Jason Fried

June 26, 2024

Software defaults

One of my favorite things about designing software is designing the defaults.

The defaults define the experience for everyone out of the box. And, therefore, for most people in perpetuity. Convention over configuration rules the day. To me, everything it could possibly do is less interesting than what it does right now, factory fresh.

At 37signals we call this The Golden Path and we discuss it often. If a customer followed our lead, stayed in the grooves, and did exactly as the software suggested, what would that experience be like? That's the one nearly everyone will have, so making it great is our top priority.

Certainly some will take the path least traveled. Others will head to whatever gear icon they can find and start turning the dials and pulling the levers. And then there are those who enjoy figuring out how to break things by imagining every exception or edge case, and seeing how the app handles it. It's great to have these customers too! But they aren't the ones that pay the bills.

Most buy something they just want to work. Configuration is a drag, not a desire. Setting something up brings them down. They just want their struggle out of the way, and choosing and buying the thing was the majority of the work they signed up for. The rest should just glide.

Defaults aren't just about nailing The Golden Path, it's also about choosing one. What experience do we want people to have? What opinions do we want to carve into the product? It's not just what we're trying to do, it's what we're trying to say.

So if you really want to know what a company thinks about their product, their customer, and the experience they imagine is the best one, just roll with the stock product. Don't mess with it, use it as is. That's the best way to know what something's really like, what was intended, and experience a pure point of view.


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.