152. War?

Paul Boag

On this week’s show: Daniel Burka and Joe Stump from Digg discuss the supposed war between designers and developers. Paul talks about using twitter effectively and we ask ‘are you placing too much emphasis on your homepage?’

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News and events

How to film video case studies

Increasingly your web strategy is about more than a website full of pretty pictures and well written copy. Video in particular is playing an increasing role, whether it is embedded in your website or shared via YouTube.

Video can be used in all kinds of ways from product demonstrations to viral marketing. However, a growing use for video is customer case studies.

This week 37 Signals have published a fascinating insight into how they created their customer case studies for Highrise. The article covers everything from…

  • How they chose who to interview
  • The way they shot the videos
  • What questions they asked
  • How they conducted the interviews
  • How they edited the videos
  • The time they spent preparing the whole thing

There is little written about producing quality videos and even less about customer case studies. Without a doubt these kinds of videos are extremely powerful and so it is great to read quality advice about their production.

Effective communication in web design

Smashing Magazine has posted an excellent article that I would highly recommend to all website owners. No, it is not my excellent Twitter article that I will cover later. It is actually an article entitled – Clear And Effective Communication In Web Design.

In essence it talks about how to communicate on the web through both copy and visuals. It is a comprehensive overview (if somewhat superficial) of all the key considerations of communicating effectively through your website.

The article focuses primarily on your website, largely ignoring broader communication issues. However it does tackle…

  • The different methods of communication – Images, text, titles, icons, design styling, colour, audio and visuals.
  • The challenges of clearly communicating – This includes the curse of too much copy, the need for personality and much more.
  • What you should be communicating – Your company vision, the websites offerings, the benefits to your users and calls to action.

It also nicely demonstrates how the design and copy work together to communicate your message. This is something I will be discussing with Jeffrey Zeldman in an upcoming show.

Do we place too much emphasis on the homepage?

Following on nicely from my recent post about where we invest our money, Christian Watson recently wrote about one of his clients who requested a homepage redesign.

In the article he writes…

Sure, I could refresh the colors and move some content around. But is this a good use of my time and her money when the home page represents 20-25% of page views?

It is a good question. Christian goes on to argue that we often place far too much emphasis on the homepage and that in fact it is little more than a gateway page to direct users to more important content.

He uses a nice analogy borrowed from Jared Spool. He compares the homepage with a hotel lobby…

When visitors arrive at your hotel, certainly they should find that the lobby represents the hotel favorably. It should be attractive, spacious, with elegant lighting, welcoming colors, and the odd feature here and there.

The lobby should make it easy for the visitor to orient themselves — to see where the front desk is and where the lifts are. It should make it easy for the guest to find out any important information at a glance — upcoming events or where the conference is being held.

However, hotels are ultimately judged by the quality of their rooms.

It is an excellent post that provides real food for thought.

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Interview: Joe Stump & Daniel Burka on War Between Designers & Developers?

Paul: So I am really excited to have joining me today Daniel Burka and Joe Stump from Digg. Hello Guys

Daniel: Hello

Joe: Hey hey

Paul: I have had both of you on the show individually and Joe you were on not long ago were you really…

Joe: ermhh yes a couple of months ago maybe

Paul: What can I say, we cannot survive without you. So erm but I though lets bring the two of these wonderful people together and talk about designer,developer relationships and how the two of them get on together working at Digg. I mean I have to say this is just a rip off really isn’t it, it’s a rip of a panel you did. Was that Future of Web Design (FOWD) you did that panel?.

Daniel: Yes it was Future of Web Design in New York. I think we are rehashing the panel at South By South West (SXSW) this year so if anyone is there it would be awesome if you dropped by.

