Exactly one year ago yesterday I became head of YouSendIt’s design team knowing that changing the name of the company was in the cards. It’s one of the many reasons I decided to join. YouSendIt outgrew its name long before I joined and I’m happy with how we’ve landed. I know that change is hard for some people but it’s also inevitable and to those who don’t like the new name maybe you’ll grow to love it as much as we do.
Becoming Hightail isn’t just about getting a new name and logo; it’s part of a much wider redesign involving the whole company. Which is great because a lot of things need to change to make our service better for our users.
But you gotta start somewhere. Nothing happens if you don’t start. Our new identity is that beginning. It’s the big change that forces everyone else to transform their thinking so we can really start to shake up our products and create innovative new features and experiences.
That doesn’t just apply to the people working at Hightail. It means our 43 million users as well. The look of a product is a hugely significant part of the experience. Our new style helps to change people’s perception of what Hightail is and prepares them for future innovation.
Where we are now is an indicator of where we’re going. The design concepts reflected in our new look and user experience will influence our future products. While I’m not going to go into specific plans because I love a good secret, I will let you in on three key principles that guide the work our amazing design team is doing. (Want to join us? We’re hiring.)
1. Consistency for consistency’s sake is bullshit
Trying to make a website or product precisely consistent across browsers or devices is a waste of time. I always feel sorry for the poor engineers who have to implement rigid designs that cannot be applied everywhere. A simple example is the fact that Internet Explorer doesn’t render corners on buttons, whereas Firefox and Chrome does. Why should we find a fix that will make all buttons look the same? Most people have a favorite browser that they use all the time so they’ll never notice if a button looks slightly different on another browser.
The only people who actually check this stuff are other developers with a professional interest in doing so. Hightail’s service is about solving the real problems people face. Our design ethos reflects that mission: we make sure we’re focusing on the things that actually matter to our users.
2. Context is king
I’d rather my team spends its days thinking about context and work on designing and building experiences that fit environments, workflows and devices. An iPhone app can’t be the same as an Android app—each operating system has different modes and metaphors. Android apps themselves operate on different devices with varying screen sizes and ways of interaction.
Context means much more than the specs of a piece of technology. It’s also the physical location of the person using your product and the state of mind this may represent.
Mobile phones are for the waiting room. They are a snacking device, so our apps should help you perform single tasks quickly before the dentist beckons you in for that dreaded root canal. Whether you need to see if the file you sent has been received or want to add a new video to a shared folder, we aim to make that happen with a few simple taps.
Tablets are about lean back mode. You’re in front of the TV, giving advertisers cold sweats because you’re not paying enough attention to their jaunty jingles thanks to your second screen. In this context, our app should be more like a browser—an easy way to view files, do relatively light-touch tasks like consuming content, annotating a document, or having a quick conversation around a piece of work.
Computers or laptops are for lean in, power mode. You’re fully lubed by your creative juices and are getting shit done. While we’ve made some real progress with the Hightail phone and tablet apps, our web and desktop experiences need love. We’re currently working on a beautiful single screen, multi-feature interface that is powerful enough to help keep your ideas moving without loading another page.
This is how we honor the context of a device or environment. It is a mental challenge that involves not getting hung up on consistency and not dreading the interweb’s most fearsome foe: change.
3. Embrace responsible change
Reading that context stuff may have set off a lot of head-nodding, chin-scratching and solemn mutterings about “responsive design”. That’s the digital dogma of the moment, but responsive design is just a frothy fundamental about making the same thing work on different size screens. It’s simply a surface adaptation to your surroundings.
At Hightail, we talk more about responsible design. You have to design deeply for specific scenarios and create things that are as perfectly adapted to their environment as a polar bear. Sure, it’s kinda like other bears, but the polar bear lives in the Arctic and has evolved to be much larger than other bears so it can retain heat better.
Like the polar bear, good design works within its context. You need to be open to change even if it means being slightly inconsistent with your other products. If something is right for the specific device or environment, do it.
Just do it responsibly. We created a style guide for our new Hightail brand but in the introduction state that these rules are made to be broken. The point being that the guide is there to teach you the rules so you’ll understand when it’s ok to break them.
Facebook’s motto is “move fast and break things”. Each day, every Facebook engineer creates and releases new code. We aim to be that agile and ambitious at Hightail. That’s what our new identity is all about. The company has taken a chance by changing its name so it’s game on for everyone working here to be bold and embrace responsible change.
It starts with…well…starting. You’ve got to start somewhere and know this: you will never finish because there is no end. No end to innovation. No end to commitment, ideas and passion. No end to the growing needs of people. Here’s to change.