blindnet
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blindnet

the blindnet team by the Seine river, after a highly productive week

Product design at blindnet

At blindnet, we enable developers to build software that customers love and trust. This is our core mission. When we onboard new team members, I get questions on how we actually live up to this mission, how we design a product that our own customer love and trust.

While the “trust” part, in our case, is ensured by transparency of our code as well as by data minimization (our system knowing as little about our customers as possible), the “love” part is a matter of product design philosophy that this blog post is about.

Quality without a name

First, let’s review the guiding principle we follow in our design philosophy.

I am particularly attached to the concept of “quality without a name” introduced by Christopher Alexander in The Timeless Way of Building. Christopher Alexander is an architect who has influenced the theory and practice of software development, including the emergence of Design Patterns, Agile Software Development and even Wikipedia. In his study of architecture, he noted that some buildings and places simply put the person (the user of the functionalities offered by the building) in a situation of feeling good, in some sort of harmony with the place, while others are less successful and create the opposite feeling compelling the person to wish to walk away.

The person, user, can rarely tell what it is in the design of the place that produces that feeling of adequacy, but can undeniably identify the architectural solutions that have this quality, that feel right, from those that don’t. An example everyone can relate to is the design of Parisian cafés, where chairs are oriented in such a way to favor “people watching” — a function where a person is sitting comfortably and watching the “life go by” — similar to the design of Japanese gardens where a person can sit comfortably and observe the fish swim by. Both designs produce a similar feeling of harmony and are considered archetypes of desirable architectural features. The users undeniably feel good there and come back again and again.

Regarding the functionality of a place, different characteristics (and often a synergy of characteristics rather than a single one) contribute to that feeling. Therefore, the quality that all those places have taken different forms, and can’t really be named, but it is undeniably there. Christopher Alexander calls this “quality without a name”. He claims that a set of typical solutions can be observed in buildings that share that quality, and that in fact, by observing and combining such solutions, one can design buildings (but also software) that fulfill their functions with an exemplary level of adequacy and produce that feeling of harmony with the user who will return to them again and again.

Undeniably, these is software that users will use only when they must and there is software that users love. I am not going to call anyone out here, but you can certainly think of a lot of awful interfaces from your own experience.

Our goal at blindnet is to design such software that our users love, that procures this feeling of adequacy with regards to its function and that has the “quality without a name”.

Everybody is involved in design thinking

Now that we clarified our core design principle, the next question I usually get is “how” do we achieve it? Is there a process that guarantees that outcome? And the answer is simple: No.

At blindnet, product discussions and experiments are at the core of our work.

In fact, at blindnet, we value individuals and interactions over processes and tools. We believe that great products are not built by great processes, but by great people. We rely on the intelligence, knowledge and experience of our team members for the product design thinking.

While our approach to design is not really a well-formed process, there is definitely a sort of doctrine that we all share and follow. This doctrine relies on two key attitudes:

  • Everyone is responsible to implement the design thinking approach. There is no “Design thinking department” at blindnet, so every software engineer has to constantly put the user in the center of their attention. All of us are, in part, responsible for producing the adequacy of our product with regards to users’ needs and getting the “quality without a name” to emerge. The whole approach is greatly facilitated by the fact that our users, like us, are also software engineers so imagining ourselves in their shoes is not that difficult.
  • Everything is built through the design thinking approach. While it is natural to apply design thinking to graphical interfaces, our design concern does not end there. In fact, more importantly than the Web interface used to create and account on our service, our users — developers — are exposed to our software library (SDK). We analyze the user’s needs at every situation when the SDK is used, the context, and try to make the interaction the most natural and effortless as possible. As a result, we are proud to have an SDK the implementation of which require less lines of code then any of our competitors. Furthermore, we apply our design thinking to the design of the documentation as well, although we consider that when the user has to refer to the documentation it is rather a sign that our design of the SDK was unsuccessful.

In addition to those attitudes, we have our tools such as high-level design principles, master documents describing every product element in terms of purpose-context/complication-solution, we use Don Norman’s affordances (just those action possibilities that are readily perceivable by the user), and I’ll talk about those in my next post.

BTW, we are hiring…

Following a fundraising we are looking for more people to join our product team. Here are a few jobs out for grabs:

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Milan Stankovic, PhD

Milan Stankovic, PhD

Milan is a Parisian Tech Founder. PhD in Computer Science from Sorbonne. Start-up made and sold. Making computers better companions to humans. http://milstan.ne

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