A serene view of a placid pond with a woman sitting on the end of a wooden dock, gazing at the waterbirds swimming.

Origami in a house aflame

Why your company’s actions seem counterproductive

Alan Cooper

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I have this recurring vision of tech practitioners as skilled origami experts, trying to fold paper into clever and graceful swans while their house is fully engulfed in flames. As quickly as they create the little paper animals they burst into flame. It doesn’t really matter that they are masters at their difficult and obscure craft because other issues obviate and destroy their good works.

Despite the thousands of conscientious, skilled practitioners who want nothing more than to create superb quality products with beguiling and powerful interactions, the businesses they work for are fully engulfed in the flames of runaway capitalism. The idea that a company is part of the community where it trades is gone. The idea that it’s in the company’s own best interest to maintain the health and welfare of its employees, users, and customers is gone. The economics of capitalism-run-wild simply don’t support that anymore.

Crafters struggle with this conundrum.

When little companies start out, they know their success depends on the success of everyone in their ecosystem. But after a successful company has grown past a certain point, the calculus changes. While big companies can make money by creating great products, they can make lots more money by creating bad products.

Today’s on-line commerce sites are riven with dark patterns and hidden gotchas, slyly checking opt-in boxes when you aren’t looking, working assiduously to hide phone numbers so they don’t have to provide customer service, and generally treating you like a victim and not a partner.

I once told a client that, by making some modest and imminently feasible changes to their product, they could dramatically reduce their tech support infrastructure. They fired me. They explained that tech support was their most profitable division, and they didn’t want their product to be easy to understand and use.

Apple, for example, doesn’t feel that it needs to play well with other software products. It takes a village just to get a photo away from iPhoto’s grasp and into any other manufacturer’s program.

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Alan Cooper

Ancestry Thinker, Software Alchemist, Regenerative Rancher