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Episode 5 March 22, 2016 | 36min

Add Me to Your Professional Network

Our co-founders discuss networking and making connections on LinkedIn.

Show Notes

This week Paul Ford (hi) and Rich Ziade want to connect with you, as they tackle the messy hellscape that is LinkedIn. What makes the site so bad? How could we make it better? Why is there that one person whom Paul keeps accepting as a friend—and yet, months later, after hundreds of tries, this person remains forever unfriended in Paul’s LinkedIn LinkBox or LinkBucket or LinkHole? It’s the Track Changes podcast and we’d like to add you to our professional network.

In the second half of the show, we start talking about the current culture of design and how that culture shapes the way that things get built. As always we do our best to provide high-quality brand-sponsored entertainment, and end up alienating the very people we need in order to succeed.

Paul Ford: Hey, welcome to Track Changes. The podcast of the the Postlight—

Rich Ziade: You know, one day, I’m going to kick it off, Paul, because —

Paul: Do it!

Rich: — I’m feeling like a co-host. No, no. This one’s yours. Finish this one.

Paul: Take it. Take it. Do it. Do a better job, please.

Rich: No, next time.

Paul: Louder and funnier.

Rich: No, next time.

Paul: Do it. [sighs] Fine. It’s Track Changes. I’m Paul Ford. My co-host is:

Rich: Rich Ziade.

Paul: Great. All right. Rich, there’s something we talk a lot about at the office.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Do you want to say it or should I?

Rich: I’ll say it.

Paul: OK, go.

Rich: LinkedIn.

Paul: My God.

Rich: Here’s —

Paul: No but…I…. [sighs repeatedly]

Rich: Let’s take a deep breath here. Let’s just pause for a second and take a deep breath.

Paul: Ugh!

Rich: It is a massive success. LinkedIn is a massive success and you have to pause sometimes and ask yourself why do you think this massive success, that most of humanity has embraced, why do you think that’s garbage?

Paul: What do you think of LinkedIn? Open, honest, full communication, there’s no one else here.

Rich: I think LinkedIn stumbled on something fundamentally needed: professional connections. And just forgot to wash its hands —

Paul: Ever.

Rich: — before it touched the sculpture, the clay, the mound of clay.

Paul: Yeah, so it made something, but what it made is…septic.

Rich: It’s smarmy. I don’t know what it is, and…

Paul: Let’s talk about what LinkedIn is. I’m actually, I have ID number 6000 on LinkedIn.

Rich: That’s strong.

Paul: It’s horrible. I want to sell it.

Rich: How many connections do you have?

Paul: 500+?

Rich: Right, plus.

Paul: They cut you off at a certain point.

Rich: Let’s talk about —

Paul: Well let’s talk about what it is. What is LinkedIn? Define it for humanity.

Rich: I think it’s a place where you establish your professional identity.

Paul: OK, and what do you put — you put stuff in there?

Rich: It is effectively a modernized — if you want to call it modernized — resume.

Paul: OK, so very, very basically you put in your whole professional identity.

Rich: Your professional career. Your history.

Paul: Then you identify people with whom you have worked or have some kind of professional relationship.

Rich: You don’t really, though.

Paul: They tell you, or they find you.

Rich: They walk up to you and they put their hand out.

Paul: I have friended people on LinkedIn, or linked in with —

Rich: You don’t friend people on LinkedIn.

Paul: You link in with them.

Rich: You connect.

Paul: Connect.

Rich: You connect.

Paul: You add them to your professional network on LinkedIn.

Rich: That’s what you do.

Paul: That’s right.

Rich: It became clear to me that I wasn’t going to take advantage of these connections.

Paul: Well, it’s really hard to unless you work I think in a specific part of middle management. I think it’s a place where if you are a…

Rich: Sales.

Paul: Sales or a product manager at Microsoft or things like that where you need this professional identity, you need people to be able to see it, and then you need to be sort of publicly identified this way in order for people to hire you.

Rich: Let’s accept something here. We can talk about how gross LinkedIn is but when we meet someone or we’re going to have a meeting with someone we haven’t met yet —

Paul: We always do.

Rich: We hit — I hit incognito and that little guy up on the right watches me check that person on LinkedIn. I don’t like that LinkedIn tells the person that I went and stood outside their bedroom window for a minute.

