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This is Signal vs. Noise, a weblog by 37signals about design, customer experience, entertainment, politics, Basecamp, Backpack, products we like, small business, ourselves, and more. Established 1999 in Chicago.

The interface as a spec: including stories inline Jason Dec 30

47 comments Latest by Thijs van der Vossen

Our very first Getting Real post was about saying no to the functional specifications document. We suggest building the interface first and using the actual screens as the functional spec. Read the post linked above to find out why.

There are times, however, when the interface doesn’t provide all the information required for the programmer to hook it up. Designers should always present the programmer with the multiple states of an interface element so the programmer understands what to display when this or that happens. But sometimes designing the static states takes more time, and doesn’t quite represent reality, as well as a brief note about how the functionality works. The key is to make this note in context — right next to the interface element its describing. The combination of real visuals and a brief contextual note shrink the chances of misunderstanding to near zero.

For example, we have tag functionality in the Sunrise app we’re developing. So, in order to fully explain the “entering a tag” functionality, we mocked up the basic UI and then included a story underneath the UI elements.

Sunrise tag story

This helps the programmer understand how the functionality will work when it can’t really be simulated on a static page. Try this technique sometime — you’ll find it saves time and reduces the changes of misunderstanding by a significant degree.

A TV where you plug into the front Matt Dec 30

8 comments Latest by Julian

Since getting behind your TV to plug and unplug stuff can be a royal pain in the ass, all the cables travel through a tunnel and plug into the front of HP’s latest rear projection TV (oh, and Crutchfield, why are Smiling-Help-Man’s face and the Car Editor’s photo bigger than the actual product shot!?). And the area lights up so you can see what you’re doing. And the whole thing’s hidden by a door. Pretty snazzy. And it should be if you’re gonna drop $5k on a TV. [via 10 Greatest Gadget Ideas of the Year]


Google 2005 Year-End Zeitgeist Jason Dec 29

5 comments Latest by Gstfssn

Google shares their top searches of the year and correlates searches with natural disasters, pits pop princesses head to head, and suggests a seasonal search pattern for snowboarding. Well presented.

Ridiculous uses for Photoshop Ryan Dec 29

68 comments Latest by Allan White

Every once in while I ask myself, “How is it you still use Photoshop for this little task?” Case in point: I just pasted a screenshot into Photoshop to grab a hex color from a web page.

Does anyone else use Photoshop for ridiculous microtasks like this? And what simple apps do the job better?

[Ç�»çÇ�À§Ãëµæ] Ç�»çÇ�À§¸¦ ÃëµæÇÒ¼ö ÀÖµµ·� µµ¿�µå¸³´�´Ù! Jason Dec 29

21 comments Latest by A Noonie Moose

I'm thrilled with SpamSieve — it's 99.9% accurate. Since I started using it on Feb 16, 2005, SpamSieve caught 130,423 spam emails. Only 24 emails were incorrectly labeled as spam. Very impressive.

However, lately I've been getting emails with completely scrambled titles such as "[Ç�»çÇ�À§Ãëµæ] Ç�»çÇ�À§¸¦ ÃëµæÇÒ¼ö ÀÖµµ·� µµ¿�µå¸³´�´Ù!" or "°¨»çµå¸®°í 2006³â »õÇØ¿¡µµ º¹¸¹ÀÌ ¹ÞÀ¸¼¼¿ä." These always get through.

I find it interesting that emails are obviously spam aren't marked as spam because the filter can't find any words or patterns to match up with the blacklist. It just shows the clear difference between man and machine. Just about any human could tell these are bogus emails, but my Powerbook with the latest G4, tons of RAM, and the most up to date software can't stop 'em.

Anyhow, just an observation. Nothing new.

Khoi moves to the Times Matt Dec 29

3 comments Latest by Charlie (Colorado)

Step 1: Design a satirical news site so that it looks like it “might pass for a legitimate news organization on the level of The New York Times.”

Step 2: Get hired to design the real thing.

In the future we will all be connected by a network SamB Dec 29

22 comments Latest by Steve Akers


The Lonely Island (the guys behind “The Chronic of Narnia Rap”) Matt Dec 29

4 comments Latest by pwb

The Lonely Island is the home of self-produced skits and video experiments by Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone, three of the four brains behind that SNL The Chronic of Narnia Rap that’s been getting so much play lately.

A good place to start: the first episode of The ‘Bu (“Young, sexy people that live in Malibu call it The ‘Bu, because when you say the entire word, it takes time, and then you wouldn’t be young anymore.”) which features Frazzles, a 3-D loving squirrel.

Tod Maffin’s top 5 products of 2005 includes Basecamp Jason Dec 29

6 comments Latest by CM Harrington

The lists continue. This one is from Tod Maffin, National Technology Columnist for CBC Radio / CBC News: Canada Now.

He started with 242 candidates and ended up with his top 5:

  1. Apple Aperture
  2. XM Radio
  3. Basecamp (“I’m using it for development of CBC Radio’s upcoming podcast strategy, my own podcast network launch for the new year, and to manage my speaking engagements.”)
  4. Drupal
  5. Voltaic Solar Backpack

We’re honored to be in such great company. Thanks again for the recognition, Tod!

2005 Artypapers awards and encouragement to tell a blogger that you care Matt Dec 28

7 comments Latest by Rachel C

The 2005 Artypapers awards are R. Marie Cox’ attempt to “capture why this year feels so different by creating a list of people, sites and things that I felt really helped to cultivate and energize that feeling.” It’s a good roundup (and not just because 37signals bags the “overall” prize — writeup after the jump). Shoutouts are also given to Creating Passionate Users, CSS Beauty, Subtraction, Mike Rundle, and other deserving folks.

Also, during this season of listmaking, predicting, and back-patting, Instapundit offers some nice advice:

Don’t do this here, as I don’t need it, but go to one of your favorite blogs and make a donation or send an appreciative email. Especially one of the smaller blogs, where the attention is especially likely to be noticed and appreciated. There are a lot of blogs out there, and the bloggers with low traffic often work just as hard as the ones with big numbers. Let ‘em know if you like their work.

Well said. There are plenty of great blogs out there that don’t get the love they deserve. If you have a favorite under-the-radar blog, go ahead and let its author(s) know you appreciate it. Even a quickie email will probably go a long way.


The positive side effect of big text: less text Jason Dec 28

22 comments Latest by RyanA

Some think big is in while others think big is dumb. Others call big insulting:

But I wonder if we belittle users with visuals that implicitly say, “Hey, you’re too foolish to choose what to do next, so I’ve put a really big button right here just for you.”

Our take: Like everything, the key is moderation. Too much of anything is a bad idea. However, if you’re going to err on the side of bigger or smaller, I’d take bigger. Now I’m not talking 48 px type everywhere, but 14 px vs 10 px with the occasional big headline. Newspaper design has been around a lot longer than web design and they’re still sticking with big huge headlines.

And then there’s the positive side effect of big text: less text. The bigger the text the less you write and nearly every corporate website could use less words. Better words are more important than less words, of course, but less words would be a great start.

Paragraphs look taller dressed in larger font sizes which encourages writers to optimize the sentences and strip out the extra words that don’t add value. Small type sizes encourage people to write more than they need to to fill up the space.

How many times have you added a few extra words or sentences just to fill up the space? Words and sentences aren’t for filling up space, they’re for reading. When 150 words only takes up a couple inches of vertical space you don’t think twice. But if those words were to take up six inches then you’d have second thoughts.

If you’re going to add more or remove more, err on the side of removing more. At the very least it will force you to actually read what you’ve written (if you don’t read what you’ve written then you won’t know what to remove).

Happy better and less text in 2006!

Predicting ‘06: Enterprise is the new legacy David Dec 27

50 comments Latest by Tim

In the face of the new year, here’s a single 37signals’ prediction for 2006:

Enterprise will follow legacy to become a common insult among software creators and users.

Enterprise software vendors’ costs will continue to rise while the quality of their software continues to drop. There will be a revolt by the people who use the software (they want simple, slim, easy to use tools) against the people who buy the software (they want a fat feature list that’s dressed to impress).

This will cause enterprise vendors to begin hemorrhaging customers to simpler, lower cost solutions that do 80% of what their customers really need (the remaining 20% won’t justify the 10x-100x cost of the higher priced enterprise software “solutions”).

By the end of 2006, it will be written that enterprise means bulky, expensive, dated, and golf.

Sole Collector’s Kicksology: Professor K is back! Jason Dec 27

9 comments Latest by JF

Professor K, an original 37signals co-founder, and the man/machine behind the defunct Kicksology, has resurfaced. You can now find his legendary (and scandalously detailed) hoops shoes reviews at Kickology on Sole Collector.

Panexa Matt Dec 27

13 comments Latest by Jeff

Panexa. Ask your doctor for a reason to take it.

Robert Rauschenberg’s combines Matt Dec 23

9 comments Latest by pp

Robert Rauschenberg’s combines mix together paintings with bits and pieces of tattered clothes, newspaper clippings, broken umbrellas, light bulbs and other found “junk.” Art Out of Anything, a review of the recently opened Rauschenberg retrospective at the Met, argues that “it is largely, if not exclusively, thanks to Robert Rauschenberg that Americans since the 1950’s have come to think that art can be made out of anything, exist anywhere, last forever or just for a moment and serve almost any purpose or no purpose at all except to suggest that the stuff of life and the stuff of art are ultimately one and the same.” The article includes a slideshow of the exhibition.

Rauschenberg on the beauty of everyday objects:

“I really feel sorry for people who think things like soap dishes or mirrors or Coke bottles are ugly, because they’re surrounded by things like that all day long, and it must make them miserable.”

Counseling draftees and soldiers with acute combat psychoses during World War II had a large impact on him:

This, he told the art writer Calvin Tomkins years ago, was when he “learned how little difference there is between sanity and insanity and realized that a combination is essential.”

Related: PBS’ American Masters: Robert Rauschenberg

Site map as home page? Matt Dec 23

18 comments Latest by Darrel

Jared Spool says frequent usage of site maps and indexes is an indicator the scent on your pages is failing: “If you find users are more successful when they visit your site index or site map, make that page your homepage and see what happens.”

Edgy Bunnies and Sweet Dreams Security Matt Dec 22

9 comments Latest by Anonymous Coward

Bunny FenceBunnies, butterflies, hearts, and teddy bears aren’t usually what you think of when it comes to security. But that’s what you get with Sweet Dreams Security items. SDS takes usually harsh products (e.g. razor wire, fences, padlocks, etc.) and combines them with playful imagery to give them a softer edge. Design Museum interviews Product Designer Matthias Megyeri about the unusual combination.

I was never really interested in security products as objects. And I certainly don’t design them because I like them. But I was struck by their visual presence in everyday London life. I believe designers should offer solutions to real contemporary problems and needs. And with my background in visual communication, I consciously decided to use my skills to change the visual language of security products from depressing to seriously humorous.

Read/Write calls 37signals the “Best Web LittleCo of 2005” Jason Dec 22

12 comments Latest by Deepak

Last year the Best Web LittleCo award went to Flickr. This year we’re honored to carry the torch.

There are a lot of ‘smaller’ companies that continue to battle away in the shadow of the big companies - not all of them trying to cash out to the bigcos either. Ones that spring to my mind are Feedburner, Technorati, Feedster, 43Things.com, Topix.net, Findory, Odeo, Broadband Mechanics, WebJay, Jotspot, Six Apart, PubSub, Rojo, Newsgator, MySpace, Facebook, Gawker, zvents, Flock, Blogbridge, Chandler, Firefox, Adaptive Path, Spanning Partners, SocialText… I could go on all night and I apologize to those I missed mentioning. But the one LittleCo that really stood out in the Web world in 2005, based on the buzz it created for itself and its almost slavish ‘less is more’ design philosophy, was 37signals.

They even gave a nice shoutout to the Signal vs. Noise community!

The other thing I have to admire about 37signals is the community of people they’ve created around their products and philosophies, centered at the Signal vs Noise weblog. The number of comments they get on that weblog is phenomenal. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, 37signals shows that a little Web company can still have a big impact.

Thanks again for the recognition, we do appreciate it. 2006 should be a great year. We’re shooting to release four new products and of course keep refining our existing ones. We have a lot in store and are looking forward to the challenges we’ll face in 2006. Thanks for sticking with us everyone!

Sunrise: 37signals’ CRM tool for small business is coming soon Jason Dec 21

74 comments Latest by ns_user

Hot on the heels of the ambiguous Campfire announcement, we want to be a little more specific about the other application we’re working on right now. Great progress is being made and we expect to show the product at the Getting Real Workshop in January.

