Ryan Singer

Head of Product Strategy, Basecamp

These people have inspired my work.

Christopher Alexander

Notes on the Synthesis of Form describes the fundamentals of design. Separate a problem into form and context. Identify the forces in the context that act upon and constrain the form. Judge designs on fit between form and context, not fashion or universal scales of good/bad. Decompose and pair both into sub-solutions that you can later recompose into larger wholes.

The Nature of Order: Book 2 is an antidote to "blueprint" or "master plan" thinking. For a design to fit its context, it has to unfold step by step like a living thing. A deep and beautifully illustrated look at the relationship between designing and building, and the necessity to build first in order to arrive at the right design.

I didn't understand A Pattern Language until I read the Eishin School case study in Battle. Every project has its own language made up of components of the solution and their relationships, like words and grammar. Example from Basecamp: "Each of the bucket tools has an index linking to commentable permas."

Edward Tufte

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information is a classic. It taught me to think of visual design as a support for cognitive tasks, like making comparisons or inferring cause and effect. Love his distinction between elements "adjacent in time" (on different pages or steps) versus "adjacent in space" (visible on the same surface).

J.J. Gibson

The concept of "affordances" in interface design traces back to The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. The ecological approach highlights the role of the ever-changing environment and flow of circumstances around a perceiving subject. It's the driver's-seat view as opposed to the overhead map. 'Affordances' are opportunities for action that are perceived in the environment. Whether conscious or not, all good design is ecological because the judge of quality is the first person flow of experience through time. I have a strong memory of reading this for the first time in a coffee shop in Tokyo, mesmerized by the hand-drawn illustrations of the "ambient optic array."

Gibson's optic array

Eric Evans

Domain-Driven Design brought two worlds together for me: Christopher Alexander's approach to design (the book is an explicit pattern language) and the best practices of the Smalltalk lineage of software developers. A bit technical for non-programmers, but very worthwhile if you can follow the logic of the examples.

Stuart Kauffman

I bought The Origins of Order when I was a teenager and barely understood anything in it. But in the first few chapters Kauffman demonstrated the concepts of phase spaces and fitness landscapes. These blew my mind and exposed me to the idea of abstract mathematical spaces for the first time. Cognitively life changing. The logo on this site is inspired by that first read.

Yaneer Bar-Yam

I met Yaneer at NECSI, his independent research institution in Boston. He and the NECSI team taught me how to look at problems across multiple scales in time and space.

Bob Moesta

I've been lucky to have Bob as a friend and mentor since 2012. He frames every problem as a flow and dynamic process through time. The depth of his hard-won hands-on experience goes back to time spent early in his career with people like W. Edwards Deming and Genichi Taguchi. He's done design and development work on thousands of products from the Stealth Bomber to macaroni and cheese. This podcast of a conference talk with Chris Spiek at Business of Software is a good starting point.

Clay Christensen

The Innovator's Solution (the book after Innovator's Dilemma) was a crash course in business for me. The bits on Resources, Processes and Priorities, for example, helped me understand why ideas sometimes don't get built or how the structure of the organization affects which ideas will reach development. The chapter on the Law of Conservation of Attractive Profits is the best treatment of what product people call 'bundling and unbundling' that I've read anywhere.

Jason Fried

I've worked side by side with Jason on design problems since he first had the idea for Basecamp in 2003. Much of my product sensibility was shaped by learning from him.

David Heinemeier Hansson

I could never get my head around programming until David invented Rails. He encouraged me —a designer— to roll up my sleeves in the application code and turn static mockups into wired views instead of waiting on him to do it. That opened up the whole world of software development, especially the Smalltalk school of Kent Beck, Martin Fowler et al.