is not done by a "lone designer" nor outside the "business context" as he adeptly points out.

the 37 team is best at beatin up the big boys with their "better" series, so why not hire someone who designs in a vacuum? they can all continue to target companies with even more speculative work designed in a vacuum.

that said... i like number five too ;-)

30 Jul 2003 | plot said...

i don't understand number 5. if you login, then you're in the current customer section whereas if you don't login you're in the new customer section. how do the tabs provide any use?

30 Jul 2003 | mark said...

~bc -- In Spanish language names are not capitalized, all though the lack of tilde is wrong.

30 Jul 2003 | Paperhead said...

Personally I'm disappointed that you hired anyone who didn't get rid of that disgusting brushed steel monstrosity at the top of the page. For me the hands-down winner in Verizon's own redesign. Sorry, that's just the way it is and no amount of dashed borders will change that.

30 Jul 2003 | Javier said...


30 Jul 2003 | Michael Spina said...

If I had to pick one, I'd go with #6. Clean, slick, and I was able to make the most sense out of it.

30 Jul 2003 | hurley #1 said...

Personally I'm disappointed that you hired anyone who didn't get rid of that disgusting brushed steel monstrosity at the top of the page.

Hah hah. You're joking, right? If not, you'll have to go talk to Apple about that. You're looking at the menu bar for the Safari browser.

30 Jul 2003 | dmr said...

1. I enjoy the treatment of the left and top; the content area feels too much like an advertisement and less like well-presented information. The dropdown for FAQs is a very nice idea for saving space tho.

2. Good breakdown of information (although it doesn't offer enough for the main 3 sections: phones, plans, current customers.) Not-so-good photographic treatments and selection.

3. This is a very tight and clean design, good distinction between sections, good emphasis on keeping things modular and flushing a lot of content to the homepage without being disorganized. Nice subtle rounded corners and drop shadows.

4. Nice attempt to break the site into sections on the left, but poor typographic selections and strange design treatment in the middle leaves this a little weak visually.

5. Everyone seems to really enjoy the design; I find it lacks good kerning and overall organization. There isn't much breathing room and too many variations on the red/grey/pink/solid/stroke/dotted/dashed lines. The tab *idea* is solid, but proves not so useful here.

6. The top-left corner is really terrible in terms of applying grid and being organized, but the rest of the design is quite lovely. Great use of breaking the small dotted boxes, good organization and categorization. Coverage areas could have been treated better with a link under the US map to browse by area, rather than throwing you into an area by ZIP code (it's ZIP code, not zip or Zip). I think I like this one best.

7. Type treatment of the tag line sucks, calling plans could have better type treatment using color, content area below calling plans and left of manage your account is terrible--too much like an ad, not enough hand holding. Lame free-up placement.

I'm harsh today!

30 Jul 2003 | Darrel said...

To be honest, I've never worked at a firm that made me take a test beforehand. I don't know how I'd react to someone asking me that. I'm not saying it is good or bad, just not typical.

30 Jul 2003 | Kristen said...

#3 is my favorite for cleanliness and beauty; I can find exactly what I need in seconds.

...But #5 probably won big brownie points for having that new/current customer division, that's very 37S. I personally find the layout of information on this one clunkier and more confusing, though.

30 Jul 2003 | JumpTheGap said...

Here we go! No doubt.

# 4 - Good use of space and attention to info architecture.

30 Jul 2003 | hurley #1 said...

To be honest, I've never worked at a firm that made me take a test beforehand. I don't know how I'd react to someone asking me that. I'm not saying it is good or bad, just not typical.

Maybe it's not typical in the Web design field (though to me this seems like something where tests are very appropriate), but I've had to go through similar exercises for several jobs. The toughest one was in one job interview where they surprised me by saying that I would now have to compose, on the spot, a marketing/sales letter to a prospective client. I had 1 hour to read up on the product, compose my letter, and type it up without mistakes. A typing test was part of the deal, and I did the test in a room with my future colleagues working nearby.

Another time, as a finalist for a journalism job, I had five days to write a 2,000-word feature article complete with interviews and quotes. So this exercise by 37signals seems pretty fair and reasonable to me.

30 Jul 2003 | Ben said...

I've done this same type of test before. I think it's interesting to design blindly, and I can see how it helps the prospective employer: they get to see both a person's aesthetic senses, as well as their thought process (because you're basically making up that kind of research that Peter mentioned, and showing how you would execute it visually.) You have to make up a goal for yourself (eg. higher importance on promotions,) which if you don't have one, is very shallow and useless designing.

I think #3 shows the best combination of thought, organization, cleanliness, and aesthetics overall. One thing I don't like about it is just a pet peeve of mine: web designers anti-aliasing HTML text in designs!

PS. I love seeing other people use "90210" as their placeholder zip code!

30 Jul 2003 | Taylor Garries said...

This test seems pretty fair, unlike one that I had to take while interviewing for one less-than-reputable tech shop. As a test to be their new "web guy" (they didn't really have one previously), they wanted me to come in and redesign their site within three hours. I asked them how I knew that they weren't just looking for a free designer - apparently I was supposed to just trust them (as much as they were trusting me).

I like the direction #2 was headed for it's usability, but like everyone else, #5 is my favourite (almost all of them were really impressive though).

As for the test being useless because of the lack of context - I think that it is the lack of the external influences that make it so useful. All you see here is what the designer sees, whereas in a portfolio you have to account for the client brief and the marketing guy screaming, "Drop shadows! Embossing! Make it flashier and blue!"

30 Jul 2003 | anon said...

re: lack of kerning.. i kern whenever i can, however all of that text is web-text. and i really do think that if you'd had a chance to use the tabs, it would make a difference. but maybe not.

