Giving Your Product A Soul


Joshua Mauldin:

After a few years of designing products for clients, I began to feel fatigued. I wondered why. Turns out, I’d been chasing metric after metric. “Increase those page views!” “Help people spend more time in the app!” And it kept coming. Still, something was missing. I knew that meeting goals was part of what a designer does, but I could see how my work could easily become commoditized and less fulfilling unless something changed.

I thought of how bored I’d be if I kept on that path. I needed to build some guiding principles that would help me find my place in design. These principles would help grow and would shape my career in a way that fits me best.

What I’d like to share here is how I found my principles and regained a sense of fulfillment. I’ll also discuss one of them and hopefully convince you that it’s worth considering when we design products. Speaking of convincing, I’d also like to help you convince your boss that these things are important.

One small string that began to tie it together was watching Bret Victor’s talk “Inventing on Principle.” The first half is mostly a code demo; then, he gets philosophical and talks about how goals and principles help you. I believe that living by principles can lead you to some really interesting places — for me, they’ve helped me to find the right ways (and places) to work and the right projects to take on (like designing a typeface), and they’ve helped me to identify which areas of my life need to be nurtured so I don’t burn out.

This post resonated with us as it was along these same lines of thinking that lead to making Flybase and then to making Flybase available for users to use.