Working Back From Client Experience to Technology

This is not a story about computers and operating systems, it’s about user experience. I just need to provide some background first…

I was a Mac user for some years. Why I got in to it and why out again is documented in an entry on my personal blog Running Ubuntu Linux on MacBook. It was an interesting period, in terms of user experience. And I can compare it with my experience with DOS, OS/2, Windows, Linux and other environments.

Apple gets an awful lot of things “right”. When Windows and Linux were still struggling with printers, it “just worked” on my Mac. The funny thing was, OSX uses the same underlying CUPS technology that Linux does – the difference was the user interface and ease of setting up a new printer.

Apple does slick hardware design, easy to use software, all the way through to a cool shopping experience (if you’ve ever been to an Apple store). Now, before you jump on me with counter-arguments, this is viewing things from the perspective of an “ordinary” user, someone who views their computer simply as a tool for accomplishing other things. As someone who knows more about computers (and software engineering), I reckon there’s plenty wrong “under the hood”! But that doesn’t negate the achievements on the “front end”.

In the following video, a slightly younger Steve Jobs explains how Apple develops its products: working back from the user experience towards  technology that enables it. Again, there can be criticism aplenty about how Steve Jobs operated (I may do another post on that) but I think it’s fair to also identify the positives, as we can learn from that.

I frequently meet very bright people talking excitedly about new technology they’ve developed and are (sometimes quite desperately – which in itself is telling) trying to jam it in to some product/service. The geek in me thinks “cool!”, but the user and business person in me wonders “who gives a stuff?”  I don’t want to discourage them, but I do feel they’ve got their priorities and focus in a tangle. Here’s what Jobs had to say about this, with some examples:

Considering the Cost of Cheaper Products

B Corporations

I see as an interesting initiative: B (Benefit) Corporations take employee, community, and environmental interests into consideration when making decisions; their legal structure expands corporate accountability so they are required to make decisions that are good for society, not just their shareholders. One tagline is “Using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.” Sounds worthy to me. There is an assessment and certification process.

I have been thinking whether a B Corp can at the same time be an Upstarta, as there does appear to be a large overlap in objectives and approach.

Some B Corps do take on venture capital, which I consider tricky – but on the other hand, the VC firm understands and is also subject to the B Corp’s legal framework, so contrary to “regular” companies the VC funding does not necessarily mess with the business trajectory: the “right” process fundamentals are already in place. However, that still depends on the desired return-on-investment and timeline that a VC wants. Are they fully on board with the B Corp’s objectives, or do they reckon that fast growth is a required fact of life and it’ll happen anyway, so they can get their investment back xN within M years?

The latter, because of the xN, generally requires sale of the company or floating on the stock market. Are there alternatives to those known trajectories? Could a non-profit survive as a public company or as part of another corporation? These things are probably quite untested (please prove me wrong, if you have examples!) and so I just don’t know. I’m interested, yet concerned.

There is a topical case to consider:, a non-profit, has just become a B Corp and they have also taken on some VC funding as part of this change. It will allow them to do more, but will it also work out well for the organisation and its users in the long term?

Your thoughts and opinions welcome!

When Accounting and Management Destroy

“An Apostrophe Is the Difference Between…”