Fly on the Wall: “too many Web developers are swatting flies with bulldozers” Matt 07 Apr 2006

18 comments Latest by Chris Betterton

Some of the activity this week at our internal 37signals Campfire chat room:

Ryan put up this Garden Tweezer mini-site for his dad and said he was very proud of his dad’s opening line: “Rose growing is a love life of learning from our mentors, and more often than not the simple things are the best.”

We watched the F2C: Freedom to Connect conference use Campfire with 200+ people (the chat showed up on a 35 foot screen behind the speakers). To make it happen, David upgraded them to “the God subscription” and said, “I believe the godsubscription is currently charged at $999…being God is costly.” One attendee wrote in, “The best moment was when Doc Searls and David Weinberger got up on stage and promptly turned their chairs around, because the real discussion was happening behind them, and they didn’t want to miss it.” Another attendee wrote, “The utility of the Campfire during the conference is amazing…useful links going up, very helpful discussions and clarifications, footnotes. Some of the speakers are a little jumpy, occasionally looking over their shoulders if a wise comment scrolls by. It’s fun to watch.”

Marcel got this email from a friend: “i recently put out a personals add. tell me if you like it: trill-seeking harpist looking for pianist with a desire for a one night standing ovation. No strings attached.”

David in CRN Riding The Ruby Rails In A New Direction is a CRN piece on Ruby that features David and has this great quote: “Too many Web developers are swatting flies with bulldozers.” The print version includes a nifty David on Rails photo (left). Marcel commented: “that’s a bit of a Ninja pose…you can just barely make out the flying star in his left hand.”

Jamis kept up with last Friday’s workshop via Campfire: “so…how do you feel the workshop is going?” Marcel described it as lively and Sam said, “it feels like people are really involved, but at the same time there’s a lot of resistance.” Marcel agreed but said, “the responses to the push back on our part have been strong…the resistance is teasing out the details.”

Someone at the Getting Real workshop referred to himself as a serial entrepreneur. Jamis and I both find the word “serial” to be a curious one. The two most common uses seem to be “serial entrepreneur” and “serial killer.” Coincidence?

The Lose a little at a time post led David to remark that the tech world is filled with “stuff you think you need to do to be taken serious.” Jason agreed saying, “this ‘serious’ stuff is CRAP.” Ryan loves the word “serious” and acted out: “shuts his briefcase and straightens his tie…’i’m a professional’…i think it’s about trust. people have a process that doesn’t deliver anything real you can evaluate until months in…so you have to do all this bullshit to communicate that you’re ‘serious’ up front…so people feel safe investing in a long period of fortune telling…it probably takes a lot less bullshit to get someone to trust you for 2 weeks to build a first-most-important feature.” David concurred: “Totally. Show people valuable, running software and the overreactions of ‘professionalism’ lose all appeal.”

Marcel finds pleasure in the little things: “i have a note pad here on my desk…i just registered that i was done with what was on the top…and it occured to me that i could just rip it off and throw it in the trash…then i did…and was surprised how good it felt :)”

David uses IMDB as the first-order filter for any movie he considers: “If it gets 7+, then I bother reading other reviews.”

Marcel flew from KC to Chicago and sat next to someone who works in the marketing division of McDonalds: “She said that it is not out of the ordinary that she have at least 5 meetings a day…even though she stops processing information after about the first or second one…and she only ever gets anything done for about an hour and a half a day…for 45 minutes at like 8 am in the morning and for another 45 around 6 pm.”

Jason would love to have a debate about the idea an “online bank” UI is this huge hairy thing that needs all this stuff. “online banking is much simpler than Basecamp and Backpack,” he wrote. “an online bank redesign is no different than anything else…and it’s simpler…banks are all about the back end.” Ryan said, “and you could absolutely use this process [Getting Real] to just do a working prototype of the front end…you could have the whole thing working with monopoly money…more and more i’m seeing the problem is that… people think their shit is so huge, and then when they hear they should do less, they say ‘but i can’t shoe-horn the big project into something small’…they don’t get that it’s NOT BIG IN THE FIRST PLACE…that they’re making it big.”