Paul: Excellent, I need to persuade you two to come along to the SXSW live Boagworld as well, but I will hassle of of air so that you can back out if you want to without committing yourself live in a interview.(Paul laughs). OK so lets kick off by talking about the designer and developer relationship and really I think that it strikes me there is a lot of mythology around this that you know designers and developers hate one another and I am not convinced it actually works like that in practice. When you guys did your panel at FOWD you actually were agreeing on a lot of points so I though we would start of by maybe highlighting some of the differences and then look at ways of working together er mm further down the line so lets talk about to begin with what you guys see as the main differences in outlook I guess between designers and developers. How do you look at the world in different ways, do you think? Maybe Joe do you want to kick us off. How do you think developers see the world differently to designers?.

Joe: Sure I think erh developers are definitely, their default kind of response erm is that they would rather, I always make the joke that coders by default are lazy, good coders are extremely lazy people that’s why they’re good coders because they want to automate as much of their lives as possible. Ermm so I think that erm developers tend to get a little complacent when it comes to the actual erm product sometimes because they are so busy and so interested in and so worried about the actual code or the more nerdy side of things you know like are we running the latest greatest versions of different softwares. Developers also tend to be a lot more interested in what the new hip nerdness is as opposed to what’s actually going to make the product better for users, you know so like I have been in product review meetings where people are like “well Why isn’t this new version of some strange bizarre open web specification that nobody has ever heard of ahead of some major forward user feature” . (laughs)

Paul: (laughs)

Joe: So ermm I think that that tends to be like a big difference. The designers you know it is their job to be curators of the website in my opinion and kind of move the user experience forward and often times developers don’t have a whole lot of interest in that. (laughs)

Daniel: On the flip side of that if we are both going to slag our own professions ermm I think designers are often you know pushing unrealistic goals. They are interested in building you know the perfect product and you know aiming straight for that instead of looking pragmatically at doing things in steps and figuring out what is technically possible and I think there is also a gap where designers can only see sometimes what features that they can view and don’t understand, don’t see the vision, of where developers can see you know amazing things they can you know do pro grammatically that designers just aren’t envisioning.

Paul: Yeah

Joe: I think that’s er is another key difference that I know that there is a lot of, there have been struggles and tensions between Daniel and I in the past over this idea of a holistic approach to design where where Daniel designs his vision and his vision is normally version 10.0 and I am looking at you know the technical roadmap and things that I need to do and like I am OK well lets talk about version 1.0 and then we can start talking about 2.0 like, developers are much more focused on an iterative process as far as releasing, you know like small chunks, reducing risk etc. etc. and designers tend to kind of like go well erm you know it is like I wanna build a pyramid it’s like great well how about first we start out by finding some limestone and then we work our way up to building a pyramid.

Daniel: So what you are saying is we have got a fantastic optimism. (laughing)

Joe: Yes

Daniel: But I think that’s partly it. Developers are very interested, as Joe was saying,in mitigating risk and in a lot of ways designers are very adverse to even thinking about risk and want to think about opportunity. So I think this is kind of the crux of the whole thing and what we are trying to talk about on that panel is that both of those views are super valuable and if you manage to find the right mix of those two things then you can develop a fantastic product that is both concerned about risk and pushes the boundaries of what is possible.

Paul: Mmmm I remember one point that came out from the presentation which is one that you made erm Joe which is about the dangers of if that mix is not right. It is always the designer that’s in front of the client or the boss or whatever ermm the kind of realism of the developer is kind of left out of the process and ideally the developer either needs to be involved in those kind of meetings or there needs to be a conversation that happens between the designer and the developer before anything is ever presented. Is that kind of, do you still feel like that is that still a valid point?.

Joe: Yeah, I feel that is a extremely valid point for two reasons erm and this is a discussion that Daniel and I just had yesterday in fact. The thing is as a developer the reason I want to be involved early on in the development or in the design and like development of the product phase you know when requirements are coming together and when you know the first kind of formations come out of the clays so to speak is because two reasons. One ermm and they all kind of come back to this same kind of problem, is that the designers and the product people don’t know the system, the actual bits and bytes that like you know go into making the product, as well as the developer like the data and the code and the actual systems and stuff like that and how they are put together. So Often times two things happen Daniel comes up with a design and there is like one small minute detail on the page that would require you know one of the largest computer farms in the world to calculate in real time. Whereas in lots and just as often as you know that happens where it is like Daniel I can’t calculate that number in any meaningful way on a regular basis so you gotta remove that. But just as often as that happens because of you know as a developer I have such like intrinsic knowledge of the relationships in the data and what data we are storing and stuff like that just as often I am like well why don’t we expose this data or do this and Daniel is like I did not know we could do that actually I totally would have done that if I had known that that was possible or feasible.

