Getting Real: simplicity in software design

On the blog of Dominiek, a friend of my son, I found a reference to Getting Real, a book by 37signals, a company producing web-apps. Their motto is:

‘How To Write Vigorous Software

Our modus operandi
We believe software is too complex. Too many features, too many buttons, too much to learn. Our products do less than the competition — intentionally. We build products that work smarter, feel better, allow you to do things your way, and are easier to use.

Underdo your competition
Conventional wisdom says that to beat your competitors you need to one-up them. If they have four features, you need five (or 15, or 25). If they’re spending x, you need to spend xx. If they have 20, you need 30.

This sort of one-upping Cold War mentality is a dead-end. It’s an expensive, defensive, and paranoid way of building products. Defensive, paranoid companies can’t think ahead, they can only think behind. They don’t lead, they follow.

If you want to build a company that follows, you might as well put down this book now.

So what to do then? The answer is less. Do less than your competitors to beat them. Solve the simple problems and leave the hairy, difficult, nasty problems to everyone else. Instead of oneupping, try one-downing. Instead of outdoing, try underdoing.

We’ll cover the concept of less throughout this book, but for starters, less means:

  • Less features
  • Less options/preferences
  • Less people and corporate structure
  • Less meetings and abstractions
  • Less promises’

In the Getting Real they quote from a rather old, but still valid textbook on writing in english:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

—From “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr 

Both books are recommended reading, supporting my views on simplicity! And they are online!

One thought on “Getting Real: simplicity in software design

  1. Nice!

    I’m stacking ‘The Elements of Style’ on top of ‘The Cluetrain Manifesto’ on my to-read list 🙂

    Also, I found a nice video about the three major design paradigm shifts which I think are highly relevant:
    1. The 70/80’s, introducing products by advocating technical features (This washing machine uses Fuzzy Logic!)
    2. The 90’s, promotion based on features (This mobile phone can do MMS, SMS, Email, SMTP, IMAP, Java Games, smart input… oh, and you can make phone calls…)
    3. Now, promotion based on user experience. (My dad bought one of the iPod stereo sets. You can put in your iPod and you can turn the volume up or down, that’s all. It’s a square block with handgrips.)

    the video: http://www.scribemedia.org/2007/04/10/mx-jesse-james/

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