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Strategies for getting feedback (and not hating it)

Jonas Downey
Jonas Downey wrote this on 7 comments

Recently my team has been working on core improvements for Basecamp. We planned to move quickly on a range of projects, and we wanted to make sure everyone at the company stayed in the loop. Plus, our company is full of smart folks who know the product inside and out, and we were hoping to use that hive mind to our advantage.

That’s easy when you have 5 or 10 people, but it’s challenging with 45. We had to share a lot of info and avoid pestering everyone in the process, so we began experimenting with a few new ways of working. Some of ‘em worked, others…kind of worked. Here are a handful of the strategies we tried the hard way.

Make screencasts for easier reviews.

No matter how many times you’ve done it, asking people for feedback is a harrowing ordeal. They’re busy working on something else, and you’re requesting their precious time and attention.

We wondered: what’s the most effortless way to communicate what we’re working on? Long written messages or storyboards take a lot of time to wade through. So instead of that, we started making 3-5 minute screencast demo videos for each project-in-progress. We share these videos with everyone at the company and ask them to comment. They’re friendly and easy to watch.

In each demo, we talk about the motivation behind the project and what we’re trying to accomplish. We explain how our solution addresses those things. We also mention weak spots or details we’re not sure about.

Here’s an example:

These videos helped quell broad questions like “why are we even doing this?” because they demonstrate that we’ve thought through the big picture stuff. As a result, the criticism we receive is more specific and actionable.

Sidenote: if you do this, you’ll have to get comfortable recording screencasts. After about 5 of them, you get the hang of it. The first step is accepting that yes, your voice is weird, and your face is kind of weird too, and wow, you’re not good at this at all, are you?

Work in the open.

A few years ago, Ryan wrote about designing in the open. We took that to its logical extreme and left our work wide open for anyone in the company to see at any time. That meant having our ongoing projects (in Basecamp) visible to everyone, and sending out weekly status updates about our work in progress. We call these heartbeats.

For feedback purposes, the heartbeats proved more successful than the open project. The open project is like a dirty workroom — people feel bad wandering in and criticizing what you’re doing while you’re doing it. (Plus we’re a remote company, so the workroom is full of people who aren’t wearing pants.)

That said, it’s still nice to let people peek if they’re curious about what’s going on. It also leaves a chance for the occasional helpful comment you might not have expected.

Seek out people who have different perspectives.

Getting the truth isn’t always as easy as mass-emailing people. You might actually have to talk to them. Sorry, fellow introverts!

We’ve made a concerted effort to chat with people outside our immediate development team, like our customer support people, data analyst, QA folks, and anyone else in the company who might look at the problem from a different angle. Sometimes they don’t speak up on their own, but if you reach out personally, they’ll almost certainly mention things you never considered.

Decode vague comments.

How many times have you heard (or said) stuff like this?

"This one looks more readable." 
"I like how this one is clean and simple." 
"This version makes your eyes jump to the important part of the page." 
"This seems like it’s the most usable." 
"This solution might be too noisy." 

This feedback isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just incomplete. Words like clean, usable, and noisy don’t have much meaning. They roughly suggest something about hierarchy, contrast, and spacing.

When we get feedback like that, we dig deeper and ask for clarification. If something looks more readable, why? What about the design is better? More whitespace? Typeface pairings?

Once you unravel the real issues, you’ll know which direction to go. You’ll also get better at offering suggestions to others. Instead of saying, “hey this design looks bad and weird,” you’ll say, “this doesn’t fit in well with our usual styling.” Details like that give your colleague a hint about what they need to improve.

Emotionally separate yourself from your work during critiques.

If you’re working on a project you care about, you’re invested. Sharing your work puts your ass on the line, and hearing a negative reaction will sting. (Admittedly, it’s even harder in front of the whole company. Your ass is on all the lines.)