Paul: LinkedIn has always been creepy. Most other things —

Rich: “Hey. Paul walked over and stared at you for a second.”

Paul: It’s not cool.

Rich: “Then walked away.”

Paul: It’s not cool.

Rich: “You should take advantage of that moment of leering.” It’s weird, right? But we use it. Let’s face it. We all use it. We all look up people on LinkedIn.

Paul: There’s no avoiding that LinkedIn carries the professional identity of at least America.

Rich: At least America. Based on my experience with it, most of eastern Europe and India.

Paul: True. Very true.

Rich: Now, let’s talk about the connection mode. The interaction around the connection. “Joe Smith wants to connect with you.” At first I was flattered. When they first started happening to me I was like, “Wow, that’s cool. Joe Smith wants to connect with me.” After a while it became clear as they were pouring in, these weren’t really relationships. It was really someone… You’re at a shitty little conference in Chicago and someone walked up to you and put their hand out. Do you shake their hand or do you just sort of three-quarters turn away and not shake? That, to me, the LinkedIn connection is just not being rude and just going ahead and shaking that person’s hand. That’s all it is to me. I just don’t want to be mean to people or rude or seem that they’re below me and I don’t really want to deal with them so I just shake everybody’s hand.

Paul: It’s a little exhausting then because it’s very clear that you just match some search term, right?

Rich: I like to think it’s a little more than that but that’s just me trying to feel good about myself. Do you accept every connection?

Paul: I mean, no, I erase a lot when … They’re a lot of recruiters, a lot of sort of very vague invitations…

Rich: You just don’t deal with it.

Paul: I just erase because here’s the problem. If it was just the connection I would gladly accept it but it’s the connection followed by the introductory “Inmail.” It’s just grievous.

Rich: We’re going to get to Inmail in a second.

Paul: We also have to talk about the fact that the site is unattractive and deeply broken and that many things simply don’t work on it which is unusual at that scale.

Rich: There’s that too.

Paul: I need to talk about the fact —

Rich: We need about two to three hours to talk about LinkedIn. We’re going to get to these topics.

Paul: I have one person who’s asked to be my friend on LinkedIn. His name is Andrew Madden. He works at Google. I don’t know exactly why.

Rich: He likes you. You’re a writer.

Paul: Maybe, maybe.

Rich: You’re a well-known person and he wants to connect with you.

Paul: OK. I cannot connect with him. I have hit the connect button because every time I go to LinkedIn, over like, four months —

Rich: Oh, this is a bug that you’re talking about.

Paul: Literally, his head is the dominant interface of experience that I have on LinkedIn because it tells me over and over that he would like to be my friend. I have accepted that invitation maybe 150 times.

Rich: And it won’t go through. There’s a bug.

Paul: It won’t go through.

Rich: OK, park that for a second. Let’s talk more fundamental. This isn’t just about you, Paul Ford.

Paul: OK.

Rich: That’s a bug that I’ve never seen before on LinkedIn.

Paul: I’ll show it to you.

Rich: I believe you.

Paul: I want to show it to you so bad.

Rich: Let’s park it for a second. Let’s talk about this scenario. I didn’t bother accepting the connection and then 3 days later I get this from LinkedIn: “Sergei is still standing there in front of you.”

Paul: In your bathroom.

Rich: He’s in your face and are you going to do it or not?

Paul: What’s wrong with you? Why are you such a monster?

Rich: I always give in. You know why? It’s almost like clearing your inbox. You just say, “OK, fine, Sergei. Here we go. Come on in.”

Paul: Then the clock starts ticking for that Sergei email, that Inmail to come now.

Rich: Then it comes in. Weirdly formatted. There’s no carriage returns for some reason.

Paul: “Hi Rich, I saw from your profile that you may be interested in COBOL programmers. I have over 37 COBOL programmers. Some of whom are dressed as people but are actually dogs. Please contact immediately I am ready to come by.”

Rich: Yeah. What do you do with that?

Paul: That’s one variety.

Rich: It’s a very common variety. Selling services. LinkedIn is used to sell services. You’ve got to wonder: I wonder if we’re being too self-centered about this whole thing. Are florists taking advantage of LinkedIn in a really positive, healthy way? We don’t know about that.

Paul: There’s a larger issue here which is that being on the other side of sales is pretty exhausting. People love to do a cold call. It’s very easy. It’s very cheap. If you’re a person who doesn’t have social anxiety about just getting in touch with someone and saying, “Hey, I want to tell you all about things. I want to come by your office. I want to touch your neck.” If you’re comfortable sending that email you can send that email. If you’re a person like you or me where it’s like…I’m an introverted person fundamentally and human interactions are quite costly for me.

Rich: Yep.

Paul: So I get that sales email and I invariably I write back to them now. For a while I didn’t, I would just erase them.

Rich: Really?

Paul: I need to shut it down because otherwise —

Rich: Oh. “Not interested. Thanks for your note. I’m not interested.”

Paul: Yeah, just like, “If we need outsourced services in the future I’ll be sure to let you know. I have added your name to our list of vendors.”

Rich: You write all of that?

Paul: Yeah, because I want them to stop. I’ll get that same email 35 times. I had somebody sending me pictures of badgers. Literally, like, “Hey, do I seem like this to you?” They’re sending me a funny meme about a badger because they’re kind of trying to be cool and it made me laugh a little but I’m like couldn’t you just chill?

Rich: Yeah, you nailed it. It’s a cold calling tool. It is effectively to a large extent a cold calling tool. There’s no other way to get — you can buy email lists, I think, still these days.

Paul: Totally. But if you pick up a phone and you’re getting cold called you’re just like, “Never call me again.” Why with email is it so hard to write back and be like, “I have no desire to have any future conversation with you.”

Rich: The work?

Paul: It feels more personal, right?

Rich: Well, you’re talking… I never answer my calls. I get cold calls on my cell phone and it’s like Arizona or whatever and I never pick it up.

Paul: I think LinkedIn is almost like a cognitive hack. We haven’t built up an immune system that tells us just, “Please just show me the baseline respect and stop trying to like offer real estate services to me at 7:30 PM.”

Rich: Who are you talking to right now?

Paul: Everyone. I’m angry at the world.

Rich: No, no, are you talking to LinkedIn or are you talking to the person who sent you the note?

Paul: Both.

Rich: The person who sent you a note is trying to make a living.

Paul: They are and I don’t blame them for that. That’s OK.

Rich: OK.

Paul: We’ve created this communication framework where most of the burden is the person who receives the communication.

Rich: Yes. But that’s —

Paul: It’s very cheap. I can sit on LinkedIn all day and I can hit a thousand people and then ask them if they’re interested in my tooth-cleaning service.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: But it masquerades as personal human interaction.

Rich: But that’s how it goes.

Paul: Right, so that just means that the whole thing fundamentally though is just a spam engine and all the professional connections are basically useless. If Facebook was like that we all would just back off from Facebook. Why do we let LinkedIn do it?

Rich: Because the agenda around Facebook is to just connect socially.

Paul: OK.

Rich: The agenda around LinkedIn is not. It’s to do business.

Paul: Professional connections are much more abstract than personal ones. It can be actually kind of — they can be spam.

Rich: It’s unsolicited sales. Facebook is not unsolicited sales. Well, some of my friends on Facebook are definitely unsolicited sales.

Paul: Yeah, me too. Facebook does this with events. It’s like “Come to my thing.” My horrible thing.

Rich: Yeah, but isn’t it in the circle of your weird cousin…?

Paul: It is but it’s always like this … Every single friend gets that invitation to that reading at Housing Works for the blah blah blah. It’s deadly.

Rich: Yeah. Exactly. I think part of this is just the experience of LinkedIn. There is something really…seedy —

Paul: It is! It’s —

Rich: — about the LinkedIn experience. What I mean by experience I mean the visuals of it, the interactions around it. It’s really strange.

Paul: Here’s what I would say: I agree with you especially on, like —

Rich: My browser starts sweating.

Paul: It does, and the notifications are always a little off. Always a little wrong.

Rich: Exactly. Inmail is like this bastard son of mail.

Paul: Here’s the thing about LinkedIn, though —

Rich: You don’t know who the father is.