Daniel: Yeah and that’s, especially that side of things designers often hear the first part Joe is talking about, the you know well that is just not possible or more difficult than you think. Any designer that has worked with a developer has heard that aspect of it you know and that is of course very valuable but it is the other side of things that I think people fail to leverage most frequently is the ability of developers to see different patterns than you in the data and come up with those suggestions, you know it might still be your call whether or not that is a valuable thing for the user but just hearing these ideas coming out is is amazingly valuable. That has shaped a lot of Digg.

Paul: So would you say that is a kind of you know a common mistake that maybe designers make with developers that they don’t communicate enough with them ermm

Daniel: Absolutely

Paul: yeah

Daniel: Designers often see developers as mules its like I made this thing go build it and that is a bullshit attitude, its terrible.

Paul: mmmm what …

Daniel: Its not just designers either all product people have a tendency to do that. In some ways, as Joe was talking about developers being involved in the process, at Digg we’ve got a pretty good structure where design actually falls under the marketing team and in some ways I see design as a bridge between marketing and business development you know product interests and the development team. Because I am often sitting over here and I hear you know someone from business development or marketing throwing around an idea and I am like “I’m no developer but I have a good sense of what the developer sees as important and you’re talking crazy talk like that is going to be nuts” and they are about to go and pitch that to a potential partner and you know like every week I put the brakes on from that kind of thing I am like listen you need to talk to Joe you need to talk to a developer because that what you are talking about is going to be months of development and you are promising it to a partner in two weeks that’s nuts and so I like that in you in some ways the design team can often be a bridge between product marketing people and the technical teams.

Paul: Joe from your perspective what kind of, you know as your communicating with Daniel and other designers within digg looking back where do you think you’ve made mistakes in your relationship with designers?.

Joe: Ermm I mean the mistakes that I often make ,its a not even a mistake are I don’t wanna say are what we do are like flat out mistakes it’s just more ermm you know being a bit more reserved and not necessarily defaulting your answer to no. Err You know I think that Daniel often talks about how a natural tension between design and product and development is actually good for the product because you have eventually, as long as you can keep that at a good tension and not you know bad or where things are breaking but ermm I think often times developers are quick to say no. You know they will be sitting in a meeting and it is just immediately no I am not going to discuss that when in reality if they sat back and let the idea germinate you know they would, Its kinda weird because I have in a lot of meetings where things were, where the developers were like be oh my god that is an amazing product but we will never be able to build it and so it is like they want to build it but their default is to avoid risk so they say no. So a lot of the times when I talk with Daniel now and this is something I like quit doing I try not to say no unless it is just like blatantly in black and white no way that is possible kind of thing. I might let the idea germinate more I might no say no immediately I might want to go back and spend a couple of hours thinking about it if it is actually feasible because maybe you know. That’s what engineers love doing they love solving difficult problems and if you are saying no to difficult problems then you are failing at what your passion and hobby is. Ermm so I think that ..

Paul: There is also an aspect is there not of not just saying no but explaining why you are saying no so that the other party is kind of educated into the kind of problems you face so as Daniel said earlier that they can be the bridge to you know business development or whoever else.

Joe: Yeah absolutely, I am the king of analogies at this point ermm but the other thing that developers erhh, this is extremely common that they utterly fail at is that they think for some reason that they are like the target demographic of the product so they will come into a meeting and say this product will absolutely fail because it doesn’t have key binding so I can keyboard shortcuts it’s like nobody uses keyboard shortcuts like in the real world, they are all mice people like you know. It is stuff like that that a lot of the time developers are like “this will never work unless you have least 14 completely nerdy niche features in it” you know and I think developers too often you know they do that and that is just silly.

