Jason Fried

March 3, 2024

Hooks, towel bars, and software

Strangely, a recent bathroom renovation crystalized my perspective on product development.

When being asked to choose between towel hooks or a towel bar, the choice was obvious: Hooks, of course.

Hooks take up no space. Towel bars suck up space.

Hooks hold towels no matter how you place them. Towel bars require towels to be balanced lest they slide off.

Towels naturally look good and drape well on hooks. Towels on bars require effort to display well.

Hooks can hold anything with a loop or a bend or a catch — loofas, shower caps, hats, rain soaked jackets and backpacks, etc. Towel bars can’t hold nearly as much, even though they take up much more space.

Hooks can hold multiple towels at once, with enough air getting to multiple layers because of the uneven ridges that single point hanging creates. Towel bars layer wet towels, leaving ones at the bottom or middle struggling to dry.

You can’t mount a hook crookedly. You can absolutely mount a towel bar unevenly.

Reasons go on.

But what do towel hooks have to do with product development? For me, just about everything. They’re a frame, they’re a lens, they’re aspirational. A hook holds more than towels — it holds lessons in how to build.

We aim to make hooks. I want our products full of hooks. Simple, flexible, you-can’t-do-it-wrong hooks. Hooks that just work, no fuss.

When working on new products, new features, and improving existing stuff, I’m visualizing the “hook-ness” of what we're building. Making small, flexible features with minimal surface area that can be used intuitively in obvious ways without the possibility of doing it wrong. That’s the magic formula, that’s our model.

The unassuming, humble hook is a high bar.


About Jason Fried

Hey! I'm Jason, the Co-Founder and CEO at 37signals, makers of Basecamp and HEY. Subscribe below to follow my thinking on business, design, product development, and whatever else is on my mind. Thanks for visiting, thanks for reading.