But the only way to make something great is to recognize that it might not be great yet. Your goal is to find the best solution, not to measure your personal self-worth by it.

Furthermore, most people are reluctant to tell you what they really think. Got negative feedback? Cool! You just succeeded at finding the truth. That’s a win in itself.

When it’s time to share and evaluate what you’ve done, try to put your emotions and sweat equity aside. If you can manage this, you’ll be able to debate the ideas logically instead of emotionally.

When nobody responds, you probably haven’t nailed it.

We noticed that people rally around an obviously good or bad solution. If a solution is strong, you’ll hear about a few minor nitpicks, usually interspersed with an excessive quantity of happy emojis. If it’s clearly bad, a few honest folks will call it out (with not so many emojis.)

When the team is indecisive, or worse—silent—there might be bigger underlying issues at stake. The best way to move forward is to get the whole team together and air it out. Get on the phone, or Skype, or have a meeting and chat in person.

We did this with a project that wasn’t going so well. We were creatively stuck, but we’d been trying to work through it individually. When we reconvened as a group, everyone had a chance to voice their concerns and agree on what to do next.

Make the call.

What happens when everyone disagrees? You might have multiple viable ways to proceed and no definitive answer on any of them.

Now it’s up to you to weigh everything you heard. How much time do you have left to make changes? Which solution do you feel strongly about? Does someone else feel strongly when you don’t? Is there a compromise version, or another option you haven’t considered yet?

The answers here are always different, but one thing remains the same: it’s up to you. It’s tempting to pawn off these decisions to other people, or wait for a consensus to appear, but it’s better to choose a direction than to keep spinning your wheels trying to please the group. Making the call has the side effect of drawing out people who were on the fence — if it’s the wrong call for some reason, they’ll speak up before it’s too late!

Don’t be embarrassed when things don’t work out.

Not every project is an immediate success…or even an eventual success. Out of our last 10 projects, 2 didn’t go smoothly. The first one shipped after we took a break and regrouped. We shelved the second one entirely, because we tried numerous approaches and there was no clear path forward.

Admitting defeat doesn’t feel great, but it’s far better than trudging ahead with a design that simply isn’t working. Who wants to ship and support something like that?

Return the favor.

Try offering thoughtful critiques of others’ work. Be kind, honest, and specific. It’s surprisingly difficult to do!

If you’ve been in the game for a while, mentor the younguns. Help them improve and share the feedback love. Teach them to screencast so they’ll get used to their weird voices and faces too (eventually.)

Basecamp is hiring another Marketing Designer

Mig Reyes
Mig Reyes wrote this on Discuss

We’re looking to hire a Designer to join us at Basecamp to work on all sorts of fun, meaningful marketing projects. The last time we hired for this role was when I joined in 2012. The last time before that? It was Jamie in 2008. We don’t often have openings for design positions like this, so we’re really excited to bring someone new to the team.

Note: This is primarily a senior-level graphic design position. Applications were due on February 6, 2015. Thanks to everyone who applied!

Designers at Basecamp are a fun bunch, and we all do a bit of everything. We’re not just setting type, picking Pantone colors, or pushing pixels in Photoshop. In addition to graphic design, designers at Basecamp write tight copy, plan the user experience for marketing pages and apps, and craft the HTML and CSS to bring it all together. We don’t think this makes you a unicorn, or a ninja, or a rockstar. We just think it makes you a well-rounded designer. You may not have all these skills yet, but you’re looking for a place to learn and hone them.
Designers that work on marketing at Basecamp aren’t afraid to sell. Whether it’s getting your coworkers to buy in on a direction you’ve designed, or writing copy that makes it clear why customers should choose Basecamp, you don’t shy away from the role of marketing: selling something worthwhile.

If you were a marketing-focused Designer at Basecamp, here’s some of the work you might have done:

When the new version of the Basecamp app launched, you would have lead the charge on designing a new Help site while teaching the Support team how to write the documentation for it.

