Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Scratching Your Own Itch

In my academic training in HCI design, the first (and really only) rule was “Don’t Design For Yourself.”

It was deemed as too easy, a cop out, if you did a project that used yourself as the target audience and built something to solve your own problem. It means you made no effort to get outside of your own experience and really understand the problems of your target user.

By contrast in web services today, it feels like all my favorite services are built by people just scratching their own itch. That’s why David built Tumblr, Marco built Instapaper. Ev has often cited that the failure of Odeo is that he wasn’t a podcaster, so he wasn’t building something he wanted. It’s the single #1 rule in The Cathedral and the Bazaar (seminal open source book) about what makes a good open source project:

  1. Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch.

I understand why my academic training differed so much from practical application.  If every hacker/maker just scratched their own itch, then who would build the countless necessary tools and services for people who can’t build their own products? Doing a deep, contextual inquiry into the daily life of a 90 year old man and the problems he faces is an essential skill set.  And building solutions to make that man’s life better is a rewarding use of time. Academia makes a good point.

Yet, all my favorite products have been built out of the passion that stems directly for personal need.  Those are the products where using them feels like having an intimate conversation with the designer… they see they world the way I see it, and this is their answer to my niche problem.  


  1. jacecooke said: Quick thoughts: I think the common theme between strict HCI research and hacking for oneself is having a specific & nuanced audience in mind. Further, successful research could really be framed as the personal adoption of another’s itch.
  2. thegongshow posted this