Calling All Engineers: Why So Serious?

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“Why so serious?”
–The Joker in Batman Returns

If you are fortunate enough to be building software for a living, do us this small favor: Put a little more personality into your products.

The best products pay deference to their creators. They’re functional, but they also can be fun at times, whimsical, punchy, interesting, sexy and surprising. Done well, they mimic the best parts of the personality of the teams that created them.

google-s-i-m-feeling-lucky-buttonThe classic example of adding personality to a product is Google’s homepage. Is there a more functional use of pixels than Yet, sitting right there in all its irrelevant glory is the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. I have never clicked on it, but I love it. I love what it stands for–we built the world’s best search engine, but that doesn’t mean we take ourselves too seriously.

My all-time favorite example of building in personality is the metrics page on Bandcamp is a clean and beautiful site. The simple GUI on the stats page for musicians is no different; you can look at tracks played, media buzz and sales/downloads over various time periods: all-time, 60 days, 30 days, 7 days, today and defender. Wait, what’s the “defender” option? So you click on it, and immediately the screen turns black, a little warship appears, and you are playing a fully functioning version of the old arcade game Defender. In Bandcamp’s version, your own metrics graph serves as the mountains and terrain. If you don’t understand how insanely cool that is, please stop reading immediately.


Well-executed Easter eggs like Bandcamp’s defender option make economic sense. Customers talk about them, Facebook about them and tweet about them. They humanize a product. Customers are more likely to rave about your company and forgive failings if your product appeals to them emotionally.

Of course, personality isn’t just about being funny or clever. The late, great Steve Jobs doesn’t strike me as a funny guy, but his personality lives in every Apple product. Every beautiful curve, every feature, and every nuance down to the packaging is Steve Jobs. Every minute detail mattered to him because the products were an extension of him.iphone

The story of Madrona portfolio company Haiku Deck is instructive here as well. The founders were making a pivot on their business and decided to build a product that embodied the appealing approach they took to making presentations. “People kept telling us we built the greatest slide decks — simple, beautiful and fun,” CEO Adam Tratt said. “So we decided to build a product that made sharing ideas and telling stories a joyful experience instead of a soul-sucking one.”


Adding in personality is not just for consumer-facing products. Business people like working with products they like just as much as consumers do. That’s why there are now more iPhones at work than Blackberries.

Are you building personality into your product? If not, take a step back and give yourself license to humor, delight, and inspire your customers. Don’t force it. You’ll know when you are doing it right.


  • Tom Leung

    Totally agree Greg. My personal favorite is Mailchimp. Even though it’s a business product, it has more authentic and positive personality than a lot of consumer products. Ironically, of all the new web products I use, my wife literally smiles every time she sees that UI.

    • mshobe

      +10 to MailChimp – by far the richest personality of any ‘productivity/enterprise’-ish app I can think of that’s currently running. Personality comes from the culture of the company and, often, is drawn straight from the founders’ professional DNA. Greg’s final point about giving yourself permission to ‘personify’ your product is key: let the spirit of why you’re making the thing in the first place show up across the entire surface area of the app – from landing page to seldom-seen error message.