30 Jul 2003 | cindy said...

In response to pauls comment i think it'd be interesting to see what normal, everday business users think of the designs - instead of just designers, heres two cents from an owner of 2 cell phones with no actual design experience:

1.) I can get to my account quickly, which is really the only thing I want to do. This design is very clean, and I can clearly and quickly see all my options. I would never click on the big fat ad in the middle to find out more about your committmet to being the best. Commitment schmitment - how many freaking minutes do I have left before you start charging me $6.00 a minute? And wheres the store locator?

2) I have to study this one before I can find what I really need. And why does the your account have the boxes to enter your number in that format? I usually find these boxes annoying because you are typically forced to tab between the boxes. (Small grievance, yet still annoying.) The links across the top are clear, but everything else seems a bit jumbled and hidden.

3) My zip code is going to get me to my account? And wheres the store locator? The design is clean, but Im not really seeing the things that I need I have to really dig for them.

4) Theres a lot of info on this one, but its all clear and I can find it easily. The new customer link is really nice, store locator (check), my account easy to see (check), I want to check other plans (check), text message (check). Its all there and I can find it. Very user friendly.

5) I dont really want to click on the current customer tab before I can sign in to my account. Im sure it might get to a point where it recognizes me, but this seems totally redundant. You can get information to and for both new and existing customers without the harsh designation. This seems strictly like a sales piece and if I were surfing the web checking out alternate options, this might proove helpful, but as an existing customer it does nothing for me. And dont tell me where I am, thats just creepy. And what if Im moving to Boston? Youre going to make me jump through hoops to find out popular calling plans in that area, uh no thanks.

6) Im assuming that if I log on to my account I might be able to get to some stuff thats missing, but just initial glance of this leaves me wanting more. Information doesnt seem well organized either.

7) All the pertinant information seems to be here, but again, doesnt feel well organized. I wouldnt pay attention to anything on this page, I would just get to my account and move on.

So based on a very quick look at each of them as a cell customer (not a designer) I would chose #4 and then #1. Just my opinion. I could be wrong. You all may poo poo my thoughts and roll your eyes at the common person that doesn't understand design now.

30 Jul 2003 | Dale said...

Verizon has a very corporate image. Many times, to attempt to visual move away from that image, one thing corporations do is attempt to include more people in their visual adversting/marketing. Often, companies don't want to come off as quite so "corporate" so rather than using designs that just focus on their tangible products, they like showing real people enjoying said products. That is EXACTLY what Verizon did in their own redesign by including that woman who is obviously having a great time. Since proximity connotes relationship, put her next to that phone and the message becomes clear.

I am more than a bit surprised and disappointed that virtually none of the designs presented picked up on this. Examples?

#1 - no people
#2 - a tiny person, but he is insignificant to the design
#3 - no people
#4 - no people
#5 - good - we are blatantly hit with a hip young man enjoying his phone
#6 - this one goes the furthest by including three people - this design alone features more people than all other designs combined - however the old dude in the suit does nothing to help rid the firm of the "corporate" image
#7 - no people

If 37signals wants clients to keep coming back (and I'm sure they do) then of course they must please their clients. They know this. Design for design's sake is something I don't care much about. But designing for a client's needs and desires and making the client happy is something I'm sure is appealing.

Good luck with your new hire.

30 Jul 2003 | anon said...

True, but I'm quite tired of seeing people on sites - to be honest - as a consumer. They're either the same, looking down perspective or random Photodisc Guy #104. With a lot of these designs, there's more purpose than salesmanship it seems.

30 Jul 2003 | Darrel said...

Well, I have to agree with Peter that unless there were specific objectives given, then it's only really a judgment of a person's aesthetic judgment.

You can't just the success of a web page design without specific measurable objectives.

Some people are incredibly talented and beneficial to a group setting, but can't always pull off something as nice on their own. The converse is also true, of course.

30 Jul 2003 | Martin Mes said...

You all may poo poo my thoughts and roll your eyes at the common person that doesn't understand design now.

Playing down common persons' comments on a design never has been a wise thing to do...

30 Jul 2003 | ek said...

I think peterme's position would make for a really interesting panel discussion at a design conference (though you'd have to make sure you had the right people, peterme being a great candidate to represent his position).

I'm sure there are people who could make good arguments on both sides. I guess a design conference might be an unfair venue as most people would disagree with peterme -- so maybe some sort of joint design/marketing conference. Does such a thing even exist?

Darrel's point could be an interesting one to inject as well -- I'm sure there are some designers out there who would say that it would be against their business ethics to participate in something like this because they don't do spec work (that is unless everyone who created a design was paid).

All that being said, I can't say that I'm a big fan of any of them. Based purely on their Web sites, every one of the entries would, in my eyes, still put Verizon Wireless in a distant third behind T-Mobile and SprintPCS in terms of how they make me perceive the company.

Hope I'm not hurting anyone's feelings!

30 Jul 2003 | Ben said...

Another way to say that: create a panel or white paper or article on how to design when there are no known business principles or client interaction. The truth is, it happens more than we'd all like, so it might help alot of people out to have a design process for this kind of scenario.

After re-reading the initial post by Jason, I think they disclaimered (?) the intentions, downfalls, and benefits quite well in advance.

30 Jul 2003 | HP said...

I like #3 for its visual appeal the best although its account login using only ZIP code may be just a lack of attention to detail #4, while not as pleasing, appears to be the most usable. I did not care much about others.

Still, I think that this contest would have been far more useful if the contestants were given some objective as to what they were making better. For example, this objective could have been making the process of retaining and upselling existing customers better. Obviously, in that case more than one screen would need to be designed but that would probably give a better insight into one's thinking processes, business acumen (very important) as well as creativity and attention to usability.

Speaking of this, if I redesigned this page, I would have focused on calling plans combined with any applicable promotions (for both new and current customers), put emphasis on the upcoming switch-the-carrier-but-keep-your-number (for new customers), which is going to be the biggest generator of new clients in the short run and provide an easy login area so that customers focused on managing their account can get right to it. The reast of marketing and sales content (business and residential services, interent, phones, accessories, etc.) could be placed lower on the page.