When we changed from 37signals to Basecamp, you would have worked on the brand new marketing site for our exciting company change.

You would have suggested that the new name change, along with all of our new coworkers we hired in the last couple of years, warranted fresh business cards. So you made them.

You believed in supporting businesses who have lasted for generations, so you volunteered to design The Distance.

You would have found your own design’s shortcomings and months later, redesigned The Distance to make it faster to update and easier to read.

Over time and if you were feeling adventurous, you’d dive into the world of product design to add useful features including Annual Billing and storage upgrades, because making customers happy and having a positive impact on revenue is a win-win.

You’d go on to create beautiful letter-pressed invoices, because our customers deserve the best in every instance we get to talk to them.

On a whim, you’d swoop in to help Dan and Merissa make t-shirts to hand out at the latest conference we’re sponsoring. Heck, you’d even think of other great conferences and initiatives we should be sponsoring, too.

You’d give our Support team fun ways to write personal notes to customers.

You’d help plan and design the materials that went into Basecamp sponsoring the Pitchfork Music Festival. Dressing up like a camper is both silly and optional. But we’re all fun here, so you wouldn’t have thought it was weird to do so.

Some work you might do once you get here:

You’ll look at billboards like this and ask, “if Basecamp took out a billboard, what would ours say?”

You’ll encounter beautiful wall murals like this and offer, “if donut shops can have great branding and advertising, why can’t Basecamp?”

You’ll also help us make Basecamp.com feel alive and relevant, you’ll learn the ropes of A/B testing and experiment with new designs often for our marketing sites, you’ll craft email campaigns about Basecamp that people actually want to sign up for, and you might even share everything you’ve learned on this blog.

And if you didn’t like anything I just shared with you above, you’d step in to find out ways to do things better and lead with real designs you make and put out into the world.

You’ll have some of the most talented, smart, and funny people all around the world to help you do this work.

If you’re working on a new Basecamp.com landing page and have a question about trends in Basecamp signups, Noah can offer plenty of insights. If you’re curious about what our customers actually want, the entire Support team can give you a top-three list of requests at the drop of a hat. If you think a campaign at Basecamp needs great photography and video to tell your story, our video producer Shaun can be right by your side to film and shoot. We think everyone here is awesome, and we’d love to see you on the Basecamp Team page with us.

About you

You might live in Chicago, and that’s great. But we work remotely, so we’ll give you a fair shake no matter where you live. We want to know that you’ve done this kind of work before. Whether you’re coming from a big tech company or a small mom-and-pop agency, your resume and pedigree don’t matter nearly as much as the real world work you’ve put out in the world.
You may have a copy of Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style laying next to your copy of Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational. You may also have a stack of design, marketing, and advertising books you’re just dying for us to check out, too.
You have a love for writing, an interest in selling, a soft spot for art, and a fascination with technology. We’re hoping you also have completely unrelated hobbies that will make us love you even more.

Ready to apply?

At Basecamp, we have a long standing history of favoring candidates who put in extra effort in their applications. Whether that’s a video of you introducing yourself or making us a custom website—that’s all up to you. We want to know if you’re qualified, a good fit, and most importantly, you want this job and not just any job.
When you’re ready, shoot an email to me at mig_at_basecamp_dot_com with your design portfolio and anything extra you’d like to send along. I’ll share everyone’s applications with the team. When we’ve narrowed down our list of candidates, we’ll reach out to you.
If this sounds like you, I’m encouraging you to apply. If this isn’t you and sounds like someone you know, please pass the word along for us!
Happy Friday!

Design Discussions: Having fun with Basecamp business cards

Mig Reyes
Mig Reyes wrote this on 3 comments

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

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

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

Continued…
Request an Invite | Cloudpipes.png

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

Michael Berger on Jan 13 2015 1 comment

Why you should share your dirty work

Jonas Downey
Jonas Downey wrote this on 13 comments

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

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

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

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

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

Example 1: Should we show a button or not?

