Making good tools

Making good tools requires a lot of effort and many small, incremental improvements over a long period of time. The creators of Concepts (one of my favorite iPad apps) provide a good picture of this, in a post chronicling ten years of Concepts development:

If you’re invested in the digital creative space, it can seem like these developments that feel and act so magically are almost expected or taken for granted. We all put our hands up and say, “Of course, this should be obvious by now.” But the truth is they take deliberate engineering to bring the developments about. They wouldn’t exist if we didn’t put the ideas and time in. Watching our world’s technologies grow one decision at a time - whether it’s our own app or through another team’s resources and efforts - is humbling and worth celebrating.

From the same post, TopHatch Founder Ben Merrill:

The app in my head is about five years down the road, and the version I wish I had is relegated to Tony Stark. It just takes a long time to build good tools, but we’re making progress.

Selling Floppy Disks in 2022

Business wisdom from 72-year-old Tom Persky, owner of, in an interview with Niek Hilkmann & Thomas Walskaar:

On sticking to your principles…

One day somebody contacted me and asked if I wanted to buy the domain for $1,000. I felt it was an outrage. I told my wife I would not participate in this kind of cybercrime, but she took out a cheque-book and got the domain name instantly. This went totally against my principles, but thankfully my wife is much smarter than I am.

On getting out of a dying industry…

Everybody else in the world looked at the future and came to the conclusion that this was a dying industry. Because I’d already bought all my equipment and inventory, I thought I’d just keep this revenue stream. I stuck with it and didn’t try to expand. Over time, the total number of floppy users has gone down. However, the number of people who provided the product went down even faster. If you look at those two curves, you see that there is a growing market share for the last man standing in the business, and that man is me.

On skating to where the puck is going…

In the beginning, I figured we would do floppy disks, but never CDs. Eventually, we got into CDs and I said we’d never do DVDs. A couple of years went by and I started duplicating DVDs. Now I’m also duplicating USB drives. You can see from this conversation that I’m not exactly a person with great vision.

On the future of the floppy disk:

There’s this joke in which a three-year-old little girl comes to her father holding a floppy disk in her hand. She says: “Daddy, Daddy, somebody 3D-printed the save icon.” The floppy disks will be an icon forever.

Presidential Statements

Now, as in 2017, past presidents demonstrate that moral leadership and standing against racism are not Left or Right.

President Jimmy Carter:

…silence can be as deadly as violence. People of power, privilege, and moral conscience must stand up and say “no more” to a racially discriminatory police and justice system, immoral economic disparities between whites and blacks, and government actions that undermine our unified democracy.

President George W. Bush:

It is time for us to listen. […]

We can only see the reality of America’s need by seeing it through the eyes of the threatened, oppressed, and disenfranchised.

President Barack Obama:

…it falls on all of us … to work together to create a “new normal” in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts.

A Simple Response

Barack Obama, quoting Nelson Mandela:

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion…

George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, in a joint statement:

America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms … we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights.

Rejecting and denouncing hatred is not political. It is not Left versus Right. It is the appropriate response in light of the worth and dignity endowed to us by our Creator.

We should expect and demand this most appropriate response unequivocally from our leaders. More importantly, we must expect and demand it from ourselves.

While my voice is small, by grace I will use it to respond appropriately: I reject and denounce white nationalism, white supremacy, Nazis, and all others who hate based on skin or religion. To those targeted by hate: you are my neighbors. I will stand with you and for you. This land was made for you and me.

A Simple Idea

Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation, in his book Creativity, Inc.:

Despite being novice filmmakers at a fledgling studio in dire financial straights, we had put our faith in a simple idea: If we made something that we wanted to see, others would want to see it, too.

As a team, work together to make the product you all want to use.

The Attention Web

In an excellent article on Medium, Jesse Weaver skillfully articulates the tradeoffs of using free tech products:

It’s the Faustian bargain we’ve all struck. In exchange for a “free” web, we give you our time.

Paying for products in the currency of our time – our attention – profoundly shapes their design.

Instead of streamlined experiences, filled with quality content, we’ve seen the rise of clickbait headlines, listicles and ad saturated UIs that are slow, cumbersome and sometimes down right unusable, especially on mobile screens.

While these outcomes are incredibly frustrating, the more notable issue is how it colors our approach as designers:

The drive for attention has also influenced the way we talk about products. As designers we’re expected to make things “habit forming”. Get people “hooked”. And turn monthly “users” into daily “users”. The only other people I know who call their customers users are drug dealers.

As I wrote in 2013:

Simply put, most digital products are designed with a bias towards eliciting as much use as possible.

Jesse continues:

This rhetoric has made companies more and more aggressive about pushing their agenda into our lives. Floods of emails, push notifications, text notifications, daily reminders, and weekly digests are the norm in the attention web.

“Pushing their agenda into our lives.” This is the phrase that gives me pause. To take someone’s time is to take something extremely precious.

Time is more precious than money. Money is a renewable resource. Everyone always has the potential to make more money. Time, on the other hand, is finite. There are only so many hours in a day. By definition, you only have so much time to give.

Therein lies the conflict. An ethical approach to product design results in providing as much value as possible in as little time as possible. But that’s impossible to achieve, when the viability of our businesses depend on providing as much value as possible in as much time as possible.

We aren’t creating human-centered experiences, we are creating attention-centered experiences, which puts the needs of the business squarely ahead of the needs of the customer.

In 2013, I asked:

As digital product designers, what is the measure of our responsibility to encourage moderation (not just maximum use and profit) in the way we design our products to be used?

What would that look like – to provide as much value as possible in as little time as possible? Imagine what the world would be like if all products were designed this way.