It’s Friday, so I’m going to take a few minutes to describe the most annoying concept I see espoused by 95%+ of blogs I read, people I talk to, and friends I have. The problem is until you let go, you’ll never be able to build something truly useful to a non-trivial audience.
Technology doesn’t matter. Design doesn’t matter.
There, I said it.
Before you get the pitchforks and invoke the almighty Zeldman, consider these statements:
“Most popular newspaper/news/classified sites suck. They’re not part of the conversation at all. They need X.” (Where X is better design, comments, trackbacks, more links, voting, social filtering, fewer ads, etc.)
“X is cool, Y is cool, I bet if you combined them they’d be even better!” (Where X or Y is Flickr, a cell phone, Craigslist, a remote control, Digg, Delicious, Google Maps, a MP3 player, Writeboard and Wikipedia…)
“We need to focus on usability more so we can reach a mainstream audience.”
Chances are if you are geeky enough to be reading this blog, you’re like me and you’ve said the above dozens of times. We are technologists, designers, and we love technology and design. In our heart of hearts we believe better technology or design will win in the end.
Every few months someone notices the top 20 sites on the internet are butt-ugly, thinks they’ve discovered something new, and sparks an argument with one side saying “design doesn’t matter” and the other side pointing to the innumerable examples of design mattering and having measurable impact on signups, clickthroughs, ROI, whatever.
It doesn’t help that we have Myspace, the perfect storm of everything you can do “wrong” on the web.
Both sides are right, but their fixation on the surface aspects of design, usability, and technology are completely wrong. It shows the blind leading the colorblind.
Of course design matters. Technology matters. But they have no causal relationship with success any more than the color of a logo does. Don’t focus on the wrong thing!
There is something that is truly important to the success of what you do, and the most successful examples in your field are going to do everything they can to point you in the other direction. This is why Google is constantly talking about their food and Labs — it has wannabes constantly scrambling to copy the wrong thing. That’s the real magic—sleight of hand.
I can’t tell you what you should be focusing on, no one can. I can only tell you it is not design or technology. It’s different for every company, service, and person. There’s no perfect Pepsi, there are perfect Pepsis.
If you are lucky enough to ever find the core of what’s going to make you rock, latch on to it with every waking breath. The worst thing that could happen is you’re wrong, and it’s better to find that out sooner rather than later.
Design and technology (and VC money) are like rocket fuel, they can propel you very fast. Just not always in the right direction.