Marcel’s nieces and nephews sure get a kick out of Photo Booth (100 pictures w/ distorted baby cuteness toward the end). Jason’s response: “nothing bring a family together like distortion.”

Jason performed a Campfire site redesign (or is that realign?). Sam loves it. Marcel thinks “seeing the full browser screen shot delivers the point a lot more quickly and directly.” Ryan: “hotness.”

Jamis is doing a Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window impression: “our neighbors across the street are selling their house, and we want to know for how much, so we tried to see the phone number on the for sale sign, but couldn’t. So we grabbed some binocs and peered out the window at it. Felt like the ultimate nosy neighbor :)”

Jason on Boot Camp madness: “this whole Windows thing cracks me up. When’s the last time a bunch of Mac headz RACED to be able to use Windows! (totally useful, just funny)”

Ryan posted an excerpt from Bertrand Russell about writing:

Take, say, such a sentence as the following, which might occur in a work on sociology: “Human beings are completely exempt from undesirable behaviour-patterns only when certain prerequisites, not satisfied except in a small percentage of actual cases, have, through some fortuitous concourse of favourable circumstances, whether congenital or environmental, chanced to combine in producing an individual in whom many factors deviate from the norm in a socially advantageous manner”. Let us see if we can translate this sentence into English. I suggest the following: “All men are scoundrels, or at any rate almost all. The men who are not must have had unusual luck, both in their birth and in their upbringing.” This is shorter and more intelligible, and says just the same thing. But I am afraid any professor who used the second sentence instead of the first would get the sack.

It was then revealed that Marcel’s dad met Bertrand Russell once. He asked Russell, “What are your thoughts on suicide?” Russell thought for a bit and then said to MM’s dad, “It’s a sudden departure.”

The feel good letter of the week:

I wanted to write to thank you all for your products. When we started using Basecamp for project management, we kept hearing our clients say, “Wow! You are so organized.” Well, we’ve recently started using Writeboard to brainstorm our monthly newsletters and today we were featured in Campaign Monitor’s Design Gallery. What did they highlight? Our copy: “The copy grabs your attention right from the opening paragraph and doesn’t let go for the rest of the newsletter…”. Obviously the process is working! Thanks again for making not one, but two products that are helping this small studio get so much positive reaction.

Marcel: “Philosophy stands in the same relation to the study of the actual world as masturbation to sexual love” -Karl Marx
Ryan: commie!
Marcel: Onanist!
Ryan: touche

And finally, today (April 7) is both Jason and Ryan’s birthday. Happy bday boys!

18 comments so far (Jump to latest)

John 07 Apr 06

Oh, and happy birthday to you both!

Randy J. Hunt 07 Apr 06

Likewise, happy birthday. And yes, please re-design my bank’s UI.

JF 07 Apr 06

Likewise, happy birthday. And yes, please re-design my bank�s UI.


We’d love to redesign an online bank UI. We’d re-enter the world of client work just to do that one project. I’m confident we could build the best online banking UI out there, but I doubt anyone would trust a small little team like ours. ;) Online banking is too complex for a small team, right?

SU 07 Apr 06

Jason would love to have a debate about the idea an �online bank� UI is this huge hairy thing that needs all this stuff. �online banking is much simpler than Basecamp and Backpack,� he wrote. �an online bank redesign is no different than anything else�and it�s simpler�banks are all about the back end.�

We’re having that debate right now with on one of our projects. Turns out that on closer inspection, the apparent big hairy mess of content was due in large part to replication — same content, repackaged either with a different look or different name. What once appeared to be tons of unique information now seems more manageable. Now to try to convince the client that they can do with less…

Unfortunately, it is a bit of an oversimplification to say that online banking is simpler than Basecamp. While it’s true that paying bills, reading statements, and managing your account are very simple activities, modern banks have turned so many of their services into a dizzying array of products. Not to mention, banks offer far more than checking accounts — some offer to help you manage mortgages and brokerage accounts as well.