Also, once a customer logs in (and when they set their preferences first time) I would allow them to set their preferences as to what kind of promotions/marketing they are looking for (emphasis on price or features, new technology or just an easy way to call, etc.) which would then be presented to them on thier main account page and also incorporated in the marketing material they get with their bills and perhaps offered via their phones (for as long as they are reimbursed with some free minutes as a "Thank You" note).

Just my $.02 worth. Excellent discussion though.

30 Jul 2003 | JF said...

Just to be clear, this "redesign in 5 days" exercise was only part of the process of finding the new team member. Alone it's not all that valuable, but in context with everything else we did to pick the right person, it was very valuable. I encourage everyone else who is going through the hiring process to conduct such an excercise.

30 Jul 2003 | ek said...

Hey HP, I think that, in the context in which the "contest" was conducted, the fact that the 37s folks didn't provide a clear objective was actually a good thing.

Remember that JF said he told them to "make it better in their eyes." Given that and the fact that this was done to determine who out of the bunch 37s wanted to hire, I think each designer's definition of "better" was as important as the work itself, perhaps even more important.

That's just my guess though. And I agree, great discussion!

30 Jul 2003 | HP said...

Hi ek,

Thanks for the comment. I see your point and I do agree up to a point. Still, the insights provided in this discussion are a valuable source of information/reference/knowledge.

30 Jul 2003 | HP said...

Boy, that first sentence in my previous message was rather bad (point...point). Apologies for this as well as for any misspellings.

30 Jul 2003 | MrAnonymous said...


30 Jul 2003 | omit said...


I understand the difference. The link was originally to the Verizon site. I didn't type in "". I clicked on the link in your post. Last night, when I clicked on it again, it pointed to the Wireless site. So I was wondering if you had changed the original link--that's all. Either it was changed, or I'm going crazy.

30 Jul 2003 | Steve said...

I do think this sort of exercise, regardless of the sort of position is valuable. Certainly for the people doing the hiring, but also the applicants. In many ways, interviewing is a skill you use only every few years, and interviewing well doesn't necessarily mean you can do your job well. Tests/demonstrations can help someone demonstrate that they are good at what they do.

When I was in newspapers, I had writing tests all the time. I'd be given a list of facts and told to construct a story. I went through the same deal when I got a copywriting job. When I was being brought on to help lead interface development, I went through drills about how to improve labeling, organization, etc. It helped me show that I knew what I was talking about. It also, in retrospect, helped me get jobs I wanted.

As for this particular exercise, if it were me who was doing the hiring, I would have provided some business objectives, even if i just made them up myself, to help frame things. Because even when they're vague, clients usually have some goals and/or requirements in mind, and you need to meet those. Even if the goal is "Make it easier for people to find stuff" - a "requirement" I have indeed had on projects - it puts a bit of a fence around things.

On the designs themselves, I'm still amazed that people are gravitating so much to a design that's not very distinguishable from a key competitor.

30 Jul 2003 | RP said...

JF, was the code structure a part of the evaluation? Did you view the source; that is, if the applicant used tables for layouts, css or not, x/html, javascript, etc.

Why or why not?

30 Jul 2003 | lisa said...

Assuming that the consumer is not a current customer, I would have prioritized it so the 'specials' had the priority (for a couple of reasons), but would have submitted another design that would have assumed that the current customer was recognized, hilighting the consumer's plan, information.

they all show good work

30 Jul 2003 | anon said...

i actually don't believe #5 looks much like the sprintpcs site at all. 2 column + 3 column vs basically 4 column... lots black vs lots of white.. photo of a person vs photo of a phone... if everything that's gray black and red looks too much like the sprint site then i dont know what to tell you. but i designed the thing, so what do i know.

30 Jul 2003 | stratton said...

This sounds like a good way to augment what's been revealed on paper, in person, etc.

Yes, the test is completely without business context and does nothing to guide a designer's thinking beyond what might be gleaned (or googled) on their own. So, in many ways it's a "worst case scenario" to be given such an assignment. But it might also be just what the doctor ordered:

37express is perfect for companies that need one more design comp, rapid professional prototyping of a wireframe or early-design concept, or just a quick, hassle-free, "how could this page be better?" creative spark. It's a great way to see your site in a whole new light. [37express]

30 Jul 2003 | JF said...

I asked everyone to deliver the best code they could in the 5 day time frame, but I let them know that I really wouldn't be judging them on their coding skills at this point. I was already very confident about the coding skills of the people who were being asked to participate. Further, some people didn't have access to multiple platforms and browser versions so I felt it would be unfair to ask them to make sure their designs worked across multiple platforms/browsers.

But, like I said before, this design excercise was one of many parts of the selection process. Their coding skills were seriously considered and analyzed at other points in the process.

30 Jul 2003 | me said...

JF --

i bet that the AIGA would be having a fit over doing this 'spec' work.

30 Jul 2003 | pb said...

It's the older Sprint design that #5 resembles. Sprint used to use more black and red like this:

30 Jul 2003 | JF said...

i bet that the AIGA would be having a fit over doing this 'spec' work.

Oh, I bet they would. And, I'm also completely against doing spec work for clients, but I don't believe this request was the same as a client requesting spec/free work.

30 Jul 2003 | me said...

sure..makes sense jason.
you guys have a great reputation and cound never see you doing anything unethical

30 Jul 2003 | dmr said...

When 37signals asks you to design something based on a potential future business relationship ya do it.

This wasn't spec, but doing things on spec has some merit. I think it was Jerry Bruckheimer who did a Coke commercial on spec; he got the gig and that was the start of his career.

30 Jul 2003 | me said...

i'm thinking about the usability of this posting page --

seems the new posts would be on's kind of a PITA to scroll down to get the latest post

30 Jul 2003 | Darrel said...

I don't think this would be called spec work. I do agree that spec work is bad, but this wasn't work for a real client of any sorts.

30 Jul 2003 | JF said...

'm thinking about the usability of this posting page... seems the new posts would be on's kind of a PITA to scroll down to get the latest post

We had a long debate about this a year or so back. The problem is no matter how you do it, about half the people want it the other way.

If you show it the way we show it, it's easier to follow the conversation/thread (you read down as you would in a book, for example). If we listed the most recent at the top, it would be harder to follow a thread because the answers would come before the questions. It's a tough call -- especially for really long posts that aren't all that thread/conversation based, but rather single observation based.

30 Jul 2003 | me said...

i see your point.
i guess most aren't reading continually anyway....they are leaving and coming back to find many more posts...that makes perfect sense to have the user read 'down' then.

thanks j

30 Jul 2003 | me said...

i see your point.
i guess most aren't reading continually anyway....they are leaving and coming back to find many more posts...that makes perfect sense to have the user read 'down' then.

thanks j

30 Jul 2003 | Steve said...

OK, I took another look, and clearly I'm thinking more of the way the Sprint PCS site used to be. Some examples:

Spring 2001, Late 2001/early 2002. (Unfortunately, doesn't have anything up for 2003, and none of the 2002 links are working properly.)

The new Sprint PCS site home page isn't in the same vein as the previous iterations. Some of the interior pages, like this have some aspects of the old style. But it's a much airier design than what it used to be.

It's kind of funny that Verizon, which set their branding after Sprint PCS had already been around for a few years, chose almost exactly the same palette.

30 Jul 2003 | LA75 said...

Is it just me or are all these designs really boring?

30 Jul 2003 | av said...

A lot of people like #5. When I first saw it, I thought the design was lacking but that out of all the designs, it presented the information I wanted the best after I analyzed them for a while. My biggest gripe about this design... as an existing customer there is no login screen.

I think it has some good ideas, but there is always room for improvement. Here are some things I would change, albeit I am a graphic designer and not a usability expert.

1. The verizon 'v' randomly placed in that ad in no way compliments the offer that is being advertised. Better solution: An icon, such as a clock or sun/moon. Same goes for the 2nd ad. What phone is that anyways? There is a picture but then I see 4 phone links.

2. The 'TM' in the header is gigantic. Glad to see a friendly geek in the header rather than some cyborg-looking female.

2. There is no consistency in borders. Some dotted, some lines, some solid. Phones and specials: one box red lines, the other special is floating free. I personally like the 2nd 'special' box rather then the dotted red border. You can place that clock moon/sun icon in the same spot as the phone. And reformat them to be compliment each other.

3. The little arrow buttons are a bit interesting as well. The "view pre-paid plans" button is in a box. Some links are underlined but then some are brown and not underlined. Are they links?

4. "Internet Only!" I'm not really sure what that even means. Does that mean I can only access the internet on my phone? Can I talk to people? Can I only get this deal if I order through the Internet?

5. There is no login for current customers.

6. Constricting black box around the entire site. I feel a bit cramped. Better solution: Drop black border and bring down ( contact us, store locator, about us...) level with the logo. Make them the same color/font/size as the rest of the links.

7. Store locator should be listed near the "we've detected that you're in Denver CO"

8. Tighten the grid. Some boxes extend passed the eye line. Some extend further then others.

9. "The Verizon Wireless Advantage" is in a thinner font then the rest of the headlines. I think you can fit some more info in the subhead. Like the "Phones and Specials" subhead. Shorter link as well. Somehow distinguish the 3 items in this box a bit more. A line separating them or something.

10. No plan is being pushed. 3 are offered, but at equal importance.

11. Get it NOW games... Im a sucker for screenshots. A little preview of a game wouldnt hurt.

12. I really like the 'Popular Calling plans...' chart. I think a chart simliar featuring 3 phones: one high, one mid, and one low cost, might work as well.

Overall I think this one is the best. At first I wanted eyecandy and went for more of the "polished" designs. But when it came down to it, this one presented the information the best out of all 7 designs.


30 Jul 2003 | Clara said...

After closely reviewing all the executions, I think #3 does it for me. None of them are perfect. In fact, the whole process is imperfect, but that's fine too. But #3 seems to nail it for me best. It's compact, well branded with Verizon colors, offers a good place to start on the left, and seems to include everything that Verizon feels is important (based on their existing design).

Parts of it lack focus and clear thinking (zip code for log-in??), but overall I think it does the best job. One more thing. Everyone should remember that these people only had 5 days to do this and I bet that most of them had to do it at night because of their day jobs. Hats off to all of them for the effort. Well done guys (and gals?).

31 Jul 2003 | Ben said...

I don't think Verizon would care one little bit if they looked exactly like Sprint, or any of their competitors. If you thought you were on a competitors web site and signed up for service, I'd say Verizon would say the design worked perfectly.

On another point... basically every logo and color palette are the same. It's a strong herd mentality. I can't find the link right now, but there's a web site out there that charts a large number of corporate logos on a color graph... the summary is that everyone is lumped around the same specific colors, with even several companies/competitors sharing the exact same color (usually blue). Anyone have the link?

31 Jul 2003 | Stephen said...

I would say, read Jason's objective for the competition. It's a very legitimate way to get some insight into a designer's way of thinking. Used in conjunction with a CV, references, an interview and education, this probably gave Jason some valuable extra information to use in his decision process. These designs say a lot about what the designers consider important, usable, and visually appealing. It reveals their "visual signatures" as well as which designers choose to use a "bag-of-tricks".

Neville Brody once said something like, "There is no such thing as bad design. There is only inappropriate design." I'm sure that Ryan Singer has been chosen because his work is appropriate to 37signals.

31 Jul 2003 | p8 said...

Anyone have the link?

It was on a site called Signals vs. Noise:


31 Jul 2003 | Ben said...

No, I don't see it there... it was just a big gif, created by someone I think... argh.

31 Jul 2003 | kev said...

follow the links, grasshoppa.

