Pleasing Customers

Why is 37signals so arrogant? by Don Norman

The Brash Boys at 37signals Will Tell You: Keep it Simple, Stupid. Brash is an understatement. I was quoted in the article because of my article arguing that simplicity is highly overrated: the tasks that we do require tools that match the requirements, and these add complexity.

Yes, they are arrogant — and proud of it: “Arrogant is usually something you hurl at somebody as an insult,” Hansson said. “But when I actually looked it up — having an aggravated sense of one’s own importance or abilities’ — I thought, sure.” Park concludes his article by saying “Call it arrogance or idealism, but they would rather fail than adapt. ‘I’m not designing software for other people, ‘Hansson says. ‘I’m designing it for me.’ ” “I’m not designing … for other people.” I think that simple phrase speaks volumes. Thank goodness most companies recognize that this attitude is deadly.

I don’t agree. Not compromising leads to solutions that are unlikely to be all things to all people. But with an intelligent and knowledgeable leader will lead to excellent solutions for those that share desires. Now I don’t think this is the best strategy, especially for growth. But it can be an excellent strategy for startup, innovators and those seeking 1,000 fans.

once had a lively, entertaining dinner with Herbert Kelleher, Chairman and co-founder of Southwest Airlines. I asked him why they had ignored the requests of their customers. Herb looked me up and down sternly, sighed, took another sip of his drink, uttered a few obscenities, and patiently explained. His marketing people asked the wrong question. They should have asked, would you pay $100 more for inter-airline baggage transfers? $50 more for reserved seating? No, the customers wouldn’t have. They valued on-time, low-cost flights, and that is what Southwest delivers.

Land the plane, push the people out as fast as you can, tidy up quickly, with everybody pitching in: cleaners, flight attendants, pilots, and rush the new people in. Don’t use assigned eating because in its absence, customers run into the airplane, hoping to grab a good seat fast. Minimize turn-around time and you need less airplanes, less crew, less expense. Add amenities and you slow down everything, requiring more airplanes, more cost. Why would you want to slow down the turnaround time when your entire business model is based upon low cost efficiency?

You need to provide customers what they want, which is not the same thing as what they say they want. Southwest airlines is a good example. Revealed preferences are more important than stated preferences.

Another point, David Heinemeier Hansson is young and likes to be brash. It is not difficult to explain his actions in a less confrontational way – essentially say what Herbert Kelleher does: our customers don’t know what they really want. If they want complex applications there are plenty of options (but go ask those customers how happy they are – you will get hear many complaints). We are focused on providing tools that are simple – because we believe they are the most effective solutions. The power of simplicity is often overlooked in stated preferences but we believe when given a choice a significant portion of users prefer (actually would use if given the option) “less is more” options. We believe rather than relying on customer surveys and polls we can design software based on principles of simplicity and usability that will meet users needs.

And there is a power to that view. I think you can easily become confused when the organization tries to add bits and pieces based on individual customer requests. And that can easily result in systemic solutions that become less and less useful to many customers. Still I do see great value in knowing how customers work. Knowing how they use your product. Knowing what else they do (that your product or service interacts with but may not directly related to). The key is to then take that knowledge and see if you can find improvements that do not add features at the cost of usability. You need to think systemically.

And it is a good thing to have people with strong opinions, that will challenge the consensus view. Granted, most of them will fail – so it is a risky strategy. But some will come up with great solutions that the consensus minds pass by.

Related: The Psychology of Too Much ChoiceSimple Cell PhoneComplicating SimplicityDesigning In ErrorsWhat Could we do Better?Bad Visual Controls for Software37signals on meetingsInterviews with InnovatorsJoy in Software Development (David Heinemeier Hansson created the ruby on rails framework)

2 thoughts on “Pleasing Customers

  1. Pingback: Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog » Don’t Do What Your Users Say

  2. Pingback: Customers Are Often Irrational | Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *