Great post about Fog Creek’s development process for Trello. One particular item that stood out is the foundation of their design process:

We use a product planning board that has a list of problem-oriented cards. Cards are titled in the vein of “I can‘t find this feature” or “I want to do this thing but can’t”.

This is a fantastic way to understand how people truly use your product and the pains they are experiencing. This is in contrast to “idea driven” design where people just come up with cool ideas.

March 7, 2014

Ryan Singer:

But for people who want to innovate, this is a problem. Identifying with a product category is outsourcing your strategy to the past. Is the world really carved up into allowable product categories? No. We are all figuring this stuff out every day. Experience shows that amazing breakouts and surprise successes competed on unorthodox dimensions

More Jobs to be Done thinking here. Ryan clearly lays out why trying to put your product into a particular category is a recipe for failure. The true successes like Basecamp focus on how and why people are using their product, and evolve it to meet those needs in a better way.

Rian van der Merwe:

This analysis clearly shows that while the progress-making forces for moving people to Instagram Direct are relatively weak, the progress-hindering forces are extremely strong. This keeps people glued to WhatsApp, and it explains Instagram Direct’s apparent failure.

So what happened here? I think Facebook realized that they won’t be able to change people’s existing photo-sharing behavior. And that’s why they bought WhatsApp.

Good analysis, applying the Jobs to be Done concept of progress making forces to understand why bolting on a popular startup’s feature to an existing product doesn’t magically win.

February 20, 2014

The Facebook Conglomerate’s Job to be Done

I was pretty down on Facebook for having spent $19 billion to acquire WhatsApp. My case was that they totally misunderstood the job they served in people’s lives: they thought they were about creating a public profile of yourself (a very mid-2000s concept where they battled with MySpace and Friendster and won). If you don’t remember, your profile was all of Facebook originally. There was no Timeline or News Feed.

For years they iterated on that concept, launching Facebook Timeline and more updates to be the place that people went to broadcast who they were.

But in reality, people probably used Facebook for two reasons in their own lives: to see other people’s photos and to keep in touch with friends. Facebook did that great in a 2005 era where everyone was on a desktop computer.

But mobile changed that, and Facebook missed the boat. The Facebook brand was already associated with broadcasting my profile to my friends. That’s why Instagram and WhatsApp won – they built a specialized tool that people associated with photo sharing and texting.

Facebook could never have bolted these features on and won out.

That’s why I was down on them: how long can they just acquire the newest “whim” at increasing prices to stay relevant. It’s been shown that we move on to the latest social craze every few years.

However, Ben Thompson proposes that Facebook will be a conglomerate, not a product:

To glom WhatsApp onto Facebook-the-product would be to throw away exactly what makes WhatsApp valuable to Facebook-the-company – that it’s not Facebook-the-product. It is better to think of Facebook-the-company as a conglomerate: Facebook-the-company builds, acquires, and manages multiple products that serve all the different segments of social. The largest and most well known product in their portfolio just happens to be called “Facebook” as well.

This makes a lot of sense. If they’re able to better serve the individual jobs people have in their lives by deconstructing Facebook and being ok with letting other brands like Instagram and WhatsApp live on, then they have a shot.

I can’t help but think that Facebook is stuck with their blinders on though. It happens with every company, when they start iterating on their product and not on the problem they are solving for their end users.

February 13, 2014

Too often, designers are compelled to borrow interactions that they see everywhere. Just because they exist doesn’t mean they are the optimal solution. This is a great list of patterns that are common, but outdated.

February 11, 2014

If you’re even remotely involved in building products, read this. Most of what you read about Jobs to be Done is all about theory and milkshakes, but this gives six concrete questions that will lead you to think like your customers.

Jim Hightower:

In 2006, the Bush White House and Congress whacked the post office with the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act — an incredible piece of ugliness requiring the agency to PRE-PAY the health care benefits not only of current employees, but also of all employees who’ll retire during the next 75 years. Yes, that includes employees who’re not yet born!

No other agency and no corporation has to do this. Worse, this ridiculous law demands that USPS fully fund this seven-decade burden by 2016. Imagine the shrieks of outrage if Congress tried to slap FedEx or other private firms with such an onerous requirement.

This politically motivated mandate is costing the Postal Service $5.5 billion a year — money taken right out of postage revenue that could be going to services. That’s the real source of the “financial crisis” squeezing America’s post offices.

Sounds like USPS isn’t in as bad of shape as we all thought.

February 10, 2014

David Heinemeier Hansson:

What if we could retain the stimulation of work and also embrace the true luxury of nondeferred living? That’s the inclusive truth that more and more people are finding in working remotely.

It’s the new luxury, and the definition is this: Freedom, time, and space. Freedom from that dreaded commute, from that productivity grinder of the traditional office, from being chained to the one city in which your employer happens to be located. Time to spend with friends and loved ones, to do what you really want outside work hours. Space to live and breathe.

With all the recent debate about “teaching kids to code,” here’s a great reminder of the distinction between what it means to “learn to code” and “learning computer science.” Computer science is the why, code is the how. Or as Terence Eden puts it:

Let’s put it in language the humanities graduates can understand.

Learning to code is merely teaching people to spell.

Computer Science is about what makes a poem beautiful, why alliteration is alluring, how iambic pentameter unlocks the secrets of Shakespeare.

That is what I think we need to be teaching.

February 7, 2014

I learned Ruby through Rails, so as I’ve ventured more into the Ruby world, Sinatra is a great framework for building simple apps. Alex MacCaw gave a good beginner overview on how to structure a Sinatra application.