31 Jul 2003 | bestung said...

1) the left hand side bar is well organized. don't understnad what freeup is

2) simple, but pretty unattractive

3) attrative, no search (needs to be there);doesn't state why verison

4) too much going on

5) nice attractive banner. may take too long to download; simple main navigation with new or existing customer; a lot going on

6) didn't really work for me

7) too much to focus on with a 4 col layout


#5 was most attractive and i liked thier simple nav
#3 was attractive

I liked their current live site the best:

31 Jul 2003 | pb said...

Interesting that Verizon's actual design is a bigger departure than these designs.

31 Jul 2003 | Timothy Shey said...

It's pretty stunning to me how many here seem to think this is unqualifiedly a good idea. Times have changed. I'm sure many people would love to work at 37 signals. If their resume inbox is anything like ours - and I assume the number of applicants are equal or greater - there's no shortage of talent out there to hire. Even so, I think getting people to do something like this is only possible in a job market like the current one. Back a few years ago, nearly everyone you were hiring was being recruited elsewhere, and they wouldn't have had to put this much into a design test - if they were talented, someone else would grab them up while you were making up your mind. But even so, I still prefer looking at previous work, having in-depth interviews, and then if I'm still not sure, giving a candidate a chance at a freelance or short-term job, working in a team environment with real input and direction from their prospective managers, to try them out. But it should be paid work -- that seems important, and only fair, to me. That this was just an exercise, and not an assignment, seems besides the point -- these designers have ended up putting their creativity and ideas out there for 37 signals' betterment, and now that they've been posted, those spec designs could lead to a job with Verizon or someone similar if the right person saw them. And that would be an argument for keeping this competition private, if nothing else: it seems like it could turn out being unintentionally exploitative.

To 37signals' credit, this was done with some sensitivity. and they're trying to be innovative here. But we need to be careful of not appearing to take advantage of what's clearly an employer's market right now, as the shoe may be on the other foot again sometime soon.

31 Jul 2003 | specit said...

whether a potential client requests it or potential employer, it's all the same -- speculative work in hope of paid work -- which is exploitation no matter how you spin it.

i'm sure the aiga would agree... especially if the potential employer hopes to attract the attention of a potential client -- as the "better" series is specifically targeted toward. unacceptable and unethical.

31 Jul 2003 | ek said...

I think you have a point on the hiring thing, but how is the "Better" series unethical?

31 Jul 2003 | JF said...

I don't think this was unethical at all. Spec work for a client can lead to "free ideas" that the client can take and use on their own without paying for them. We are not Verizon. Verizon is not a client, nor have they ever been a client, nor are they a known prospective client. This was not a comp, of say, the 37signals site or a 37signals' client site. This was not a comp of something we're working on internally. These designs were never intended to try to win anyone's business and they will never be shown or claimed as 37signals work.

31 Jul 2003 | JF said...

One final point. How is this any different than a graduate school asking candidates to write an essay as part of their application for admission? There's no opportunity for the school to gain from the student's writing just as there's no opportunity for 37signals to gain from the submitted designs (since Verizon isn't an existing or known potential client).

If Verizon was a client, and I presented these designs to Verizon as 37signals designs (or I used them to try to win new business from Verizon), then I'd agree with you. But, as I stated earlier, Verizon isn't a client and there's no plans for Verizon to become a client.

01 Aug 2003 | hurley #1 said...

think getting people to do something like this is only possible in a job market like the current one.

I disagree with that. If you admire a particular firm and you really want to work there, you'll be willing to put time into a project like this even if you have offers from other good firms.

I once applied for a job at a presigious institution. I had an initial interview with the office director, and a few days later they asked me back to meet some other people. "Can you spend the entire day?" they asked. Taking a day off work to spend 8 hours in interviews (it ended up being 9 hours, and I got the job) is a grueling prospect, but I really wanted to work there so I said yes.

Firms with a strong reputation and a good work environment will always have an employer's market.

01 Aug 2003 | ek said...

On the whole question of ethics, I think it all comes down to your viewpoint.

When prospective clients request spec. work to be done it's for the purported purpose of judging a particular design company's capabilities.

To quote from Stephen's post:

Used in conjunction with a CV, references, an interview and education, this probably gave Jason some valuable extra information to use in his decision process. These designs say a lot about what the designers consider important, usable, and visually appealing. It reveals their "visual signatures" as well as which designers choose to use a "bag-of-tricks".

Replace "Jason" with "the Client" and you have a client's rationale to ask for spec. work.

For any company with a sense of ethics the point is not to steal ideas or to get "free ideas," if that were the case than any of those online surveys asking for customer feedback on a particular Web site would have to be considered unethical. The point is to get a better sense for the kind of work that a particular design firm will do.

But just as with a client, an unscrupulous design firm using this mechanism to hire designers could use it to their advantage by claiming work created by non-selected designers as their own or by turning around and using some of the ideas presented in some of the comps in their own work. I mean, what a great way for Design Firm X to generate comps for a client. Put out a call for designers and have the best of them develop comps for said client.

I know that 37s wouldn't do this, but the defense of "it's okay in this instance because we're honorable" seems tinged with a hint of hypocrisy. Why couldn't Verizon make the exact same claim in a call for spec. work (i.e. we're not going to use any of these comps as the final design, this is purely to asses your capabilities as a design firm) and be just as much in the right?

To put it more plainly, those who are defending this practise seem to be doing so on the grounds that it is defacto unethical for a client to request spec. work from a prospective design firm, while it is defacto appropriate for a design firm to request spec. work from prospective designers.

As for the graduate school analogy, it seems ill chosen as graduate schools are not in the business of producing essays, nor do they use essays in the advancement of their institutions. So, it would stand to reason that a graduate school is not going to gain by asking a prospective student to write an essay as part of the admissions process. But 37signals is in the business of designing interfaces and that's what these prospective hires were asked to do.

I don't want anybody to get crazy over this, I'm just putting it out there as a logic argument. I'd be interested to hear what people think.

As for AIGA and what they think about this, I don't mean to be flip, but does anyone actually care what organizations like the AIGA think any longer? Maybe it's just that I'm out of the design loop, but they seem to me to be largely irrelevant nowadays.