It’s called Sunrise.

Sunrise is a CRM-ish tool for small businesses. We’re aiming to change the small business CRM market with Sunrise in the same way we changed the small business project management and collaboration market with Basecamp.

What exactly do we want to change? Well, from our vantage point the current CRM offerings for small business are 1. Too complex, 2. Too confusing, 3. Overkill, 4. Detached from the real experience of a small business (aka too “enterprisey”), and 5. Ugly. We’re on the case.

So stay tuned for this one as well.

Cidade de Deus Matt Dec 21

14 comments Latest by Peter Jacobson

Finally got around to seeing Cidade de Deus (City of God) this weekend and it was amazing. Director Fernando Meirelles works in a style that’s like a strange amalgam of Scorcese, Tarantino, PT Anderson, and Guy Ritchie but infused with South American energy and flavor. It’s visually stunning to watch and Roger Ebert’s review of the flick notes that a key component of Meirelles approach is moving fast: Size up the shot, get it, and move on.

Meirelles began as a director of TV commercials, which gave him a command of technique — and, he says, trained him to work quickly, to size up a shot and get it, and move on. Working with the cinematographer Cesar Charlone, he uses quick-cutting and a mobile, hand-held camera to tell his story with the haste and detail it deserves. Sometimes those devices can create a film that is merely busy, but “City of God” feels like sight itself, as we look here and then there, with danger or opportunity everywhere.

Google joins Carson Workshops Summit RyanC Dec 20

14 comments Latest by Rolf

We’re excited to announce that Google has officially joined the line-up for Carson Workshops Summit "The Future of Web Apps". This should be a great chance to see what they’ve got up their sleeve for the future.

Here’s the new lineup:

  1. Joshua Schachter
  2. Steven Crossan & Douwe Osinga
  3. David Heinemeier Hansson
    37 Signals
  4. Eric Costello
  5. Steve Olechowski
  6. Shaun Inman
  7. Tom Coates
  8. Ryan Carson
  9. Andrew Shorten
    Adobe / Macromedia Flex

Blink sinks, del.icio.us flies Matt Dec 20

27 comments Latest by Darrel

In light of Yahoo’s aquisition of del.icio.us, Ari Paparo discusses why his bookmarking company Blink.com failed. He writes, “I believe it all came down to product design, and to some very slight differences in approach.”

We had more money, more users, a five year head start, and some really, really smart people working on bookmarking in 1999. The bottom line is that we simply didn’t get it right. Some simple innovations like using tags instead of folders, making public the default, building better discovery features, etc made the difference between being an also-ran and a hot acquisition target.

Backpack Affiliate Program: earn free service Jason Dec 20

2 comments Latest by Jon

Last week we launched the Basecamp Affiliate Program and this week we launch the Backpack Affiliate Program.

The Backpack Affiliate Program allows you to earn credits that are applied towards your Backpack account. These credits reduce your subscriptions fees and allow you to earn free service. It’s your reward for helping us spread the word about Backpack. EVERYONE who has a Backpack account is eligible.

When someone uses your affiliate code/link to sign up for a new account, you’ll receive a credit on your account if they upgrade and pay for their first month. When they upgrade you get $10 for Premium, $5 for Plus, and $3 for Basic.

You can read all about it and get starting earning credits today — just log into your Backpack account, click the Account tab, and then click the “Affiliate program” link at the top of the screen.

Thanks again for spreading the word.

Marketwatch: A little too real-time? Jason Dec 19

33 comments Latest by Sebhelyesfarku

Marketwatch, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Do you really need to embed stock quotes in your articles that update in real-time every three seconds? Real-time when I opened the article is nice, but having the prices flash and change every few seconds is pretty distracting when the changes are displayed in paragraph form like this:

A little sidebar or embedded floating box would be cleaner and easier to scan too.

Flavorpill’s F-List Matt Dec 19

6 comments Latest by Jocelyn Glei

Flavorpill’s emailer regularly spotlights cool and interesting cultural happenings that don’t get attention elsewhere. Now the publisher is expanding its web presence and attempting to make flavorpill.net “the place to manage your cultural life.”

The movement starts with The F-List, a best-of guide to artists, trends, and technologies. The online recommendations include sections on blogs, design, and tools (including a shoutout to Backpack).