106 points by gmays 10 months ago
One interesting thing I’ve noticed over my career bouncing between the video game industry and general software industry is that every decently sized game studio I’ve worked for has had people in the role of technical artist, these are the people who bridge the gap between art and engineering, but I’ve never seen a similar role though at massively larger software companies. I’ve seen people with strong design sense in engineering and people with engineering skills in design, but it’s always been siloed enough that they’ve never been able to really make an impact one way or another on the final product. I’ve always thought I would reuse that same structure even if I was making non video game software.
I refer to these people as the "glue" between two departments.
At big companies, this is mostly a management issue.
Questions like these are common
1.) Is this person part of the design team or engineering team?
2.) Who does this person report to, and how is his sprint planned?
And, as a company grows in size, managing people becomes a more important issue than focusing on minor product details.
Perhaps the company structure needs re-evaluation if cross-discipline individuals don't have places that they neatly fit without fudging.
Organisation is always a compromise. Rather than seek the perfect structure, it’s better I think to address what makes structure get in the way of doing the right thing. Better structure may follow, but it’s a constant fight. Different challenges call for different people to work together.
Meta hires technical artists for a fair amount of code-and-3D work. Here's an open job req: https://www.metacareers.com/v2/jobs/2076260812574632/
Is what you’re describing the role of a product manager?
Nope, a Technical Artist will own the art pipeline and tools for artists as well as help produce specific pieces of art that need programming skills. They're an artist who can code or a coder who can make art. So they're using both talents to interface the artists to the game engine and runtimes.
In games a Product Manager doesn't really exist as a specific role generally and is distributed between the Production and Design teams.
Like the author, I went into computer systems engineering though in around 1995, and then bailed because I wanted to design with computers, not design the computers themselves. Should've read the abstract a bit better, huh? I quit and have worked for myself over the 25+ years since, and similarly straddled design and development up until recently.
Something I've found challenging is that in my projects and pricepoints, it's felt like there is no time for craft. Always harried, always spread thin. Never enough budget to do much more than burn through code. And working with clients who barely know what they expect, so it's hard to confidently spend time on design polish while the chance of concepts being rejected on a whim seems quite random. I'd be the first to accept that these are likely self-inflicted situations through misguided quoting/positioning and lazy process.
I have many side projects, and craft is a difficult thing there too. We typically preach getting product in front of people as soon as possible, to hone from there. But when, as an individual or small team, do you get time to absolutely polish your login screen, as one example? You're generally adding requested features or fixing pain points. I see a login screen from Stripe or similar and think of the teams and meetings and testing that probably went into it. Obviously as smallfry, we can take a shortcut and copy what they've settled on, but that's not exactly craft.
Maybe when I retire I'll have time.
> This is a post about well-made, high-quality products and why shipping quality is hard.
I love the spirit of the article, and heartily applaud it.
That said, I do realize that, for many folks (most of them, actually), money is the only metric that matters,
“But look at all the money I’m making!” or “Your project is a failure, because it doesn’t make money!” are frequent refrains, in tech.
For me, development of product is a craft, and a labor of love. It has to be good, because I can’t live with myself, if it’s not.
I posted an excerpt from a book I read, here, once, that is apropos:
But back to the topic at hand. I also enjoyed this book: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/1035377.Software_Craf...
This is something I struggle with. I'm a perfectionist in my work- I'm the person who, without being told, periodically walks through our products flow and scrutinizes every detail. I make note of every little performance hitch, everything that looked a bit off on one device or browser, everything that would've annoyed me just a tiny bit as a user, and I go through and fix each and every one of them. Just because I want it to be good.
But I feel like larger companies systematically resist this kind of care. Through removal of agency (approval processes, splitting stakeholders across teams, top-down assignment) and through sprawling product complexity that leaves people no time to give attention to all the details because there are simply too many.
I think I just can't ever work at a large company. I care too much.
It’s ironic that the illustration in this post is the opposite of craft. It’s a random picture that looks like dramatic game concept art including what might be flying spiders. This apparently represents “crafting high-quality software” and was of course generated with an AI model.
The novelty value of these images is gone and they’re just visual noise now, like banner ads or mailing list signups. In the spirit of the post, when in doubt, simplify your content — and AI-generated illustrations should be the first to go.
The elefant in the room is the cost of quality. In what situation can we cheaply improve quality and when is this impossible? Not adressing the cost of quality more or less unconsciously lets one gravitate around products for the rich. One can observe this where the author writes:"There’s a reason high-end car manufacturers boast about their handcrafted cars. Something so premium that an individual person spent time obsessing over the details. Some even prominently display a plaque on the engine with the signature of the engineer that built it."
It is easy to talk about the importance of quality with high premium products in mind. But what about low budget products for the masses? Can we say more about this than the cliché that quality might perhaps be cheaper in the long run?
In that discussion about quality there's quite a bit of overlap with Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Unfortunately, not the Craft I was hoping for :(
The real problem the designer and the engineering split.
Designers should be fired.
The best apps in history have been built by hackers with a great aesthetic sense.
Somehow we have lost this today.
For every “hacker with a great aesthetic taste” there are a dozen who have no taste whatsoever and at best mash together concepts with no regard for looks or usability.
"Coder Colors" is a thing for a reason.
You could s/Designers/Engineers/ and end up with the same statement.
What you seem to be getting at is "hackers with a great aesthetic sense" - and what makes a hacker, then? An engineering background? A computer science degree? Most designers have some understanding of the platforms they're working with. Could they invert a binary tree on a whiteboard? Write an LRU cache? Scale a system to a million DAU? Usually not, but you don't need to do that to build a proof-of-concept application that people fall in love with.
A designer may be a hacker, just as an engineer may be.
That’s silly. Take Airbnb for example. It was literally started by art students. Sure there are amazing apps made by hackers, but there are also amazing apps that weren’t.
I have an aesthetic sense but I'm glad I have a (sharp, agile) designer to work with. I don't think I could come up with an entire (interesting) look and feel, and I certainly couldn't make splash art/SVG graphics. I can come up with a boring-but-aesthetic look and feel, or I can take an existing look and feel and carry it over to new views that haven't been covered yet, but there's a lot more to it than that.
I'm curious if you have examples in mind?
Looked cool and I enjoyed it, but was super fiddly to work with. It only looked great UX wise later because of the stark contrast with the thoroughly c*cked up UX of things such as Windows Media Player and iTunes on Windows.