Daniel: Hey guys that’s been a special problem at digg,since we started of as the pure technology side so it was seen as by developers for developers and you know we have obviously branched out from there and now we have got other interests I want to make sure peoples mums can use the website and that’s you know certainly a , you make different choices based on that.

Paul: I mean it is very timely from my point of view to have this interview with you because on Friday we had a internal meeting in Headscape where we talked about all kinds of production things and one of the things that came out of the development team was this desire to be involved in the process more and err to have their say more and just to be included earlier. So I am quite interested in you know because obviously you guys have been working together for a long time what kind of practical advise would you give to a , maybe this is just a question for me and not for anyone else, but what kind of practical advise would you give for designers and developers working together within the organisation. How can that relationship work better?

Daniel: Yeah, absolutely involving your development team earlier in the process but that doesn’t necessarily mean sitting around brainstorming right at the beginning of a feature with them. I mean I try to sit down work out an idea get it 20% of the way there, you know work out some of the basic issues figure out what this thing really means what’s at the core of it you know it might be ten different features together but what are we actually trying to achieve with it right so at least get that far even throw down so basic wire frames or some really basic comps and then present it to the developers its like listen this isn’t just an idea I came up with you know last night I just want to spill my entire brain out in front of you it is something at least I have thought through you know I have put a few things through my brain and now here is this totally unformed, not totally unformed, slightly formed idea but it is not baked you know don’t wait until you have got it baked and then you are so disappointed when the development team says well that’s not possible or have you really though about this and you have got this complete package already made up in your mind but come to them with a least you know the kernel of the thought out idea and get them to poke holes in it. Get them to push it in other directions and show you what else you could be doing and then go back to the drawing board again.

Paul: What about from your point of view Joe?

Joe: Well yeah, So ermm I agree with Daniel in some sense on that I think it is crucial to before you take it to developers to formulate a cohesive problem or hypotheses. Like if you come to the developers with a half baked problem that you are trying to solve you are going to get like, they are just going to run wild with it and it is like you know difficult sometimes to keep developers focused when they get excited about a problem. So have a formulated problem that you know you have a small idea of how you are going to fix but not fully baked. The other thing too and this goes on both sides of the aisle it shouldn’t be get developers plural involved and it shouldn’t be get. like a lot when you are first germinating that idea and you haven’t really moved it forward start small and then continuously expose it to more and more people errmh because I find if you involve too many people early on in a the process whether it is designers, developers, product people things tend to , you tend to loose focus quickly and everyone wants you know it’s kind of like port barrel spending and major bills its like everyone wants to piggy back extra features and stuff and pet projects that they have wanted for so long into like some major new feature.

Daniel: It is just simple death by committee

Joe: Right

Paul: Yeah Yeah OK That’s interesting a little random question I remember going to a talk once where, and I can’t remember who it was who was giving it, where they suggested that errmh designers and developers swapped roles for a while. Where you try and sit in the other persons shoes and I was just interested whether you two had tried anything like that?

Joe: That would be disastrous for me. (laughs)

Daniel: I I mean I appreciate development roles and I am you know somewhat technical for a designer but yeah I know I have never done that but I have always worked so closely with the development team like at silverorange where I worked previously to digg there was only ten of us and I sat in a room with developers all the time. I worked in their code with them and worked on problems as a group so I think I, you know I have never worked in a place like say you worked in a big enterprise and your in this classic where designers are in one office and developers are in the other office and you toss stuff over the wall yes then I think that would hold value at least go and sit in the other office, go work in the other office for a few months just hear the other discussions that are going on because there are a totally different set of concerns a totally different set of values than what you are doing and if you don’t at least appreciate and understand that, and not just understand it so you know what you are fighting against but understand it to know what is important and how you can work with it then you know you would be really missing out.