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

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

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

Example 2: Writing a single link

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

Example 3: Fixing an edge case

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

Example 4: How should we show attachments?

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

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

Example 5: Basic grammar

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

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

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

Google shows you a good time

Jason Fried
Jason Fried wrote this on 9 comments

I ordered something from overseas and checked the tracking number to see when I might receive the shipment. The results looked like this:

Since the page wasn’t in English, and Google knew I was an English speaker, Google offered to translate it for me:

So I did. Then it looked like this:

The special part… Check out the time column. They “translated” 24-hour time into 12-hour time. They knew I was in the US and that’s our preference for displaying time. So they didn’t only translate the words into English, they went the extra step and translated the time format to match expectations. They certainly didn’t have to do that, but I definitely noticed that they did.

Delightful attention to detail, and thorough definition of translation. Well done.

Writing-first Design

Jonas Downey
Jonas Downey wrote this on 10 comments

A quick way to measure a designer’s maturity is to watch what they do at the beginning of a project. Inexperienced designers are often smitten by the allure of new tools and quick results, so they’ll jump in to Photoshop or Sketch and start messing with layouts and style explorations. Seasoned designers know this can be distracting, so they might start by doing research or drawing in a paper sketchbook instead.

Sketching is great, but before I start sketching, I start writing. Writing first has lots of advantages, regardless of the project you’re working on. Here are a few examples.

Example 1: You’re making a simple website, and your client doesn’t have any copy yet.

Great! Here’s an opportunity to write it. Skip the lorem ipsum and start telling your client’s story. What’s special about this client? What problems are they trying to solve by having this website? How can you explain those ideas to people who visit the site? And why should the site’s visitors care?

Answering these questions requires you to gain understanding. You can’t write anything without knowing your subject. You’ll be forced to learn a lot about the client’s business, their history, and their audience. Having this information will clarify your vision for the overall project.

Example 2: You’re making a website, and the client gave you copy to start with.

Great! Don’t design anything yet. Put on your editor’s hat and think critically. Is the text arranged correctly? Does it have the right tone of voice? Is it too long or too short? Is it suitable for the web? Can you chop it up into separate pages and keep it coherent? What’s still missing?

Chances are, this handed-over writing might be lousy. Be honest and propose copy changes before you get much deeper into the design. Don’t be afraid to do a rewrite — treat writing as part of the design, not just an element on the page.

Example 3: You’re making an app or interface elements.

In that case, you’re likely designing affordances — communicating actions the user can take. These might take the form of explanatory copy, prompts, buttons, labels, error messages, etc.

Great! Hop into a text editor. Write out as many variations as you can. It’s easy to mock basic UI in text, like this:

Are you sure you want to delete that file?
[ Yes, I’m sure ] [ Never mind ]
Deleting this file will remove it permanently. Are you sure?
[ Yes, delete it ] [ No, cancel ]

And don’t be afraid to have a little fun with it:

That file will disappear completely and never be found. Carry on?
[ Indeed, ashes to ashes and so forth ] [ No, I can’t let go ]

Example 4: You’re making a graphics-heavy poster that has almost no writing at all.

Great! Write down what you think you’re trying to accomplish. Spend 5 or 10 minutes on it. The notes are entirely to help you clear your head and figure out what to do.

Putting writing first improves your chances of success in the final product. It’s good practice, and it makes the rest of your job easier.

Now, what does the overall creative process look like? I’ve found it works well like this:

  • Spend time writing until you’re happy with the first draft.
  • Sketch visual ideas on paper.
  • Open your software tool of choice and explore aesthetics: colors, type, imagery, and style.
  • Put it all together and try different layouts and arrangements.
  • Continue editing once you see everything in context.

Obviously that exact order is not always right for every project. There’s no right way to do things! But following this general process helps guarantee you’re putting horses before carts and staying on the right road.