01 Aug 2003 | Randy said...

I agree with JF's graduate school analogy as long as 37 isn't standing to gain anything from a business perspective.

Companies that request spec work always request it to be based on their specific businesses. They ask for a comp specifically related to the work that they are going to hire someone to do (for example, "we're going to hire you to put together campaign to advertise our new product... What ideas do you have for this new product?"). If 37 says that Verizon, or any other cell phone company, for that matter, isn't a client nor is a known prospective client, then I think this is fair play.

Finally, no one had to do this. If they felt it was unethical, then they could have dropped out. I'd like to hear from the designers involved. Why don't we ask them what they thought?

01 Aug 2003 | Darrel said...

Replace "Jason" with "the Client" and you have a client's rationale to ask for spec. work.

A client's rationale to ask for spec' work is to get something free. Period. It's either done through an ingronance of the process, or through a conscience attempt to get free work done.

If a client can't adequately determine which vendor best meets the needs of their company based on portfolios, interviews, case studies, and 'the pitch' then they're not practicing due diligence.

Compare this you, as a homeowner wanting a new patio. So you ask a few masons to come out and rebuild your chimney or your front steps to see how their skills are and then you'll pick the best one to hire and do the patio. You think you'll get any call backs?

Spec work certainly works some time, but more often than not, you either get screwed, or just lessen the perceived value of your own firm (and/or industry).

That said, some industries, like Architecture, seem to thrive on spec' work. Granted, architects aren't the most well paid design workers out there, either.

Neither the 'better' series nor this verizon project are really spec' work in that no client was asking for their time/talents. It was more of a marketing pitch, IMHO.

Maybe it's just that I'm out of the design loop, but they seem to me to be largely irrelevant nowadays.

Don't tell them that! ;o)

I certainly don't agree with a lot of what the AIGA stands for, but their stance on spec' work makes perfect sense to me.

01 Aug 2003 | Darrel said...

Finally, no one had to do this. If they felt it was unethical, then they could have dropped out.

True. But in the larger context of spec' work, this is where the actions of a few, over time, erode the ability for all. If you are in a market where you have lots of firms willing to do spec' work, who do you think the clients will be calling? You'll soon realize that to join in on the bidding process that you need to start providing spec work as well. Over time, pretty soon everyone is spending more time on spec work than paying clients.

But yea, it's a free country/economy.

01 Aug 2003 | Darrel said...

Oops. Replace 'conscience' with 'conscious' in my above post.

01 Aug 2003 | ek said...

So Darrel, you're basically saying it's only unethical if a client is involved? Or, put another way, it's okay for a design firm to ask for spec. work for the same purported reasons as a client, simply because they're a design firm?

I guess I should have expected nothing less than a blanket indictment of all corporations from you.

01 Aug 2003 | p8 said...

It probably depends if the design firm will use the work for commercial purposes. And as JF said: "Verizon isn't a client and there's no plans for Verizon to become a client".

If a corporation isn't sure about which design firm they should hire they could hire the best three firms for a small project or for the start of the project.
What's wrong with that?

01 Aug 2003 | p8 said...

I guess it's all about propotion. How much work is spec work and how much work is just marketing pitch...

01 Aug 2003 | Darrel said...

So Darrel, you're basically saying it's only unethical if a client is involved?

I'm not really saying anything about ethics. Just what makes good business sense.

Or, put another way, it's okay for a design firm to ask for spec. work for the same purported reasons as a client, simply because they're a design firm?

No, I'm saying that the 37signals examples aren't in the same vein as a client asking for spec work up front. That client could be a company or a design firm.

I guess I should have expected nothing less than a blanket indictment of all corporations from you.

WTF are you talking about? Where did I indict any corporation in my post?

01 Aug 2003 | Darrel said...

And yea, I agree p8...there's a thin line there as to what is a pitch and what is doing actual unpaid work. And I'm sure that line jumps around quite a bit from situation to situation.

01 Aug 2003 | pb said...

I think the whole exercise was fine. The candidates spend hours just *talking* to 37s employees. Why can't they spend an hour to design a web page that is perfect for discussion purposes and to demonstrate proficiency?

01 Aug 2003 | Steve said...

I guess I don't get as worked up over "spec" work - I wouldn't classify what was done here as spec work to begin with - as some others. It all depends on context and how it's handled.

I've been burned by this before. Recently I was part of a presentation team asked to go in and meet with a client who had specific objectives in mind for improving their web application, and for us to discuss how we would approach it and what opportunities we saw for making the desired improvements in an efficent manner. We thought the meeting went well, we prepared our budgets, etc. and were ready to present that to them. We kept getting excuses for delay, and then lo and behold, they had a new site done by someone else with a lot of our ideas incorporated.

That is unethical.

Contrast to the client I've been working with for the past year and a half. During the evaluation process, we were asked to create examples of a lot of things that had some business cases attached to them. It was in part through what we developed and designed in response that we won the account, beating out some bigger and entrenched firms. What we used during those presentations wasn't really reused. We didn't look at and take anything from anyone else's presentations. In other words, the "spec" portion was discarded after its purpose - evaluating potential vendors - was complete. That, to me, is ethical and apporpriate.

The dividing line is whether there's material (not necessarily just financial) gain to be made from teh person requesting the spec work. My client made no gain from the spec work, other than getting someone that they've had a good working relationship with.

As to an earlier point - why is what 37s did not spec work in my opinion? Because this was an evaulation of potential employees. If this was an evaluation of potential freelancers or contractors, different story. When a company's going to bring someone on the payroll, particularly someone who's going to be a very public representation of the company, all sorts of due dilligence is to be expected.

01 Aug 2003 | ek said...

To Darrel, did you mean this as a compliment?:

A client's rationale to ask for spec' work is to get something free. Period. It's either done through an ingronance of the process, or through a conscience attempt to get free work done.

