OpenText Hightail

I fought Conway’s Law so you’ll win


July 16, 2013

In 1968, computer scientist Mel Conway wrote a paper “How Do Committees Invent?” outlining a thesis now so widely applicable and referenced that it is called Conway’s Law.

Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure.

In other words, an organization’s output (be it products, services, or experiences) betrays how that organization communicates. This is most apparent in “multi-slash” products with multiple functions such as a scanner/copier/printer, microwave/convection oven/grill or rapper/dentist.

Can’t attest to his dentistry skills, but his rhymes are fresh like waxed mint floss.

What usually happens is that, to aid efficiency, multiple groups are tasked with developing different features in parallel before the parts are forced together into one product, like my two-year-old daughter doing a jigsaw puzzle. The company wins by getting to market sooner. The customer generally loses when the overall product breaks down at the seams of the slashes, like the VCR/DVD combo I once owned that had two separate clocks.

The company formerly known as YouSendIt became a victim of Conway’s Law. What began as an incredibly smart single solution to the problem of sending large files later had other features bolted on without due consideration for how they integrated and interacted with each other. All of our products felt like different companies created them, from a feature’s overall approach to its visual and interaction design.

This is entirely understandable: the company is almost a decade old and many of the original designers and engineers had moved on leaving others to try and expand the service without disturbing its raison d’etre. When I took over the company’s product organization a year ago, I understood that new features like sharing folders and signing documents were incredibly useful, but I also recognized that they were designed as feature islands with no consideration given to the overall user experience.

Changing this would require a fundamental shift in how we, as a company, communicated, how we dealt with Conway’s Law to create more useful, delightful and indispensible experiences.

One of the first changes I made was to unify the myriad design organizations within the company and give this group oversight for all product experiences. This created a single channel of cross-product communication specifically aimed at addressing Conway’s Law. It also helped that I was lucky enough to hire some of the finest designers that I’ve ever worked with (and I want more — we’re hiring!).

YouSendIt becoming Hightail is a marker that represents all the things we’ve already done to start the process of reimagining our service. Our new brand also comes with significant product enhancements that indicate where Hightail is headed.

Our redesigned and rebranded mobile apps recognize the fact that, according to a recent Gartner report , 60% of professionals use a mobile device during their working day (presumably to actually work and not just tweet a picture of their lunch). Whether you’re an iPhone, Android, or iPad user, the new Hightail apps ensure you can still get things done when you’re on the move.

Hightail iPhone App Take the Hightail iOS app for iPhone and iPad. It gives you easy access to your files, lets you share folders with anyone and even sign documents using your touch screen. If you want to make sure your client has seen a crucial file before you board that flight, our tracking feature shows exactly when it happened. Plus, you can do all of this securely with single sign-on capabilities for enterprise account users.

For our web experience, we’re introducing a beautiful way to preview files as part of an overall rethink about how your colleague or client receives your work. This is a huge priority for us because the tools you choose to use can affect how the people you work with perceive you. A smart and stylish recipient experience lets a professional share their work with Hightail knowing that it will make them look good.

These new experiences lay the groundwork for the truly game-changing ideas we’re cooking up in our top-secret labs, while the fresh start that Hightail provides enables everyone — from employees to users — to rethink and understand our service in a new light.

Despite all this change, we remain the company that you’ve trusted to share and store your most important files for almost a decade. We just have a new name and a renewed commitment to help you keep your ideas moving.


  1. Jeff Bonforte

    5 years ago

    Well written, Matte. Now I will spend the rest of the week seeking out “slash” products and condemning them. I feel better already

    father/brother/son/husband/worker/friend/dog owner/medicated

  2. Linda

    5 years ago

    So, now provide paying customers with an app that works with Outlook 365 rather than promoting this ‘new’ version that works just up to 2010 version … same old, emperors new clothes.

  3. Tanya Lumbi

    5 years ago

    What a great read. Putting the UX in the context of Conway’s Law really resonated with me. Looking forward to experiencing how Hightail rolls-out this change in brand and overall experience.

  4. mikeB

    5 years ago

    Sadly Matte this still comes across as marketing babble. Does the phone company or the electric supplier change it’s name and rebrand into something entirely esoteric. In your case the name is just embarrassing… of all the names to choose you came out with this? Hard to believe really. Should have done some market focus groups and seen how that name panned out. Bizarre…Try naming yourself after some sort of fruit… wait that’s already been done… Now integrating all the software and apps so they work seamlessly together well that is a given don’t you think. Shouldn’t be some revelational mantra. Better and more reliable service is a basic goal but really the name does nothing to communicate that. I recently had some trouble downloading a pile of things sent to me.. only could download about 5 or 6 then had to relaunch the browser and redownload the rest. Keep working at it.

  5. Jen

    5 years ago

    We move a lot of files here and stopped using You Send It because of the onslaught of marketing and the opt in options that wouldn’t ever end. Guilt was a tool you guys used which was very odd indeed! It was clunky and it was old. If this Branding helps you get rid of half of that crap I’m sold. Its a good name but I’m not convinced of the look. Who was the lucky agency?

  6. Paul Tumey

    5 years ago

    Matte – Great on the mobile app, but I fail to see how that requires an identity change — or justifies wasting so much of your clients’ time dealing with your re-brand/re-boot. And, for what it’s worth, so far none of your new services make your new name feel any less wrong to me.

    For years, I have been helping you to build your business by introducing my clients to YouSendIt. Because of their contact with me, many of my clients use YouSendit — and I imagine they have also recommended the service to others. Because of this network, we are co-branded with you. I, for one, really dislike that you re-branded without seeking out input and support — it reflects back on my business. The name is embarrassing, the graphics unimpressive, and now I and my clients all have to shift our knowledge-base from the YouSendIt interface, for no reason I can see — other than some people in a corporation need to create work for themselves. I want you to know that I feel dissed by you and have begun to search for another vendor, after being a loyal customer and evangelist for years. If you had reached out to your clients first — and asked us what we needed and thought, and then acted with authenticity on that — then you could maybe boast about getting around Conway’s Law. You guys are about your clients — not your services, and especially not your flashy, empty marketing. On a positive note, I liked the dentist/rapper video provided by SuniSource via YouTube — a real gem. However, your selfish rebrand has put me in such a bad mood that I’m gonna complain about that too — I feel the inclusion of it was just a cheap way to try to make the communication seem more fun and hip and doesn’t really help provide any deeper understanding as to why you are forcing this change on us. It doesn’t look that great to me that you are using someone else’s hard work to promote your services, while snobbishly dissing it at that same time with this unclear “multi-slash” babble. Also — and this really bugs me – you failed to even acknowledge the people that provided the video, SuniSource. You guys are trying to seem like hip marketers, but you’re missing the basics of acting with integrity — I don’t think you’ve escaped Conway’s Law at all.

    – Paul Tumey

  7. pat salgado

    5 years ago

    This news sounds like marketing hype. A name change is rarely convincing, too often is just confusing. And I don’t need anyone’s ‘Law” to convince me. The new name? Cute? Perhaps. But not sure it is memorable…The old name? Conveyed exactly what the product did.

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