An interview with Ryan Singer
Ryan Singer is a software designer at 37signals, a company making beautiful web apps like Basecamp, a project management tool used by startups all over the world. Ryan writes about user interface and product design over at his blog, Felt Presence. Read on to find out about his design process and what it's like working at 37signals.
How do you build products at 37signals?
We start with the interface first. That way the product decisions are driven by what's right for the user instead of engineering concerns. Then we work from the inside out. We'll design one key part of the product, implement it in code, and review the working result. Then we'll work on the next feature and the next feature, in cycles like that. We make progress step by step, and each step along the way we build all the layers. The last thing is, we try to use things as we build them. That's so we don't delay the moment of truth. We want to get the feedback about how well the solution fits against the problem as early and continuously as possible.
What are your favourite apps?
I love Weathertron on the iPhone. It's unusual because it's not a native app. They built it with web tech like Angular.js and ClojureScript. The design is so well done. I'm inspired by GoodNotes and Paper on the iPad.
"We try to use things as we build them, so we don't delay the moment of truth."
How would a young designer get your attention?
By thinking clearly about a problem and showing how their solution addresses the problem. So many interface designers focus on the wrong things, like style, or grids, or typography. Those are all nice, but they aren't at the heart of interface design. It comes down to identifying the capabilities that a person needs and putting the puzzle together so you solve their problems. When people focus on that functional aspect and show their thought process, that stands out to me.
What does a product manager do?
Titles can be tricky because what big companies call a Product Manager is probably different from what we have. I see it as a person who sits one level above the interface designers and the engineers. They understand what is valuable to customers and what is valuable to the business. They understand design and they know how to judge what is important. From that position, they can guide the work to make it effective and help the team focus on the right things. We've only had two people in a Product Manager position at 37signals and both of us are designers. I think that's important.
What's it like working at 37signals?
It's a joy to work with people who are smart and kind. Jason and David give the employees a lot of freedom because they focus on results rather than micromanaging which chair you sit in and for how long. It creates a healthy atmosphere where people can do their best. I'm continually inspired by it.
Is remote working the future?
There seems to be an upward trend. The tools are making it easier every year, and it's becoming more accepted culturally.
"I think life is about developing and increasing our capacity so we can become strong and useful for the people around us."
If you could replay everything, what's the number one thing you would do again? And what would you do differently?
I don't have any regrets. Every day is a chance to learn.
How can we utilise the Internet to make the world a better place?
By giving people access to information to make them more free. For example many printed or televised news sources are politically correct, but you can find alternatives thanks to the Internet. Online education seems to be an exciting area too.
If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?
If the software business crashes we'll find out. :)
What makes you get out of bed every day?
The chance to do something useful and grow. I think life is about developing and increasing our capacity so we can become strong and useful for the people around us. And have as much fun as we can along the way.