Paul: You go and you hit that thing and it’s pretty bad but then you go over to the content part where people are publishing and it’s an actual atrocity. It’s a tornado of corporate garbage.

Rich: Here’s the thing. You know what LinkedIn is like?

Paul: No, I feel now we’re doing this podcast I’ve got to put it there on LinkedIn. I’ve started to go and observe and I mean it’s a hellscape.

Rich: We always go.

Paul: It’s literally like, the 37 tips that you need in order to entrepreneurialize your entrepreneurship.

Rich: It’s more solicitation really. It’s just masked as content.

Paul: This is the tricky thing, right? What we’re doing right now is solicitation masked as content.

Rich: Whoa.

Paul: It’s true!

Rich: That hurts. That hurts, Paul Ford.

Paul: No, it’s true. We have to put our podcast on LinkedIn. You make me do things I’m very uncomfortable with in the name of sales. What the listener doesn’t know is you will lean over to me and be like, “You have to write him that email right now. You have to capitalize on that relationship.”

Rich: These are things that happen personally between you and I, Paul. This is not for public consumption.

Paul: I feel that the public needs to know.

Rich: Our marketing strategy is essentially me leaning over to you.

Paul: And just like…kinda…yeah. Which is fine. That’s one of the reasons we’re partnered up is because I trust you to utilize and manipulate me appropriately.

Rich: That’s I think the bond that connects the two of us. Look, we can complain about it but we go. You know what LinkedIn is like? It’s like the DMV. It’s this shit show but we have to go.

Paul: What could be better? What could make life better for those of us who use LinkedIn? Is there a way to fix LinkedIn? Is there three or four things you could do where you’d be like, “Actually, this is a good experience. I’m happy to be here?”

Rich: LinkedIn, I think, if they raised the bar on how you can communicate, the criteria around how you can communicate, then the value of what gets communicated goes up for the recipient. But they don’t. They let you go at it. Like you can connect with anyone and then once you’re connected… The connection I think is the flaw of LinkedIn. Because everyone just goes and connects to get it out of their hair. Once that connection is made LinkedIn reads that as a green light to communicate. I think what ends up happening is you get garbage everywhere. The truth is LinkedIn is a business. It’s trying to maximize communication and charge for that, I guess, I don’t know exactly what —

Paul: It’s like you go to a business networking event and this guy puts you in a corner, gives you his card, and starts to tell you about his, like…he wants to sell shoes online. That’s cool and you’re like, “OK, I enjoyed talking to you. My friend Sam is other there. I’m going to go talk to Sam for a while.” Except the way that this works is that that guy now follows you for the rest of your life. He follows you into the subway, back to your house, he takes a bath with you.

Rich: He can hit you as many times as he wants. I think that’s — is that a LinkedIn flaw or is it a business flaw? Is this just how business works? I’m not that familiar with the dynamics.

Paul: Let me throw out a UX fix then. It’s that someone who you haven’t interacted with on LinkedIn for more than … First of all, like over, let’s say, six months has passed. Shouldn’t it flag that you haven’t heard from this person in a while? What’s a way —

Rich: But I’d get that from 800 people. You haven’t heard from 800 people in a while. I think when you connect there’s a second check box that says, “Yes, allow this person to communicate with me.”

Paul: Yeah, that’s true. Separate the communication from the relationship.

Rich: Yes, and maybe treat them more as broadcasts rather than direct communications. Like, “Hey, I haven’t heard from you in a while.” There’s these little tricky moves they make which is like, “You haven’t responded since we last spoke.” They do these things and I pause! When they did that trick in the beginning I was like, “Oh shit. I messed up. I was supposed to call them back.” It’s just them trying to trip you up into thinking there’s a real link there.

Paul: Is there a social network that creates genuine human relationships? Facebook does.

Rich: Facebook’s policing of quality I think was key for its growth and I think they policed it well. The thing is LinkedIn’s puzzle is way tougher than Facebook’s in my view. LinkedIn’s puzzle was around business and helping people make money and Facebook’s is not. Fundamentally, it’s a social network. Then off to the side they will sell me a lot of iPhone battery cases.

Paul: We have to stop talking about LinkedIn. I’m getting depressed.

Rich: Best of luck to LinkedIn and everyone in my 800 … Just a big shout-out to my 800 and some odd connections on LinkedIn.

