on technology, craft

Flipboard's Craftsmanship

This article about Flipboard is an excellent example illustrating the truth behind what Steve Jobs said in 1995:

"There’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make. There are just certain things you can’t make electrons do. There are certain things you can’t make plastic do. Or glass do. Or factories do. Or robots do.

Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently."

I believe that the most successful entrepreneurs (and the teams that they build) are people who have deep domain expertise in their chosen industry. Deep in this sense does not necessarily mean many years of experience, but rather a strong understanding of truths that are not widely known.

In Flipboard, for example, it is the understanding of how editors lay out articles that allows them to craft a reading experience that is more delightful and pleasing to the eye than that presented by other apps. The team at Flipboard has taken an understanding of "page density, pacing, rhythm, image crop and scale"—things that are not commonly understood or appreciated outside of the publishing industry and built out a system that can approximate the output that an editor would produce.

My prediction is that as people increasingly use tech to digitize traditional industries, the most successful companies and products that result will be those that do not ignore traditionally used techniques but rather build upon a deep understanding of how people have solved problems in the past. Rarely do entrepreneurs need to invent new technology—many problems can be solved by adapting existing technology and simply applying it in a new way.*

*A caveat to this point is that one needs to know when new solutions are needed. It is through this type of first-principle thinking that Elon Musk was able to question conventional beliefs and build Tesla and SpaceX.

Written by
Full stack engineer, entrepreneur, technologist, former med student. "The best way to predict the future is to create it."