The difference between developers and product designers

Our company is bidding on the re-development of an existing product that has outgrown the technical framework on which it was originally built. The customer has received a handful of offers, and the range of costs and technologies found in those proposals is causing him considerable uncertainty in his choice.

In response to that uncertainty, we’re nudging him to look beyond whether to use Ruby on Rails (our choice), Meteor or Laravel since, at the end of the day, the success or failure of his business will not hinge on technology. Instead, we’re encouraging him to consider the difference between a developer and a product designer, and focus on the critical question of who is capable of creating a product that will ultimately prove successful to his business.

To illustrate, let’s consider what happens when you signup for an account in their existing platform. Upon first login, you see something like this:

The original specifications for this product probably contained something along the lines of, “The system will have an accounts screen that lists all colleagues associated with the organization.” The developer then went about the task of satisfying the requirements, thinking:

When the account screen is accessed, I’ll query the database for all colleagues. And to account for the case there are no colleagues, I’ll show the message, ‘No colleagues found’.

Most developers focus on requirements and technology—i.e. the database query, the message to show if the query returns nothing, etc.—and fail to reflect deeply on the actual use of the product they’re building. In this case, the developer didn’t consider the one instance—and a critical one in terms of product success—of an empty database query that every single user will experience—Their very first engagement with this screen as a new user.

As a new user in this system, I’m left disoriented and confused:

  • Where am I, and what am I supposed to do?
  • The “No colleagues found” text seems like an error message. One minute in, and I’ve already done something wrong?
  • “Show blocked colleagues?” What is a blocked colleague? If I click that, the only thing that happens is that the text changes to “Hide blocked colleague”.

Had I created this account as a potential new customer wanting to “kick-the-tires,” there’s a good chance that I’d leave and not return, since experiencing friction in my very first interaction with the product is probably a good indication of what’s to come should I stay.

A good product designer is continually putting himself or herself in the shoes of the user, taking into account their context, their mindset, their knowledge and expectations, and looking to resolve any aspects of interaction with the product which potentially introduces friction.

In this example, a good product designer would identify the need for a “blank slate” version of the account screen, that’s welcoming and orientating for first-time users. Perhaps something like:

And therein lies the enormous difference in value between the average developer, and the very few who are good product designers. The former creates collections of features that “satisfy requirements”, while the latter creates coherent, effective and ultimately successful products.

Initial impressions of the Overcast podcast app

Since starting to listen to podcasts a few years ago, I’ve always used the Instacast app. Recently, though, I decided to check out Overcast, by Marco Arment. Having used Overcast for about a week now, I’ve collected some observations and initial impressions.

Continue reading Initial impressions of the Overcast podcast app

Search for the elusive, perfect file & screenshot sharing tool

In my daily work, as well as the maintenance of three blogs, I frequently need a tool that allows me to conveniently share files and screenshots. This article discusses my search for that elusive perfect app.

Continue reading Search for the elusive, perfect file & screenshot sharing tool

Why I switched from DreamPress to GoDaddy Managed WordPress Hosting

I recently switched from DreamHost’s DreamPress to GoDaddy’s managed WordPress hosting service. This article explains why, and discusses my experience so far. [Update: Since writing this article, I’ve switched away from GoDaddy, and now host my blog in a VPS at DigitalOcean. You can read about that switch, here.]

Continue reading Why I switched from DreamPress to GoDaddy Managed WordPress Hosting

Using Tresorit to manage and share confidential data on a Mac

Earlier this year, I described how I used a combination of Espionage and Dropbox to share confidential documents among our family’s Macs. Unfortunately, that approach proved too problematic and I’ve since had to switch to a new approach—based on the Tresorit service—which, while not a perfect solution, does represent an improvement.

Continue reading Using Tresorit to manage and share confidential data on a Mac

How to secure Mac and iOS devices with the Cloak or PIA VPN

A while back, I ran across an article (which for the life of me I can’t find now) in which the author meets with a computer hacker at a public location—a Starbucks coffee shop—and demonstrates the surprising amount of information he can collect by intercepting the traffic between the Starbucks public wifi and the locally connected customers. It is truly scary!

Continue reading How to secure Mac and iOS devices with the Cloak or PIA VPN

Daylite and Direct Mail for managing customer relations and communications

In Makalu Interactive, we use two Mac OS X applications—Daylite and Direct Mail—to manage customer relationships and communications, within a context of both client services and the selling of our own products.

Continue reading Daylite and Direct Mail for managing customer relations and communications

Keen Hood River II Sandals

We tend to spend a lot of weekends river-walking in the local mountains. My Chaco sandals (which I love!) just weren’t cutting the mustard for this kind of activity — I was too frequently stubbing my toes on rocks, or slipping, or having to take them off to remove the odd pebble that found its way in.

