11 March 2008

The 37signals vs Donald Norman controversy

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putting people first
by experientia

37signals
There is an interesting controversy going on between 37signals and Donald Norman.

It all started with a four-page article in the March 2008 issue of Wired Magazine about 37signals, the company that helped develop much of the software that has enabled Web 2.0, including Ruby on Rails, that was used to create podcasting service Odeo and microblogging phenomenon Twitter. [Check also 37signals’ own reaction to the article]

Norman, who was quoted in the article arguing that simplicity is highly overrated, used his blog to react to the Wired piece, pointing out that, although he has always admired the company, he has also tried their products and they have never quite met his needs. After reading the article, Norman says he understands why: “the developers are arrogant and completely unsympathetic to the people who use their products.” Norman is particularly taken aback by one key quote of David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals: “I’m not designing software for other people, I’m designing it for me.”

Jason Fried, the other founder of 37signals, a company known according to the Wired article for a lack of modesty, disagreed very respectfully:

First off, let me say I respect Norman. His book The Design of Everyday Things is a classic. I’ve always admired him and think he’s spot on most of the time.

That said, I think he’s looking at this the wrong way. In fact, most of what he says about us in his piece misses the point.

Read his post, it is very senseable, and touches upon some of the major controversies within user-centred design as a whole, as also demonstrated by the number of comments.

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