Daniel Miller

Sunday Morning

I’ve been sick with a weird illness the last few days, the only symptoms being a really bad fever, aches and zero energy (hopefully not mono). I’ve been profusely sweating throughout the nights and on regular doses of Advil during the days. Yesterday it peaked and I slept or did nothing a good portion of the day, and went to bed relatively early. But I did not sweat and shiver throughout the night and woke up early relatively refreshed.

I read Stories are Taking Over and for some reason it inspired me to revisit SWIM, which has been on my mind lately. (Specifically, it gave me an idea about how to design SWIM for mobile, which previously I had no ideas for.) I did a quick google search for some printable design templates and found sneakpeekit.com, which is brilliant. (The same person is also responsible for freebiesbug.com and magdeleine.co.) I put on Singularity, Jon Hopkins’ new record, and got to drawing.

Sitting at a desk with pen and paper, coffee, the dim light of dawn, it’s nearly perfect. Designing products is fun. It’s intoxicating. Greenfield product design is even better. Designing for legacy products takes discipline and higher degrees of empathy and maturity.

SWIM is a simple product, so there’s not much to draw. (I’ve said before that my specialty is “white boxes you type into”.) Also, I’ve been around long enough to know that the final product will be different from the drawings. The medium is the message and all that. I also have the skills to just build stuff, so refining a visual design in some digital tool is somewhat superfluous. Why make something in nonfunctional pixels when I can make it in functioning pixels nearly as quickly?

Besides, I have this prototype already. So I set out to get it running again. (I’m going to rewrite the entire thing, but I was curious where I had landed before.) The prototype used Bing search, which is only free during a trial period, so my key didn’t work anymore. I found a free alternative and applied for a key, but it’s not automated, apparently, so I wait.

In the meantime, said rewrite involves a ton of learning. The landscape for actually building software changes so rapidly, which opens up exciting new opportunities (Electron, for example), and simplifies getting something up quickly with minimal infrastructure (Firebase, for example); but exciting and simple does not mean easy.

Frankly, it’s intimidating and exhausting. (Recent illness aside.)

I don’t want to diminish product design–doing it well, especially for products “at scale”, requires many skills and significant time–but actually building product–coding, setting up infrastructure, keeping it running, fixing bugs–is hard work. I said something similar recently:

Software development, at least that which pertains to creating real products, remains a black art. How does one manage a black box, into which go good intentions and out of which appears (hopefully) working software? Who are these people inside this box, and why do they appear insane?

I recently heard a product manager lament something to the effect of, “Why can’t we just go from design to a finished product?”

Because dreaming is easy, but building is hard.

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