So I did a little research, and ordered a pair of Keen Hood River II sandals from, in the US. They just arrived today, and I was elated to find that I’d ordered the right size (as ordering shoes via the internet is a risky business.) The shoes are very comfortable, as I expected being the owner of some other Keen shoes, and the soles appear to have a nice gripping surface. And the toe cup is definitely going to make boulder hopping a much less painful activity!

I’ll report back in a few weeks, after spending some time in the wild with them.

Case Logic camera case for my Canon IXUS 850 IS

Today’s article will likely go down in the annals of blogosphere history as one of the more profound pieces ever written, as I explain why I’m so happy with my new $5 camera case.

I am a tremendous fan of the Canon PowerShot (“IXUS” here in Europe) family of cameras. They are rugged, compact, and take pictures that to my eye rival digital SLRs (especially after a bit of unsharp masking). I’ve owned just about every other generation of this camera, and after my last one was lost, ended up purchasing the latest, IXUS 850 IS, including a fantastic new wide angle lens.

So how did my last camera get lost? Quite simply, it feel out of my cheesy old camera bag. My former bag had a flap that one day allowed my camera to slip out while I was having lunch. (The bag was attached to my Timbuktu messenger bag strap, which I’d left sitting under the table.)

I should have seen that coming, since the same loose flap also caused me to once lose an extra battery.

So today, while browsing around in FNAC, desperate to spend some money as it’s just been so dang long since I’ve bought something (other than my brand new 3 GB memory upgrade kit!!! for my MacBook, from Other World Computing), when I walked pass the digital camera bag section. That’s when it hit me, BAM!, that’s right– I need a new camera bag!

Something else strange happened, something my wife would hardly believe: For the first time in history, the bag that I decided I want, happened to be the cheapest bag on the shelf! So now I’ve got myself the digital camera bag of my dreams, for five bucks.

And that bag is… The Case Logic DesignWorks Function with Style Digital Camera Case (“Sac pour appareil-photo”, for all you French readers, and I know there are many…) The particular model, I’m guessing here, is the QPB11 (that’s the only thing printed on the packaging that remotely looks like a model number.) According the the packaging this baby sports the following features:

  • Holds digital camera (man, how I’ve been waiting for that one)
  • Form-fit protection (always good, for a number of products…)
  • Detachable lanyard included (I’ve always wondered about the origin of “lanyard”)

But seriously, the reason I like this new bag, is that it has everything I want in a digital camera bag:

  • Super compact
  • Holster strap with a snap
  • Zip closure (no flaps!)
  • Internal pocket for extra battery and memory card
  • Nice logo

I just checked, and Case Logic even have a web page available for the product:

[[[Case Logic Compact Camera Bag]]]

Timbuk2 Euro Tote

Those closest to me know that I suffer from bag addiction — a condition characterized by a never-ending search for just the right bag, for just the right occasion. My latest fix arrived today in the mail (thanks, Mom!) — a Timbuk2 Euro Tote.

This is the bag (no, it’s not a purse…) that will become my daily companion, and which will contain the stuff I like to have with me at all times:

  • Wallet
  • Treo (PDA/phone)
  • Keys
  • Sunglasses
  • iPod Shuffle (and earbuds)
  • USB memory stick (sometimes I get amnesia)
  • Pen
  • Moleskin 9x14cm notebook
  • Kleenexes

Including all the above, there’s still enough room for the following stuff that I’ll occasionally take along:

  • Book (small book).
  • Canon PowerShot S500 digital camera, and spare battery.
  • A diaper or two.

So far, after one day’s use, I’ve got the feeling me and the Euro Tote are going to get along just fine. The only thing I don’t like, is that inside it’s got a soft-lined phone pocket. I wish bag makers wouldn’t include those, because it’s a waste of space for those with phones that don’t fit.

Harman/Kardon SoundSticks II

On a recent trip to the US, I took advantage of the favorable Euro/Dollar exchange rate and picked up a set of Harman/Kardon SoundSticks II. Getting something that looks like this back to Europe through a network of airport security was an interesting experience. “Code 12! Code 12! — ‘at boy’s transportin’ some sort’uh electromagnetic pulsing dee-vice! Get back, it’s probably nuculaar! Open fire, Ray!”

Anyway, they sound awesome! I previously ran my Mac’s audio through a cheap little home Hi-Fi system, and, man, what an improvement with these SoundSticks. (BTW, my friend Narayan had the audacity to joke that I’ve been out of the US too long; that people stopped using the term “Hi-Fi” many years ago. Just for that, I’ve disallowed him from taking any design inspiration at all from this site for the new version of Etherfarm. That’ll teach him.)