In “Actually, You Might Be Your User,” Jared Spool looks at the pros and cons of self design. That’s designing without relying on things like user interviews, contextual inquiries, surveys, card sorting, and usability testing.

He examines how 37signals gets by without using these things.

They design from their own perspective. If they want to add a feature, they look within themselves to figure it out. No usability testing or contextual inquiries needed.

Jared then looks at the pros and cons of working this way.

Another big disadvantage of Self Design is it only works if the designers use the product a lot. 37signals built Basecamp because they needed to manage their own projects. They use it every day. Their product, Campfire, is their main communication method, since they have team members all over the world. Apple’s team uses their phones every day, all day long.

When there is something frustrating that happens in the daily use of the design, it surfaces pretty quickly. The designers themselves experience that frustration and, because they control the design, focus on eliminating it.

Made me think back to the old adage “write what you know.” If you’re an Eskimo, it’s going to be tough for you to write a book about growing up in the Italian countryside. You’d have to spend months (or years) learning Italian. You’d have to learn the idioms. You’d have to visit your chosen locales repeatedly. You’d have to meet lots of locals and ask them questions. Even if you do a great job at all this research, no one will be surprised if the end result still winds up kludgy and full of mistakes.

Or you could just write a book about growing up as an Eskimo. Then you bypass all those discovery layers and just get to the doing. You already have the knowledge you need.

The same thing happens when you design what you know. You get to bypass the “learning the language” phase and get right to the “building something” phase.

I know it’s not always possible, but, when it is, pick something to work on that you’re around all the time. Something that bugs you. Something that you’ve been paying attention to for years. Solve a problem that you yourself experience. Design what you know.