Q&A with Principle founder Daniel Hooper about his animated/interactive user interface design software, feedback, and decisions (#4)
Q: How would you describe yourself and what you want to do?
Daniel: I’m equal parts software engineer and designer hoping to make computers better creative tools.
Q: In an interview on Subtraction, you said: “If you want to see the future of software, and design, read research papers from the 1960s-70s.” What do you mean by that, such as which research papers?
Daniel: There are a lot of great ideas that came out of those decades, many of which our industry has forgotten. Even if software has progressed by some measures, the ideology that drove research in the 60s and 70s — the computer is a bicycle for the mind, on which anyone can make software (hypercard), and customize the existing system (smalltalk) — has been somewhat lost. We’ve traded empowerment for amusement; I hope that rather than forget and reinvent, we learn from our past and change course.
Q: Of course there are some large design tool companies/startups. What do you see as the massive upside case of Principle as a product and a business? What hiring do you want to do? Do you see yourself raising funding at some point?
Daniel: The value of Principle is that it enables you to think more clearly — in the past designers worked kind of like a composer with no instrument: drawing notes on paper and handing it off the orchestra without ever hearing it. With Principle, designers have a voice to express their ideas without needing to rely on engineers.
There aren’t plans to raise funding because Principle is self-sufficient. I think funding can create a weird environment to develop products in because the investor pressure can mess up the way you prioritize customers’ needs.
Q: What’s it been like hearing from designers who work on products you like and respect given their interest and use of Principle? What’s a story about that?
Daniel: Before Principle was publicly available, the design team at Nest heard about it and became early users. I later visited Nest and demoed Principle to one of their designers, after which he said “I feel like I’ve been reunited with a long lost child” haha. It meant a lot to have them using it since I admire their work.
Q: Your profile text on Medium says “Dogma Fighter.” How does that relate to what you’re working on with Principle?
Daniel: To be honest I had forgotten that was on my Medium profile, but I suppose it’s fitting. We’ve been using code to tell a computer what to do for so long that it’s hard to imagine other ways to it. When I started Principle, people were prototyping with scripting languages and flow-programming. I wasn’t happy with this approach because it forces you to think like a computer. Most of the time developing Principle was spent searching for representations that matched designers’ mental models — I had to be open to trying bizarre approaches that were a little uncomfortable because they were so new.
Q: Of course there are many great designs that have been made with Principle, with a number visible by searching for “Principle” on Dribbble. What are a few that you think are notable for any reason that comes to mind, such as using advanced features of Principle, being a design that became part of a live product you enjoy, being especially pleasant / usable / etc, or something else?
Daniel: I’m a fan of designers that have used Principle to try something that hasn’t been done before. I think the real value of design tools like Principle is that you can quickly see if your idea is insanely great, or just insane. It’s one thing to animate a hamburger menu transition everyone has seen, it’s another to design totally new interaction models. Some of my favorite work done in Principle is by designers at a stealth startup so unfortunately thats something the world will have to wait to see.
Q: How do you use Principle to make Principle?
Daniel: I’ve used Principle to try some timeline interactions, and new types of controls. Most of those ideas never saw the light of day, but the prototypes helped refine the solution.
Q: I understand user research seeing people use Principle in person was a big part of getting Principle to launch. How are you doing user research these days?
Daniel: User testing is pretty simple: we’ll sit someone down at a computer and ask them to use Principle while we watch. It’s amazing how much you can learn by doing this. Things like Fitt’s law, affordances, and bugs, really hit home when you see them affect a real person.
Q: How do you measure your progress so far such as any metrics on software usage? How’s that going?
Daniel: I haven’t really set up any formalized metrics. Actionable metrics like A/B tests can be problematic for design because it optimizes a small part of the experience, possibly to the detriment of the experience as a whole. On the other hand, overall metrics like customer satisfaction or revenue can’t provide direction. That said, I spend a lot of time interacting with designers which gives me an organic feel for how things are going. There’s still a lot of big picture stuff planned for Principle, so I’m focused on that and trusting that the metrics will take care of themselves.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?