Monsters and Thieves

Nathan Kontny
Nathan Kontny wrote this on 10 comments

Good artists copy; great artists steal.
-Picasso

A famous quote about creativity often attributed to Picasso. But what can we actually learn about creativity from studying thieves? And did Picasso even say it?

Happy Halloween! I haven’t cared for ages. But, now I have someone in my house like this. My 5 month old ladybug :)
I find myself at the nearest drugstore constantly buying diapers, and I can’t help notice the holiday on sale. Candy, makeup, masks. Especially the classic: Frankenstein.
Most of us don’t realize our use of Frankenstein’s name is wrong. Frankenstein was the name of the scientist, Victor Frankenstein. The monster didn’t have a name.
In the book, he’s called monster, creature, fiend, even devil. If anything, the monster’s name is Adam.

I am thy creature: I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed

-The “monster”


But the big thing most don’t realize is that the story of Frankenstein was written by François‐Félix Nogaret.
Wait that doesn’t sound right. Wasn’t Frankenstein written by Mary Shelley?
Julia V. Douthwaite, a professor at The University of Notre Dame, recently uncovered a story by French author François‐Félix Nogaret, written years before Mary Shelley was even born. The story is about an inventor named Frankenstein who creates an artificial man.
Mary Shelley stole the idea of Frankenstein.


Cars were supposed to be the solution to lost or stolen horses.

When I leave my machine at the door of a patient’s house I am sure to find it there on my return. Not always so with the horse: he may have skipped off as the result of a flying paper or the uncouth yell of a street gamin, and the expense of broken harness, wagon, and probably worse has to be met.

-An excited new automobile owner from 1901, found in the book Stealing Cars


Instead, cars have been the object of thieves attention since they were first invented. Motor vehicle theft, also more popularly known as grand theft auto (amongst police and video game playing teens), is an enormous problem and a multi-billion dollar industry for thieves.
By many counts, a car is stolen in the US every 30 seconds. Of those stolen, only about 12% are ever recovered. And the problem is all over the world. 1 in 6 cars on the road in the Czech Republic are stolen vehicles or contain stolen parts.
But today, with the advent of Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs), a stolen car isn’t that valuable sold on its own. If you had a stolen car and changed its plates, its VIN is still etched or stamped onto 20 or more pieces of your car. The dashboard is the obvious place you see it. But it’s on the engine. The doors. Some cars even have the VIN etched onto all the windows.
And so, a stolen car is easy to identify. As a whole.
Professional car thieves know that as soon as you steal a car, your next immediate task is to get it to a chop shop. A chop shop is an illegally operating garage that specializes in taking a car and almost literally chopping it into pieces. In less than an hour, a stolen car is chopped. Seats, windshield, airbags – every individual item is removed. Things with VINs are dumped, destroyed, or melted down.
Now, thieves have extremely valuable parts on their hands. Wheels, entertainment systems, air bags – all can go for hundreds to thousands of dollars on their own. Even melted down. A catalytic converter contains platinum going for $1500 an ounce.
And in their sale, they can’t be traced back to the original owner or the crime.
Professional thieves have figured out that there isn’t much use to stealing and reselling an entire car. The value is in deconstructing the car, and utilizing the individual pieces.


Many people also don’t realize Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is subtitled “The Modern Prometheus”, as the subtitle doesn’t appear on modern editions of the book.
Prometheus is a tale from Greek mythology, probably 3000 years old. Some versions of the myth have Prometheus as the architect of mankind, fashioned out of mud and fire. Shelley’s monster was created with flesh and lightning.
Shelley didn’t just steal from Nogaret. She stole pieces of work from a countless number of places. Like Greek mythology. Like Milton’s Paradise Lost, an alternative genesis story about Adam, God, and Satan.

Like Adam, I was created apparently united by no link to any other being in existence many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition; for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me.