Paul: Love you guys.

Rich: Love you.

Paul: Postlight you know us from our events or our podcast — you’re listening to it right now. You also know us from our newsletter at trackchanges.postlight.com. Or maybe you’ve even subscribed through MailChimp. Well, did you know that Postlight is an agency in New York City that builds big, beautiful technology things? Let’s say you’re somebody that works at a healthcare company, a finance firm, a media company, and you think to yourself, “I gotta do something about that app.” Or, you think to yourself, “Our website is a huge burning pile of garbage and everyone involved is in trouble.”

Well, we are the place you call. You come to us and you say, “I have this enormous garbage fire. What am I going to do?” We say, “Don’t worry. We know how to both put out garbage fires and build beautiful, gorgeous technology structures on top of the charred Earth that remains.” Technology is a very hard industry. It’s hard to get stuff built and we’re pretty good at it.

The co-founders, which is me, Paul Ford, and Richard Ziade, have twenty years of experience in the business and we have more than thirty of the best product developers, product managers, engineers, and interaction designers that you can find in New York City or even San Francisco. If you’re looking to get something built get in touch with Postlight. You can send us an email at [email protected]. [email protected]. We would love, love to hear your worst problems in total confidence. We will never share them with anyone. We will give you lots of free advice and figure out if there is a way forward. There’s almost always a way forward. Thank you. [email protected].

Rich: So we’ve had some really interesting people so far on the podcast. We’ve talked about FBI and Apple. But I want to talk about something we haven’t really dug into really and that’s design. We are in many ways a design shop and we pride ourselves on actually having both engineers and designers in the same building.

Paul: What we really pride ourselves on is it’s kind of a blurry line for us.

Rich: It’s a blurry line. We like that.

Paul: It’s hard to talk about that in the big outside world. People like wireframes and prototypes and don’t necessarily want to think about ugly APIs underneath them serving up the data like fire hoses.

Rich: Right, they just want the whole ball of product to show off. That’s fine. We like that. We like that we’re product-driven and design and engineering both represent themselves and work together and dance together to create that product.

Paul: Did you ever design professionally?

Rich: Yes.

Paul: What did you design?

Rich: Just interfaces. Writing spec often required design to show up.

Paul: I did too. I think you started…the weird thing about the web early days is you started like you opened a Photoshop and then you wrote some Perl on the side and you had a website.

Rich: Prototyping was really hard and there’s an explosion in prototyping tools today.

Paul: We’re in a weird moment right now because it used to be that the people who could make a website actually appear on the screen, like doing that as a casual activity and exploring how HTML worked and like just hitting reload on your browser, was bizarre. You’d go do it all in Photoshop. Someone else would cut it up into chunks and that’s how you’d have a design.

Rich: That’s still, by the way, how much of the world still works.

Paul: What is a prototyping tool? We should explain to people.

Rich: To me, it’s a simulation of what could ultimately be an app or web or mobile experience.

Paul: All right. Let’s talk about the things that people do right. One of the things people do is wireframes. What are wireframes?

Rich: Wireframes are black and white, unstylized, representations of —

Paul: People love to use the term low-fidelity.

Rich: Low-fidelity. It’s just sort of a way — it’s sort of like taking a piece of paper out and sketching what this thing is going to look like from a first-person perspective.

Paul: It’s literally a set of rectangles. You’ll see like there will be a rectangle with an X on it on the top of the page and that’s where the picture is going to go. Then there will be some Lorem Ipsum placeholder text and here’s the headline. The idea there is that you can’t fully trust the client if you show them something too finished, but if you show them some rectangles and you say, “This is what we’re going to go build,” and get them to sign off on that, then everyone can be in a rough accord.

Rich: Well, it’s not just the client. A wireframe is a form of communication. It may be the thing you walk the engineers through. It may be the thing you show a client or a customer, internal customer, whatever. It is a type of communication.

Paul: There’s often a focus on making wireframes. For a while everyone was adding a lot of squiggles to them so they would look hand-drawn.

Rich: Yeah. It looked a little rough.

Paul: Yeah, so then there was a tool… There still is. There’s a tool called Balsamic and the elements of the wireframes all look hand-sketched so that no one will take it too seriously and everyone can assume that these rectangles aren’t in any way final.

