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30 October 2023

Interesting finds: Design articles I still think about

This post is officially my first on my newly designed custom blog (if you don't count the colophon). I figured I should share a few articles that have impacted my approach to design.

As I write this, I realize the three articles below are a decade or more old. I've had them bookmarked all this time and still revisit them often.

1. Invincible Apple: 10 Lessons From the Coolest Company Anywhere by Farhad Manjoo #

The article itself is good, but what hit me was how Steve Jobs designed a DVD burner app for the Mac. Mike Evangelist, lead designer for the project, tells the story:

“We had about three weeks to prepare,” Evangelist says. He and another employee went to work creating beautiful mock-ups depicting the perfect interface for the new program. On the appointed day, Evangelist and the rest of the team gathered in the boardroom. They’d brought page after page of prototype screen shots showing the new program’s various windows and menu options, along with paragraphs of documentation describing how the app would work.

Then Steve comes in,” Evangelist recalls. “He doesn’t look at any of our work. He picks up a marker and goes over to the whiteboard. He draws a rectangle. ‘Here’s the new application,’ he says. ‘It’s got one window. You drag your video into the window. Then you click the button that says burn. That’s it. That’s what we’re going to make.’ “

“We were dumbfounded,” Evangelist says. This wasn’t how product decisions were made at his old company. Indeed, this isn’t how products are planned anywhere else in the industry.

Read: Invincible Apple: 10 Lessons From the Coolest Company Anywhere

2. How to create a great website by Seth Godin #

Designing websites for a living, you tend to get frustrated with some clients who think that design is a team sport. Not to put too fine a point on it but, it's not.

You can always spot a design-by-committee website. It looks busy and inconsistent.

Fire the committee. No great website in history has been conceived of by more than three people. Not one. This is a dealbreaker.

As I get older, I'm more selective with the website projects I choose (assuming I can pay my bills that month). Godin's article taught me to avoid situations where it's impossible to make something good. Companies that design by committee, while likely well-intended, make the project infinitely more difficult.

Read: How to create a great website

3. Sweep the Sleaze by Oliver Reichenstein #

When Sweep the Sleaze came out, every website had a row of like buttons for every social media platform. Remember?

When Facebook first introduced the like button for websites, I was a big fan. The company I worked for at the time was redesigning its website, and I convinced them to include the like button on the top of each page.

A couple of years later, when every platform, from Twitter to Google Plus, had its version, I grew suspicious of those buttons. Turns out, the code to make the buttons work was heavy and made sites slower. And, of course, we later learned about all the spying and data collection— the true reason for offering an off-platform like-button.

From Sweep the Sleaze:

Don’t worry. These buttons will vanish... Or do you seriously think that in ten years we will still have those buttons on every page? No, right? Because you already know as a user that they’re not that great.

Oliver Reichenstein was the first I saw who publicly questioned the usefulness of those social media buttons. His article taught me a valuable design lesson— just because everyone is doing it doesn't make it good design.

I've been a big fan of Reichenstein since I found that article. His design firm, Information Architects, created iA Writer, the writing app I use for all my posts (including this one). Their website design from 2012 was a huge inspiration for the From Jason design. They have since updated their site with a new design, which looks great. But I'll always love the classic iA style. Here's their old site from 2012 on Wayback Machine.

Read: Sweep the Sleaze


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