To truly affect change, you need to start with the business people — the problems with online banking run far deeper than design. The real win would be to get buy-in high up within these businesses that design means more than styling — that design must be involved when the banks first decide how they will put their business online. All too often, designers are consulted *after* those decisions have been made.

JF 07 Apr 06

I hear you SU, but I believe one day one bank will wise up and offer a “Less Features” online banking experience that will truly set them apart for the better.

Online banking is turning into “software” — it’s awfully complex for a lot of people. And one day one smart bank will change the game. I’d bet on it.

Zack 07 Apr 06

Happy birthday guys. Here’s to many more.

And I agree with all the bank UI talk. It’s so complicated and I still can’t find simple things like changing my mailing address or checking my APR. Just give me what I want and get the other crap out of my way!

marvinlewis 07 Apr 06

it be interesting to see a study of customer attrition rates for banks. i’ve stayed with the same bank for the last ten years because there’s only been one error with my account and they corrected it before i noticed it. how did they come to the conclusion that more, more, more is better? do people switch because of online features?

investment firms are the same way. i have hundreds of ways to chart and track investments. i use 1 or 2.

Peter Cooper 07 Apr 06

Regarding the F2C conference, doesn’t this make anyone else feel that perhaps we should have more meetings and industry conferences online than in the expensive ‘meat world’? For example, take the Future of Web Apps conference in London. There was little there that wouldn’t have worked well online. Tom Coates might be 7% less funny online than in real life, but hey!

Travelling to these conferences, getting a hotel, waiting around, and all that stuff isn’t so fun, so perhaps conferences should be the next thing to ‘get real’. Perhaps an online workshop from 37signals to kick it off? ;-)

Larry Myers 07 Apr 06

Am I the only one that thinks Photobooth, for such a “non-serious” program, has been a huge success? Everybody I show my MacBook Pro to asks about the built in camera, and then we end spending the next 5-10 minutes playing with Photobooth just because it is silly fun.

All my non-geek friends don’t care about the speed or how good the screen is, they just say, “Let’s do the funhouse pictures again!” or “Let me play with the remote some more!”

Don Schenck 07 Apr 06

Jamis’ neighbors killed someone and buried them in their garden??

Jared White 07 Apr 06

There are two bank UIs I actually like now. Chase is the best — their credit card/mortgage site was recently redesigned, and I love it. It’s beautiful, dead simple to read, easy to navigate, and fast. Wells Fargo is easy to navigate as well, but the graphics design is rather dull, and it’s slower. But still pretty good. And both of them work perfectly fine in Safari. (I’ll never do business with anyone that doesn’t support Safari.)

Daniel 07 Apr 06

Has any info on Compass “leaked” before the new screenshots at the Campfire site? It will be interesting to see how you solve this. A nice way of binding several small apps together would be a great argument against monolits.

Jamis 07 Apr 06

Andrew, Parallels is pretty slick. Very fast, and (so far) pretty reliable.

Peter 07 Apr 06

> And finally, today (April 7) is both Jason and Ryan�s birthday.

Same as me so happy birthday.

Wow! 2 aries working together.

Noah 07 Apr 06

There are legit reasons online banking apps are big hairy deals. Not the least of which is legal considerations for integrity.

Michael Ward 10 Apr 06

Noah: Their may be a million reasons why baking logic is complex, but that doesn’t need to be reflected in the interface. The banks need simple ways to fulfil the needs of their customers - and most customers will do the same things.

My online account allows me to view my statements, transfer money, pay bills and apply for an extension on my overdraft. That pretty much covers the main things that the majority of people want to do - so get that right and you’ve nearly won the war.

My bank hasn’t got it right :(

Chris Betterton 10 Apr 06

Over here in the UK, the same bank (the Co-operative bank) has managed to produce two different banking UIs that couldn’t be more different. Their consumer banking site ( is clean, simple, easy to navigate and use, and runs in pretty much any browser. Their business banking site (, go to acumen) is complex, difficult to use, and requires IE. The strange thing is, the Smile site was developed at least five years ago, whereas the Acumen / business site was only launched last year. It’s a real shame that they’ve stepped backwards - just applying the Smile site to business would have been a far, far better solution.