Rich: I think that’s one of the signals that’s sent out.

Paul: Then there’s mocks, which tend to be in-Photoshop, like this is how the pages are going to look. More work, more final. Wireframes are great because you can usually slap them together in minutes or hours.

Rich: Uh….maybe. Depending on the depth and breadth of the design.

Paul: In terms of the actual implementation of moving the rectangles around is really fast. You might have to think about it for 2 weeks.

Rich: Yeah, and there may be a lot of them, it’s a complicated —

Paul: Right, but actually doing the design in Photoshop and creating a mock of what a site looks like, if it’s anything significant, takes quite a while.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Not just thinking time. Implementation and craft time.

Rich: Yes, because then you’re thinking about stylizing at that point and you’re truly designing. Well, you’re always designing, but you’re truly thinking in terms of brand, colors, typography, and stuff like that. It’s a lot of work.

Paul: OK, so rectangles and then on the Photoshop side you’re seeing real pixels and you’re going to cut that up and make a website. Suddenly, in the last couple of years there’s a new way of working and that’s using prototyping tools. A good one is called Envision.

Rich: I think it sort of seems to be sprinting ahead as the leader out there.

Paul: It’s web-based.

Rich: It’s actually kind of a SaaS product. I think you just put everything on Envision. It’s just all posted.

Paul: It doesn’t just give you the wireframes. It actually lets you model how…like, let’s say you want to build an iPhone application.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: You go to Envision and you actually say it needs to have this kind of menu, it needs to have, there’s going to be a picture here. So on and so forth. It lets you click on the prototype. Like on the screen.

Rich: It’s interactive.

Paul: Yeah. And see how the app is going to look and feel.

Rich: Yes, and that is a huge leap also, because if you had to communicate the interactions with wireframes it’s really hard to do. You have to essentially have a stack of them and really kind of explain that, “OK, so if I tap this it goes over here and this moves here and this slides up.” So it’s all communication — to me, this is all communication.

Paul: What people may not process really is that these are tools for one group that has one set of professional skills to tell people who may not understand anything about the underlying technology what they’re going to do. The reason these things exist is because what you’re going to do often runs into the tens, hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars.

Rich: There’s an analogy I love to use which is if you’ve decided to build that office building which is going to cost a few hundred million dollars to build, it’s worth it to spend about $100 grand to build a small-scale model of it.

Paul: Right.

Rich: A model that is in 3D because it’s a model, it’s actually to scale, you can walk around it, you can see some flaws that you would not have seen had you just stared at blueprints and it costs a lot of money but it costs way, way, way less than, “Holy hell, I can’t believe we put the escalator there. What a disaster,” while you’re constructing the lobby of an office building.

What happens when you break ground and start to do that work the cost of change goes up exponentially and you need to really kind of understand and be able to make decisions and commit to certain things earlier in the process.

Paul: It sounds —

Rich: I think that’s your point around Balsamic being a sketch. It’s cheaper. The way to put this is change is cheaper earlier. By earlier we mean what sort of artifacts have you created that communicate what this thing is going to be without pouring concrete.

Paul: Here’s what’s tricky to me about it: first of all, it used to be the prototyping was almost an unnatural act. People could understand Photoshop comps because they were thinking about web pages, right? They were thinking about the sort of like…that was back when publishing to the web was a publishing act. You would put a page up and so and so forth.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: So the idea that all this stuff was dynamic and moving around and flying and that you might actually want to use your mouse to see what it was going to be like was alien to people. They liked Photoshop comps. They liked the wireframes. Now —

Rich: I think they didn’t know any better. If you had given me a Photoshop comp that I could click around that would have been a revelation. “Wait, you didn’t build it yet and I get to see what this experience is going to feel like? That’s pretty frickin’ cool.”

Paul: I’ve built stuff like that and people found it really puzzling. People get locked in the process. They trust process. They don’t trust somebody showing up and going, “I’ve done this already.”

Rich: I’ve helped build and design a lot of things that were a lot more complicated and really true applications that they really had no reference. They were caring a lot less about the style of it in Photoshop than they were about, well, “This is a seven-step process. How are you going to do this?”

Paul: Right.