So either they're stupid or they're willfully unethical. That's nice. And "If a client can't adequately determine which vendor best meets the needs of their company based on portfolios, interviews, case studies, and 'the pitch'" they're negligent, whereas if a design firm acts in the same way that's fine? Isn't that what's called a double standard D-man?

Personally, I fall in line with Steve's point of view (though I think that whether you do it for a client or for another design firm it's still spec. work). The difficulty, though, is in trying to determine which ones are the good actors and which the bad.

You really didn't know how the client who turned out to be a good actor was going to behave until after the fact. Luckily it worked out well, but it was a risk for you.

I guess this is why groups like the AIGA want to draw a line in the sand saying spec. work is bad no matter what.

But out "in the field" in can be harder to see things in such black and white terms.

01 Aug 2003 | hurley #1 said...

This is by far the longest discussion ever on SvN, by the way: 112 posts and counting.

01 Aug 2003 | Darrel said...

So either they're stupid or they're willfully unethical. That's nice.

Stupid is not the same as 'being ignorant of the process'--which is what I said. Some clients just don't realize what asking for spec work is. Again, go back to my mason analogy.

As for being willfully unetical, again, I'm just saying it is what it is. Clients that know the pros/cons of spec work will always ask for it, because it certainly benefits them. I can't knock them for asking.

From a BUSINESS standpoint, it certainly makes sense for the asking party (they're getting work without any commitment) and it can be can for the one doing spec work (they're doing work without any commitment of payment).

whereas if a design firm acts in the same way that's fine?

Again, I'm *not* saying if spec work is ethical/fine whatever or not. It is what it is. I *did* mention that I felt there was a difference between a client asking for spec work, and 37Signals asking for sample work based on a non-existant client. They may both be fine, both bad, whatever...I was just pointing out a difference.

The AIGA draws the line for whatever reason, but I think it's justified in terms of trying to help an industry as a whole. There's no arguing that those that do spec work will get good work at times and will get screwed at time.

01 Aug 2003 | Darrel said...

Crap. I just can't write today. Friday. Feh.

01 Aug 2003 | Graham Hicks said...

The dividing line is whether there's material (not necessarily just financial) gain to be made from teh person requesting the spec work.

37signals did gain something, this discussion. They wouldn't have spent the time to post the results in a public forum if there was nothing to gain from doing so.

If this excercise was done to see each canidate's process, then why is only the end result shown?

01 Aug 2003 | JF said...

37signals did gain something, this discussion. They wouldn't have spent the time to post the results in a public forum if there was nothing to gain from doing so.

I did it because I thought others would be curious (and the designers gave permission). Plus I thought that everyone would gain a thing or two -- especially the designers themselves (reading critiques of your work is always beneficial -- even when you disagree with the critic). But, mostly, I did it because I thought other people would enjoy it.

01 Aug 2003 | kev said...

how silly! people on this site enjoying things! tsk tsk...

01 Aug 2003 | dmr said...

It's a damn shame people would rather post about the process & exercise than the work itself.

01 Aug 2003 | birdman said...

The ad biz has been evaluating creative talent in similar ways for decades. Designers being considered for hire might be asked to work on site on real agency projects for an afternoon, a day or even longer.

This type of "shoot-out" is really the only way to see differences in how similarly qualified prospects can respond with little direction, no collaboration, and little time... come to think of it... those are often real-world parameters, too.

It's not about Verizon since they will have nothing to do with the hiring decision.

It's not about objectivity. In fact, it's everything about the subjective opinions of 37signals, which is what makes their work and ideas unique. (I've turned away many really great talents for "Je ne sais quoi!")

Real-world example: There's a noted design school in Atlanta, GA, that seems to specialize in churning out great-looking portfolios. I began to catch-on to that after interviewing a few dozen candidates with identical credentials and very similar books. Only after an afternoon working on-site under supervision with a test project much like 37signals' could I see how horribly misrepresented their true lack of talent was.

It doesn't do the applicant or the employer any good to find out after the start date that you've got the wrong person -- that when you need them the most they are unable to be truly relied on in a performance situation.

It's not about work on spec, since there is no client and there is no next step. It's not about unfair or unrealistic parameters since it is, in fact, not real. It's not about collaboration since 37s is hiring only one. And it's not unusual.

It's just about making a good hire decision. And I think they did.

01 Aug 2003 | Mike said...

It sure is dmr, that is why I've been reluctant to post today and yesterday...

It seems as though this lighthearted discussion about "who likes which design best and why" has turned into a free-for-all for either 1) making 37s look like the corporate mongers that they aren't and never will be and 2) making all clients look like evil, design-stealing czars.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't 37s founded on the idea that overloaded corporations (web agencies, etc.) can't get quality work done? Indirectly accusing our beloved signals as trying to get free design done is just ridiculous.


01 Aug 2003 | birdman said...

OK. Back to the original question then, eh?

Design #4 is a winner based on what I perceive as a user-focused thinking process. Nice, clean taxonomy on the left. Allows for the always-needed marketing focus. Navigation, CRM and purpose assistance on the right. Very nice considering the limitations in info, time, etc.

Designs #3 and #6 deserve mention for evidence of aesthetic, pure design.

Others are distant considerations.

01 Aug 2003 | Darrel said...

Has anyone actually accused 37signals of soliciting spec work? I see lots of posts saying how sad it is that people were, but I don't actually see too many--if any--that actually claim that.

01 Aug 2003 | p8 said...

Now the discussion is turning into "is this discussion turning into a discussion about 37signals soliciting spec work".


Maybe we are reaching the upper bound on thread length?

I read somewhere that when you hire a programmer you should let him build some stuff to see how he programs.

01 Aug 2003 | ek said...

Don't mean to sound like the mean person in all this, but maybe the reason people are talking more about process than the prospective designs is that none of the designs is really all that compelling?

And those taken aback by the very idea that people might criticize 37signals -- please. No company is above criticism and any company that isn't willing to periodically take a critical look at itself is on the fast track to irrelevance.