-The “monster”


Like Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Mariner and Frankenstein both use a similar narrative technique of one character telling another character the story, and interrupting the narrative to make sure the reader is reminded of that fact.
She stole from Giovanni Aldini and Johann Konrad Dippel who were scientists in the late 1700s who were trying to sustain or create new life with electricity and chemicals.
Shelly even stole narrative and character ideas from her own mother’s novel, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
But you wouldn’t know these things unless you did a lot of research and could spot the elements. Nogaret and Shelley might have a main character with the same name creating an artificial man, but that’s largely where the similarities stop. The stories are completely different.
And that’s because Shelly did what these car thieves excel at: break things down, and find new value in the parts.


Amateurs tend to be poor at imitation. When they see an idea, they clone the whole thing and offer it as their own work. The pro knows to chop these things into pieces and find new uses for them.
One of my favorite books to recommend to developers who feel like they can’t design is Jarrod Drysdale’s Bootstrapping Design. He outlines a way novice web designers can do what Mary Shelley did:

  1. Find 3 sites that inspire you.
  2. Steal the layout from one, color scheme from another, and typography from the third.
  3. Combine those three, and you’ll realize you’ve created something original.


I’ve made something called Draft, software to help people write better. The homepage has served me well in getting traffic and getting people to sign up:


But it’s actually a combination of things I’ve stolen. The font I stole from Field Notes, these beautifuly designed notebooks from Aaron Draplin and Coudal Partners. They introduced me to Futura, and I fell in love.
The layout was stolen from Google. Simple, centered, almost nothing on the page, just click the button and get started.
There’s a little animation to the headline that drops in – stolen from DuckDuckGo’s previous design, a great search engine built by Gabriel Weinberg. Their logo had a similar animation when the page loaded.
Even the blue button came from some place I can’t remember now. But I was on a site, saw the blue they were using, and decided it would make a great link and button color.
On and on, I’ve deconstructed these other sites into pieces and mixed them together into something new. Something original.
Now, I’ve recently taken over as the CEO of Highrise, and as we look at things to improve and redesign, I see us doing the exact same thing.
I hired the very talented designer, Wren Lanier, and the first thing she asked me was: send me all the sites and designs that inspire you.
And as you’ll see, when we launch our new homepage soon, it will come off as original, because it is. But lots of elements on those pages are because Wren or I liked a button here, a color there, a font somewhere else.
Here’s an illustration that you might see soon on the new Highrise homepage, describing Highrise as a “Secret Weapon.”



A beautiful original “shaken” from a designer and artist I hired, Brad Colbow, but you can spot where inspiration came from.


That quote “Good artists copy; great artists steal,” is often attributed to Picasso. But that’s not what he actually said. According to The Quote Investigator, that’s Steve Jobs’ version as he was trying to quote Picasso.
Picasso has also been quoted as saying:
    Bad artists copy; great artists steal.
But a 1974 book, mentioned William Faulkner said:
    Immature artists copy, great artists steal.
But it was T.S. Elliot who in 1920 wrote:
    Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.
And it was Alfred Tennyson in 1892 who wrote:
    That great poets imitate and improve, whereas small ones steal and spoil.


All these great artists, Jobs, Picasso, T.S. Elliot, stole parts, added their own, and inspired the next – just like professional car thieves, clever enough to deconstruct the originals, and use the pieces to create something much more valuable.

Extra Drawings

Nate Otto
Nate Otto wrote this on 6 comments


For the last ten months at Basecamp I have been the guy that draws stuff. After making occasional contributions at 37signals over the years, they tapped me to make hand drawn images for the Basecamp marketing site that first appeared in February. Since then my drawings have crept into the app itself, into email blasts, onto banners at Pitchfork, all up in The Distance, plastered on the walls of the office, and into several employee’s avatars. We came up with a creative contract that allows me time to work on my other career as an artist while still providing substantial input at Basecamp.

Continued…