It’s no secret that people are proud of the things they make on their own. The more you’ve invested in something, the prouder you are. I love the feeling of holding something I’ve built in my own hands; the more work I put into it, the better. I love my own sketches and drawings, even if, objectively, most aren’t that great. I think the food I cook on my own tastes much better than food from a restaurant.
This doesn’t just apply to physical things. It also applies to computer work. I love writing code and letting it run, the feeling of having created something that works. I love drawing in ArtRage, creating things in OmniGraffle or Sketch, even writing text in BBEdit.
I’m much less fond of Pages, though. When I start Pages and create a new document, it asks me to pick from a template. Usually, I just pick one, and change the text to whatever I need. I’m not proud of that. I don’t own the result, I’m just riding somebody else’s coattails. True, I’m making something, but I’m not making it mine. It’ll never be mine.
I love tweaking a photo I’ve shot in iPhoto, messing with the sliders until it looks good. Conversely, I don’t like the photo apps that allow you to pick a predefined filter. I didn’t make that filter. It’s not because of me that the photo looks good. Somebody else put in the work, I just clicked on a button.
There’s an oft-repeated anecdote about cake mixes. Supposedly, they didn’t sell well until one manufacturer decided to allow people to add their own eggs, thus giving them the feeling of «owning» the resulting cake, rather than just making somebody else’s cake. The anecdote is false, but the underlying sentiment is real. It’s not your cake if you’re just putting it into the oven.
GM offers buyers of certain Corvettes the option of hand-building the engine that powers their new car. Buying a car is already an emotional experience, but imagine how much more invested in your car you become when you yourself have hand-built its engine!
When designing creative apps, the line between giving people so much rope that they can’t help but hang themselves, and giving them so little that they can’t even tie a knot in it, is often very fine. Most Corvette owners probably couldn’t build their cars from scratch, but they are perfectly capable of putting together an engine with some help from a Corvette employee.
When working on an application, think about this. Are you letting your users own the things they create, or are they just following in somebody else’s footsteps? What’s your application’s hand-built Corvette engine?
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