Joe: I think I am ermhh I think I am kind of spoiled at Digg because you know I work with two of the webs brightest, you know Daniel and Mark Trammell as well so I actually push back on my developers pretty frequently where they you know we will leave a meeting and they are like I really really completely disagree with what Daniel or Mark are doing with the design and you know I tell them all the time like look you are not a designer and you definitely not at the level that those two are at and you sometimes have to defer to them and trust that they are doing their job and they are doing it well you know and ermhh I think developers don’t do that often enough they make these assumptions that you know the arty-farty designers are doing stupid shit again and that’s not the case. I mean they would not be especially where we are at at Digg and what not I mean Digg is able to be very picky with who they bring on and the people Daniel has brought in to design are extremely competent at what they do err so I am probably not qualified to answer that question because I am so spoiled at Digg but that is a common problem I see from developers where ermhh they don’t let the designers do their job and they try and be designers when in reality you know they do not have the experience or the expertise so.

Paul: Lets talk about conflict resolutions, sounds very grandiose but basically you know how do you go around resolving a situation where you know OK you kind of respect each others skills and you respect each others competencies but you know where some feature is suggested by Daniel and you know and you Daniel from your point of view it is absolutely core to what you are trying to achieve you know it is extremely important and then from a technical angle Joe it just seems incredibly complex and very very difficult. How is the eventual decision made as to whether that feature should be implemented and in what way it is implemented? How do you go about resolving that difference?.

Joe: Ermhh Well I mean I think as far as making the decision whether or not the feature makes it in, because there is actually two possibilities when it comes to the conflict resolution. Whether or not a feature actually makes it into the product and in what capacity does that feature make it into the product and I think in the former whether or not the feature actually makes into the product if Daniel comes to me and he’s resolute like this feature has to be in the product the feature is going to be in product. I am always going to defer to Daniel on on, if he feels that strongly and is that passionate about it you know and it is not something completely hare-brained like I want magic ponies to come flying out of the screen I am going to defer to his expertise on the fact that feature needs to be in the product. Where the conflict resolution comes into it is what capacity is that feature going to come into the product like a perfect example of I think of something where there has been we have had a recent discussion at Digg and where this has happened we have, and I talked about this probably in our last talk but, there are these little green badges on the digg buttons and they indicate one of your friends has dugg that story and when you hover over the digg button it shows like a little sample of the people that have dugg it. Ermhh So those were causing significant strain and problems with our systems and our code and on our databases so I came to Daniel and of course again as my risk aversion developer brain was coming to Daniel I was like Can we axe this feature until we can figure out how to like fix it. He was like “No” that feature cannot absolutely be axed and then we came to a resolution which was a short term solution until we can get a better solution in place where operations now have knobs they can dial down so the green badges don’t show up on stories older than 48hrs, they don’t show up on stories that have more than say 5 or 600 diggs and stuff like that. So the conflict resolution came in basically making trade-offs in how that feature is surfaced in works ermhh at our scale more often than not what that means is that Daniel has to give up the notion that everything is in real time. The feature will work it is just that it may take you know thirty seconds to a minute for an action to be distributed across the entire system, that is probably more how things are now at Digg so.

Paul: What about from your point Daniel, when do you back down over something and when do you keep pushing on it? How do you decide you know how serious Joe is about something and whether you should keep pushing or not?

Daniel: Right I mean it kind of comes down to you know when I am looking at the product I am not thinking of any one feature, I am thinking about the whole set and I want it all to work together and so you know I know I want to push out six different features this month and if I push and push Joe to do the one really hard one well that is going to affect the other five I wanted to get done. So any feature is tied to other features and it is also based on a time line if I want something done in a certain time line and that’s just not possible well then I have to start making compromises so you know you have to be realistic and then at the same time you have to realise developers work well with shame and so if you tell a developer well I bet a good developer could do that (All laugh) they will go back to their cube grumbling at you and figure out a more efficient way to do it.

Paul: OK. So now we are getting into the realms of how to manipulate each other.

Daniel: Absolutely.

Joe: That’s definitely err one that I agree does work but is not a trick you want to pull out of your bag too often.

Daniel: No it is the same with designers too, it is like I want to do this really complex thing, no way I can explain that to users in a way they will understand. “I thought you were good” arhh shit I will go back and try that again.

