Parting Thoughts

Inspirations: Getting Real

Posted 13 December 2006

A little more than a year ago, I heard Jason Fried’s “Getting Real” talk at the second Web 2.0 conference. For me, it was the most valuable part of the event, and more inspirational than anything at this year’s Web 2.0 summit. Then I read the Getting Real book, and it started me on the path to a career change. (Originally sold as a PDF book, you can now buy it that way, or as a printed book, or read it free online.)

Getting Real provided a vivid description of the way I wanted to build products, even though I couldn’t have elucidated it nearly so well—and it also put into stark relief what felt so limiting about the way Adobe builds products. It inspired me to believe that I could build products on my own, that I didn’t need to raise lots of money, and that in many ways I could accomplish more, and certainly have more fun, working with one or two partners on my own that I could at Adobe.

If you’ve been in the web applications world, 37signals and Getting Real are probably old news to you, and you can stop reading now. For the rest of you, I’ll provide a quick summary.

There’s two central, revolutionary tenets of the Getting Real philosophy:

  • Minimize everything that isn’t the real product. Forget specs, MRDs, and focus groups. Don’t try to understand the whole problem or design a comprehensive solution. Build the simplest thing that might work, for a problem that you understand. Get people using it, listen to their feedback, watch what they do, and iterate.
  • Less is more. Provide fewer features. Write less code. Do less. Most of what you’d do that is beyond the core not only doesn’t matter much, it gets in the way.

This is not academic advise; it is a philosophy that has led to several successful products at 37signals, including Basecamp, Backpack, and Campfire. There’s free trials of all of these hosted apps available, so you can see for yourself what this design philosophy results in. The apps are sparse, and occasionally I really wish for a feature that isn’t there, but I’ve still found them invaluable. And the learning curve is measured in minutes, not days.

If you care about building better software, especially for web applications, read this book. But if you work for a big company, beware: it could end your career there.