The best thing about this thread is that JF has been willing to respond to some of the contrary views expressed. He doesn't have to agree with them, but the fact that he is at least considering and responding to them -- and in an open forum -- is what makes 37s special, not some mantle of specialness bestowed by Yahweh.

03 Aug 2003 | freaktopia said...

finally, he realizes 37signals is irrelevant. sheesh, i take a 6 month or so break, come back, and see more uselss, self-important BS from 37signals. i'm so sad i didn't know you were hiring earlier, i could have applied and gone through the "redesigning a site i know almost nothing about from the business end" process.


even more irrelevance:

from the front page "37signals is an elite team of experts..." blah blah blah i couldn't even finish reading that self-promotion. any sentence that is almost 1/2 adjectives in the business world has GOT to be pure fiction, baby!

03 Aug 2003 | Mike said...


I have an idea.

Start up your own web design firm.

Make a website for it.

Open the homepage in your favorite editor and say this:

"My web team is a mediocre group of hacks straight out of high school. Our largest project to date is the homepage for my school's Mathletics team, and we used our average skills to churn out some Frontpage-modified templates to bring more than 3 visitors per day to the site"

There is a difference between self-serving BS and telling it like it is. The guys at 37signals are some of the most highly-repected usability/design pros in the business, and if you think the stuff they write about on the frontpage is crap, how about reading some of things that others have said about them.

03 Aug 2003 | Mark said...

I happen to be an interaction designer for one of Verizon's competitors. I've been with this wireless company for four months. Weve just finished a couple rounds of usability testing which included some competitive analysis.

From what we learned during the testing and from what I know about how large, corporate concerns operate, #6 would be the winner (in my humble opinion) if the design were being selected by a wireless company. Here are the reasons:

> #2 is a nice design but contains too much "feature/promo" space and a lot of unused real estate. Online shoppers tend to mentally "delete" all of the promo material plus, according to UIE, featured content only receives 1.3% of a home pages clicks.

> I do like the aesthetics of #5 but I think it falls down by not meeting more internal, corporate customer needs. There is nothing in #5 addressing business customers. #6, as far as I can see, is the only one with business solutions.

> Visually, I liked #7 but it has a four-column grid--users don't tend to like four-column grids--for whatever reason.

> #6 also got more "triggers" above the fold that online wireless shoppers look for: learn, rate plans, phones, accessories, features--plus a compelling, cheap phone for $19.99.

It's hard enough to design for a commoditized, big business when you have access to all the various stakeholders, it's commendable to do it solo and in public!

04 Aug 2003 | p8 said...

Mark, good points!

Visually, I liked #7 but it has a four-column grid--users don't tend to like four-column grids--for whatever reason.

I agree. Four-column grids seems a lot harder to scan. I think #7 might be better if the cells "Customer Service", "Does my phone get it" and "What's new" where put on top of each other instead of next to each other.

Putting the calling plans next to each other makes it easy to compare them though.

I like #6 as well. It's very clean and easy to scan. It's the least overwhelming. Although I think it has too many dotted lines and I block the "Nights and Weekend" because it looks too much like an ad with the red background.

I think #4 has too many links on the page (and to a lesser extent #3 and #5).
What's less frustrating? Waiting on the next page to load or looking for the precise link on a cluttered page?

04 Aug 2003 | freaktopia said...

mike: too bad you chose to attack me instead of arguing against the points I made, you buffoon. next time you try arguing something, try showing some proof of your statements - or making a statement in the first place.

04 Aug 2003 | kev said...

or is buffoon not a personal attack? once freaktopia arrives, you know a thread is dead.

05 Aug 2003 | bakiwop said...

kev, I always back up my attacks with actual arguments. interesting how you threw the word "personal" in there, though.

05 Aug 2003 | vek said...

Oh really? Well, I back up my attacks with my fists and I would knock your fucking teeth out of your mouth you pussy.

05 Aug 2003 | bakiwop said...


05 Aug 2003 | vek said...


05 Aug 2003 | pissy said...

I did it because I thought others would be curious (and the designers gave permission).

Actually, I don't recall even being asked.

06 Aug 2003 | Scott said...

Hey, now that this thread has pretty much ended and devloved into pointless name calling can you go ahead and reveal the winner?

13 Sep 2003 | carlos said...

# 5 ...

20 Sep 2003 | Consultoria said...

Nice work!

20 Sep 2003 | hosting said...

number 2

20 Sep 2003 | DIseo web said...

Nice works, the best, number 2!

10 Nov 2003 | Scott said...

# 6 all the way, it feels easy. You don't get frusterated deciding between 3 links that sound exactly the same but ultimately end up nowhere. It's also a lot easier, for example, if you were to try to return to a particular page, because your options start out small enough to elimiate confusion. All in all, it's an extremely versatile and kind design. Logo could use some redesign, but I don't blame them - I blame whoever decided Verizon should have a logo drawn by a 4 year old.

We had a long debate about this a year or so back. The problem is no matter how you do it, about half the people want it the other way.

Not to be arrogant or anything but, you do use PHP... adding dynamic sorting (link at the top of the page:

Sort posts by newest first, or oldest first

just a thought...

10 Nov 2003 | Scott said...

and of course, to make my sentence coherent--

Not to be arrogant or anything but, you do use PHP... adding dynamic sorting (link at the top of the page:

should be...

Not to be arrogant or anything but, you do use PHP... adding dynamic sorting (link at the top of the page):

followed by the example, and "would be pretty easy."

16 Jan 2004 | Michael said...

For example, if you see an AIM window peeking out from behind your browser and you click on it, that window will come to the front, but the main application window will not. The Viewer is another example. The Aqua system of layers works well in many instances, but not in all. Thank goodness that the Dock is always there to come to the rescue. I know that clicking on an application icon in the Dock will always result in not only the application coming to the front, but also any non-minimized windows associated with it. And if the application is active but no windows are open, clicking on the Dock icon should create a new window in that application.

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