Paul: That is quite interesting what you just said there because so far we have talked very much about you know designers initiating features and that kind of stuff I mean are there situations where the developer is the one initiating features you know just said there a developer wanted to do something really cool and you said you couldn’t explain it. Does it run that way as well? or is it always the designer who drives first?.

Daniel: No Absolutely that happens at Digg, it happens sometimes at Digg so Joe yesterday sent me an email that had two big feature ideas in it. They may not be things we implement this month but maybe later on this year. I was looking at them and you know it is easy to disregard well he is a developer he does not understand what’s going on with the product but you look at the ideas and they are strong and they fit in with what we are doing and now I am trying to figure out you know how they make sense in the big picture I guess. So we have got a brilliant development team a lot of people over there with great ideas and we try to sit down, you know I guess Kevin has been doing those where we do meetings once a month I guess where developers if they have been working on a side project you know something they have always wanted to build into Digg they can present this at the Digg ideas meeting.

Paul: Ah OK

Daniel: A bunch of those products will make it into the full Digg I mean its awesome these brilliant people go and throw around crazy ideas and show you what is possible.

Joe: I think err yeah I mean I agree with that you definitely have, it is a two way street erm largely stuff comes from product at this point the Digg ideas meetings is definitely helping that you know open that up and kind of what I would call level that playing field a bit. But one of the things I think developers are in a in a unique position just like Daniel I work with people across the entire companies so I know initiatives that are going on in marketing I know initiatives that are going on in PR and biz dev etc. and you know if nothing else developers are very good about noticing and pointing out and discovering patterns and err a recent product that made it out that err was a developer initiated product was Digg dialogue because basically I noticed this common pattern where business development and Marketing and PR were setting up interviews and then like reaching out to people to like conduct interviews using the Digg engine kind of thing and I was why don’t we bake this into like a cohesive feature that’s turnkey because you know business development like Daniel was saying earlier lots of times they are just making these one off deals you know and they don’t really recognise when there is a product to be had there erm so that is another one that recently went out. It was like I recognised a pattern and baked this into something cohesive and move it forward.

Daniel: That is a good example of where we are being lazy some people want to do this one off thing over and over again and it is a bunch of work to don it each time well like we will just build a system to do it and we won’t have to do all the work every time. It was great.

Paul: OK that is really good lets leave then with one final question or one thing from each of you. Which is if you could give you know one piece of advice to either designers or developers on how to kind of interact with their counterpart what would that one piece of advice be?. Lets kick of with you Daniel what would be your one piece of advice to designers about dealing with developers?.

Daniel: My one piece of advice would be to see the big picture, you know aim for version 10 like we were talking about earlier and know what you want to build in the future but be realistic enough to back it up and build it in stages. You know waiting and building a feature over six months and eventually launching it is a terrible way to develop and it’s a terrible way to design having an idea of where you want to be in six months but realising in one month increments is so much better you’ll end up in a different place but at least you know where you are heading and you can adjust that goal as you go forward

Paul: Yeah. Brilliant. Joe what about you?

Joe: Ermhh I would say to the developers out there that there is different shades of no ermhh that you know there is the, the default should not always be no and remember what I said about the conflict resolution you should be deferring to the people that are experts in their field by default for the most part and to work on compromise in how the feature operates and make your concessions and have them make their concessions rather than just defaulting to saying no to the entire feature.

Daniel: And as a developer push to be involved early in the process, even at Digg we struggle with that a lot and as a designer I appreciate when developers want to be involved I want to hear their opinions you know it is fun to have them involved I hear all kinds of crazy stuff I never even considered that’s awesome.

Paul: Excellent. Thank you so much guys that was really good I appreciate you coming back on the show yet again. It was really good to get your perspectives together on that relationship because it is one a lot of people struggle with. So it is good to hear that it can work most of the time. Thanks for your time

Daniel: Thanks for having us on Paul

Joe: Bye

Thanks goes to Shaun Hare for transcribing this interview.

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