Rich: So it was different. I think the demands were different. A lot of times we built stuff and we didn’t even call it prototype but it was just the front end wired to nothing. It was just web stuff. It was HTML/CSS, rough, not production ready that was just a way to communicate what the six steps were going to be like. We often got that sign-off and then took that and went further because we hadn’t built all the other stuff yet.

Paul: Let me ask you a question which is OK, you’ve got Envision over here, they just bought, they’re buying companies —

Rich: They’re exploding.

Paul: Exploding. Over here is the finished project, over here to my right, over here on my left is the prototype. The left is the prototype. The right is the finished product. Why can’t I essentially hit print on the prototype and have a real working app in my hand at that moment? Do people know what happens in between? Why can’t we just start with the prototype, add some cool code to the prototype and then ship that?

Rich: Well, I think the easiest way to answer that is mobile. You’re not generating mobile code that can be compiled for IOS out of the prototype.

Paul: Why not?

Rich: I think some of them try to spin up stubbed code, like just starter code so to speak off of what you’ve been producing.

Paul: They do, right?

Rich: I know that some spit up an HTML, the web end of things. In my experience, and I don’t want to speak for everyone but front-end coders don’t like it. They don’t like it when —

Paul: Well, this is back when we were kids, essentially, younger, and you’d get, like someone would give you a website produced in Microsoft Home Site or Dreamweaver and you’d look under the hood….

Rich: It was hell. It was hell.

Paul: There was no abstraction. It was just a pile of like whatever worked —

Rich: Machine-generated stuff.

Paul: It was purely focused on optics. It’s like this looks what you put into the box therefore it is done.

Rich: The truth is, back to the architecture/construction analogy, the truth is it gets messy. The truth is you’re not going to see everything. The good news is the architect can wear a hardhat, show up on the site, and answer some questions about how it’s OK to move that pipe three feet to the right, because it doesn’t have a large, major impact on the general infrastructure, blah blah blah.

Building stuff means things are going to be in motion. While it’s really nice to hit a button and hope that something magically turns into product, it never works like that. The stuff is complicated and there are things that are unforeseen that will come up as you build and that’s OK. That’s why he’s asked to build that hardhat while he’s in a suit still and to show up on the site and answer questions. That’s how it goes.

Paul: I’m thinking like, let’s say, the app requires you to log into Twitter in order to use the overall application. It’s hard to prototype that. It’s hard to get that connection right because maybe it also needs to send a signal back that you did this.

Rich: If you’re using other services —

Paul: Or calling an API or whatever, it’s hard to model that in the prototype.

Rich: Well, you’ll simulate it.

Paul: I think what’s interesting is that you can see these prototyping environments are starting to evolve to the point, like maybe at one point you’re going to right click on the element in your prototype and you’re going to start messing around with that and talking to a live API. Some things do let you do that. I’ve seen this stuff. It does hit a weird cultural wall.

Rich: Again, I’m going to speak for all the engineers in the world for one second.

Paul: There’s eighteen million of them.

Rich: I know. I’m going to speak for all of them right now. They don’t like to be told how to execute on something. In my experience, they know which library they want to use to wire up to Twitter and they don’t want to be told, they don’t want to be given cookie-cutter starter packs on how to do that.

Paul: From like, Dreamweaver?

Rich: Yeah. The non-engineers love it They’re like, “Holy hell. This is pretty sweet. I’m all wired up.” The people who take their craft really seriously don’t like starter packs. They don’t like pre-cut stuff to start with. Maybe they’ll take a look at it but they don’t like it.

Paul: They don’t like it but should they learn to like it because it would save a zillion dollars and they could just get used to that and build… What’s the advantage of spending a lot of money on engineers who don’t like the nice output that you get from some goofy prototyping tool?

Rich: Look, if you’ve got good talent they’re not reinventing the wheel. They’re not going to write a new way to talk to Twitter from scratch. There’s probably something on the shelf that’s going to take care of that. There are pre-canned libraries and components that you can grab and take advantage of that don’t come out of a prototyping tool. Engineers probably look at prototyping tools and view them as mostly like crayons and construction paper.

Paul: It’s design plus.

Rich: Yeah, and that’s fine. That’s good. That’s hugely useful in terms of communication. Again, I think it’s a communication tool.

