Thirty seven

5/24/2020

Mankind constantly analyzes radio waves from outer space in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Since this analysis started, almost all of the signal sources have been identified. 37 signals, however, remain unexplained.

Inspiration for the name 37signals

As intriguing as the quote above, it has been the capacity of a small company called 37signals to throw uncountable meteors over common sense on design, business, and tech, since the late '90s.

The first meteor was probably the document that marks the rise of the company. Written in 1999, its manifesto has 37 micro-texts that, two decades later, are full of freshness.

Grow a company doing better, not more.

The contempt for everything that can take the focus away from the true spirit of the web is wide open in the phrase that opens the manifesto: The web should empower, not frustrate. A few paragraphs later, No Awards Please reinforces how effectless would be the design industry judgment on the final work produced by the company. The means would never shine more than the end: Useful and Easy to Use.

Companies wish to grow. To do so, they figure out how to deliver more value. In a large number of cases, more value means more services. Stating Not Full Service, the company elegantly curbs the temptation to grow doing more instead of doing better.

We think companies that claim they can do everything actually excel at nothing.
37signals Manifesto [04]

Sense over appearance.

Technology powers our notion of newness. Newness boosts the desire to be up-to-date. And the desire to be up-to-date can misguide decisions. Just Because You Can, Doesn't Mean You Should discards decisions based on a vague it's so cool! or on everyone else is doing! Some paragraphs ahead and, on Tulipomania, we find the following statement:

Trends are temporary. Don't just do something because everyone else is doing it -- do something because it makes sense.
37signals Manifesto [28]

Usability is secondary.

Someone could think it sacrilege not to consider usability as the top concern of a website. Make it Useful remember to us that before being usable, websites must be useful.

Usability is always secondary. It's never the most important thing about an experience. I will accept poor usability if I get what I need, if the total experience is great. I will reject perfect usability if I am not rewarded with a useful, engaging experience.

The Design of Everyday Things

Copy Righting.

An always heard premise is: user doesn't read. By the way, Don't Make Me Think dedicates a whole paragraph in its second chapter to clarify How we really use the web:

What users actually do most of the time (if we're lucky) is glance at each new page, scan some of the text, and click on the first link that catches their interest or vaguely resembles the thing they're looking for. There are usually parts of the page that they don't even look at.

Don't Make Me Think

Would users navigate the web so frenetically, or is that a consequence of zero interest for a disappointing copy? Copy Righting suggests the following reflection: Would you read it if you didn't write it? A lot of companies believe it's good if it looks good, and commit the sin of not taking good care of their copywriting. Seduce, entice, entertain. Copy righting.

Like its manifesto, a lot of other audacious publications would be launched in the following years. What all of them have in common seems to be intimately connected with the name of the company. Identifying signals amid the infinity of noise out there.

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