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I just read the online version of 37signal’s “Getting Real” book and while it’s fresh in my mind I want to write out the most meaningful lessons I took away from it so I can look back to it as a reference from time to time.
But more importantly this post should help you people who need to read this book but aren’t able to read anything but blog posts. (You know who you are)
And the Key Lessons are:
Less is More … of course
This is a well known lesson by now so I won’t try to convince you of it. If you’re not comfortable with this concept then you do actually need to read the whole book. It’s the central theme of the book after all. As a reminder, less is more because the leaner you are, the easier it is to change, constraints and limitations will guide you to creative solutions, extra features require extra maintainance, … etc, etc…
Design and Planning
Start with a story. Just one page talking in normal langauge about what a user will be doing. Next create simple sketches of the interace. Next create HTML mockups. At each of these stages you get something real running quickly to go over and work with. This is better than “dead documents” that no one is going to read. Since the interface is all most people will see and care about it makes a lot of sense to make it the starting point.
Here is the write-up of the 37signal’s process.
This is the MOST important lesson I took away from the book. After I read it seemed so obvious to me. I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of this before … start designing a page focusing on the most important content the page is going to show, the epicenter. Only then do you fill in the less important parts like explanations, menus, marketing blurbs, etc. You don’t want to fill up the page with logos and menus and then have to squeeze in the actual purpose of the page in whatever space is left, right?
For example if you’re designing a blog, focus on how the post is going to look on the page, do categories and RSS links later.
Go ahead and read that section, it’s only five paragraphs and well worth it.
Have an Anti-Model
37signals writes that in creating BaseCamp, a project management app, they had Microsoft Project in mind as what they didn’t want it to be. This served as motivation and also provided a lot of insight into what needed to be fixed with project management i.e., it’s boring and scary.
This enemy/anti-model idea didn’t strike me a huge deal but I’ll look into it again if I need a source of inspiration in the future. For you now, it may be worth a read, it’s a short section.
Say No to Feature Requests
I had never realized this before but it makes a lot of sense. You have the vision for the project and hopefully you know what you are doing. If you add every feature requested it’s going to dilute your vision. In fact you don’t even need to keep track of feature requests! 37signals says that by the time they were ready to add some new features, it was obvious what was important. That is, if a feature request can be forgotten it should be. That’s a really neat way to look at things and it will save me a lot of work in the future
An ancillary idea here also is that you should sometimes ask what to remove instead of what to add. e.g., a survery would say “If you could remove any feature from this product, what would it be?”.
Other Notable Sections
- Choose the big idea, have a vision
- Ignore details early on, (maybe perfectionism and CSS don’t have to be a deadly combination for me.)
- Don’t worry about scaling
- No separate interface for admin functions
- Listen when code pushes back
- On marketing and launching
These lessons I’ve written above are really useful, thus I rate the value of the book as very high. However the majority of the book wasn’t that good. It was very vague too much of the time and the essays didn’t do much for me . Granted, I didn’t read most of the essays so I could have missed out on a lot there but I wanted to read the whole book in one night and something had to go.
For me, already indoctrinated with agile web app type buzz .. I think they really only needed a few pages to express the valuable new ideas to me and not a whole book . However it may work well for those not familiar with the buzz, so if any of the ideas mentioned here strike you as unfamiliar then go through and read it. The online edition is a very easy read and only takes an hour or so (big text).
1. In the formatting of the online book, the essays looked like blog comments, so I would automatically start reading them as comments and think to myself, “these are some brilliant commenters, not at all like youtube.”
2. Interestingly this happened to Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) and he took the opposite path and wrote a paragraph.