Paul: Here’s my prediction. I think that the prototyping tools slash creative industry will do its damnedest to try to make their tools into the way that you deliver finished mobile applications.

Rich: Good luck.

Paul: Yeah, but I think we’re going to see years of people saying how this is good enough. You know why that worries me, though? It’s because ultimately you need a compromise. You need engineers and designers to work together and know what the hell is up in each other’s world in order to innovate it at all.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: If you give people a set of widgets and you’re like, “Here’s how animation should work,” they’re going to use those. Even if they’re really smart and really creative they’re going to start there and build on top of that.

Rich: And that’s OK.

Paul: That becomes their alphabet. It’s good. It’s useful. Every now and then you need them to look over here and come up with some new way to do something. Something that’s going to really surprise people.

Rich: Which can’t come out of a —

Paul: Pre-defined SDKs —

Rich: A buffet of widgets. Exactly. Exactly.

Paul: SDK stands for … What does … Do you know? Software developing kit.

Rich: Software development kit.

Paul: That’s right. If you use Android or IOS there’s an SDK with all those little widgets that you like, like the back buttons on your apps and the way text looks and the way that lists work, that’s all defined for you by your friends at Apple and Google. There’s a reason why apps are for the most part pretty consistent in how you get in and out of them and what they look like because all that stuff is done for the programmer.

Rich: The lords of the various platforms preach consistency. There are guidelines that are put out. Apple is famous for this.

Paul: We don’t talk about this much this way but the web is also an SDK. It has forms that you fill out and it’s just much more —

Rich: No, but Apple really prides itself on how much it polices the field with how things should work.

Paul: They lock you down. With the web you can set that on fire at any moment.

Rich: It’s double-edged because there’s not a ton of innovation in terms of interactions that happen and not a lot of invention in terms of the experiences because of that kind of policing.

Paul: No, it’s true. What we see are these very buttoned up, very elegant interactions.

Rich: It works and it’s familiar and that’s great.

Paul: The web is a playground filled with drunken children and every now and then someone’s like, “That drunken child just said something amazing. Write it down.” Then you’ll see that kind of migrate back in.

Rich: Exactly.

Paul: All right. You’re pro-prototyping tools, overall.

Rich: Absolutely.

Paul: But you don’t think they’re going to take over the industry in any way.

Rich: Take over building of actual stuff?

Paul: People will start building using Envision instead of Xcode.

Rich: There is a strain of tools out there that do that and do it successfully. Squarespace is not selling itself to web engineers. It’s selling itself to non-engineers and saying, “We’re going to give you the tools that are easy to use and you’ll have something really beautiful and you don’t have to go get engineers and spend a lot of money.” Squarespace does this. Wix is, I think, another one. I’ve seen TV ads.

Paul: Oh, who knows.

Rich: So there is a sort of category of these, but in terms of, these prototyping tools to graduate into stuff that is actually giving you pre-cut code that just falls in? I think that’s a really steep hill, in my view, but never say never. I don’t know. Maybe somebody just solves everything and then we all just stop coding and buy food trucks.

Paul: What are we going to do?

Rich: Food trucks!

Paul: Do you want to go get a food truck? I’d do that with you. We already spend basically every day about four feet from each other. We could do it in a little truck making tamales. I’d be fine with that. It’d be a lot.

Rich: Oh boy. Oh boy.

Paul: It’d be a lot for the families to handle, but we could do it.

Rich: I don’t think it’s going to, there is no silver bullet here, in my view. But I think it’s a great tool. It’s a great communication tool and it’s a great way to communicate what’s coming.

Paul: Well, Rich. We did it again.

Rich: Achieved.

Paul: Wow.

Rich: Mission accomplished.

Paul: What an accomplishment today’s show was.

Rich: Yeah. It just keeps getting better and better.

Paul: I’m learning so much just every time. It’s great to spend another hour with you.

Rich: Always, Paul.

Paul: Actually the show is only a half hour but it did seem a little longer.

Rich: It always seems a little longer.

Paul: Well, you know, we’ll talk to everybody really soon. If you have any questions at all [email protected]. Any parting words of wisdom?

Rich: …

Paul: OK, well we’ll talk to you next week.