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37signals Manifesto

Planted 02022-01-19

The 37signals manifesto was our original site from 1999-2001. It’s a collection of 37 nuggets of online philosophy and design wisdom. It’s a great introduction to the 37signals’ school of thought and a fun, quick read to boot. — 37signals

Start here

The web should empower, not frustrate

We design visual interfaces (what people see and how they use it) for web sites and applications. We focus on making sure these sites are both useful and easy to use.

How you fit in

We work with smart clients who understand that it’s the customer, not org-charts or office politics, that matters most. These clients are hard to find, so when we get them we treat them well.

This site is a look into our minds

Inside you’ll find our philosophy for simplicity in design, our influences, and ideas that drive us.

We See people


Sounds like a bunch of junkies or gigolos, doesn’t it?

The people who visit web sites aren’t “users,” click-throughs, hits, numbers on a spreadsheet, or some other form of dehumanizing jargon. They’re your husband, your mom, your friend, the guy who sits in the cube next to you. They’re real PEOPLE, just like you and me.

That’s why we think a successful site is one that makes real people’s lives easier; One that makes them say, “This site worked for me.” So we’ve made it our mission to ensure this kind of experience at the sites we build. At 37signals we don’t see users, we see people.

Manager of External Reporting?


A tight group of four dedicated to the craft of interface and customer experience design.


  • Associate Producer
  • Business Applications Analyst
  • CE Production Manager
  • Content Engineer
  • Desktop Support Specialist
  • Elite Application Specialist
  • European Sales Liaison
  • Front-End Technology Engineer
  • Knowledge Journalist
  • International/Consolidations Accountant
  • Managing Architect
  • Manager of External Reporting
  • Operations Architect
  • Site Builder
  • Special Projects Analyst
  • Traffic Coordinator
  • VP/Director of Pricing


How do I?

Most people can’t even figure out how to program their VCR. So how are they supposed to figure out the “cutting-edge” technology that so many major sites impose on people? A: They won’t.

The web gives people an omnipresent exit door and they won’t hesitate to use it. If your business depends on your site, you better be damn sure it’s easy for people to use your site and find what they’re looking for. We’ll help you.

Not Full Service

We’re designated hitters

We don’t do your database integration. Or your search engine submissions. Or your online media buying. We do interfaces and the strategy behind them.

Why? Because we think companies that claim they can do everything actually excel at nothing. That’s why we choose to do one thing and do it right.

Size Does Matter


Wouldn’t you want your project to be 1 of 1 or 2 rather than 1 of 10 or 20?

We’re small and we like it that way. It gives us the ability to turn on a dime, deliver projects quickly, and dedicate extraordinary attention to your assignment.

Our size allows us to work on projects we want to do rather than projects we have to do. Plus we can all fit in one cab if we squeeze.


Source: “Holiday ‘99 E-Commerce: Bridging the $6 Billion Customer Experience Gap,” a report by Creative Good

Don’t become a statistic

“39% of shoppers in user tests failed in their buying attempts because sites were too difficult. This rate of failure could result in a loss of more than $6 billion for online retailers this holiday season.”

Are They Experienced?

We’ve been designing sites since the web’s commercial inception back in 1994. That’s back when most designers thought a <TD> was some sort of football statistic. Ever since, we’ve been pushing the boundaries of HTML and innovating techniques that are commonplace today. We’ve got big game experience and we’re money in the red zone.


The members of the 37signals team have performed work for a wide range of clients such as:

(TL Note: omitted)

And I Quote

In most agencies, account executives outnumber the copywriters two to one. If you were a dairy farmer, would you employ twice as many milkers as you had cows?

David Ogilvy

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Edmund Burke

Simplicity does not mean want or poverty. It does not mean the absence of any decor, or absolute nudity. It only means that the decor should belong intimately to the design proper, and that anything foreign to it should be taken away.

Paul Jacques Grillo


37signals is a company of refugees.

We’ve worked for the big guys (, Disney Online, Organic Online, THINK New Ideas, Quokka Sports, among others) and left because we felt we could do better.

Now it’s our turn.

Copy Righting

Would you read it if you didn’t write it?

Nearly all corporate sites commit the sin of dullness in their writing. It’s as if the clients and their consultants believe that if the design is good, all is good. Not so.

Writing is not the place to skimp on your budget. Seduce me, entice me, entertain me with words. Don’t be cryptic, don’t be stupid, and please don’t be dull.

Inspiration: Jeffrey Zeldman

Occam’s Razor

One should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything.

Eight Seconds

“Remember the eight-second rule. Consumers have eight seconds worth of patience while waiting for your pages to load. This is especially true for home pages. It’s like the restaurant business mantra: Don’t keep them waiting, or they’ll leave and never return.”

#1 from “Usability Checklist” at

  • Dean Kamen
  • Andy Law
  • Steve Prefontaine
  • Michael Jordan
  • Vladimir Nabokov
  • Steve Jobs
  • Gary Larson
  • Charlie Parker
  • Antonio Gaudi
  • The Coen Brothers
  • John Lennon
  • Jim Henson
  • David Ogilvy
  • Nikola Tesla
  • Alan Turing
  • Richard Feynman

Thanks to those who leave the breadcrumbs in the forest. Who knows where we’d be without them.


NetSmart Research reports that 83% of web users have left sites in frustration due to poor usability. Unintuitive navigation and sluggish performance were reported as the main culprits.

Doesn’t that make you mad?

Short Story

It’s better to tell a short story well, than a long one poorly.

No Awards Please

37signals does not enter award competitions.

We believe that the marketing and communication awards “industry” encourages agencies to misplace their priorities on the opinions of their peers, rather than the needs of their clients’ customers.


Enough of all this serious stuff. Let’s have some fun.


“Look, we don’t want to waste your time…or ours.

You must be determined to create massive economic results in the next 10 minutes. Ready? Then read on.”

“Fantastic!” -Jeffrey Veen,

“Awesome awesome awesome!…The best Web-industry spoof site ever created.” -Mark Hurst, Creative Good

“Very funny. Too true.” -David Weinberger, Cluetrain

And see what the New York Times said.

Suits Who?

We’re not fond of salesmen.

That’s why we don’t have any. Call us and you’ll talk with someone who’s an expert at building web sites, not at selling you something you don’t need.

Call “bigwebshop” and you’ll get a new business development manager or someone else who knows little about the web. This may help increase their sales but what does it do for you?

At 37signals, we keep it real. No used cars. No snake oil. No miracle cures or fad diets. Just an honest take on what your web site should be and what it will cost. Refreshing, isn’t it?



  • Simple for sale
  • We See People
  • Enemies of Mediocrity
  • Putting the Pixels in the Right Place
  • Megahaard
  • Web sites my mom could use
  • We’re Only Human
  • Extraordinary web sites for ordinary people
  • Simplicity By Design
  • Signal vs. Noise
  • Web sites for people who can’t program their VCRs
  • We Put the “Dig It” in Digital

A not “Q”

We design web sites, not gadgets for James Bond.

Many of our peers do their best impersonation of Q, toying with flashy plug-ins and “next generation” technology.

We don’t care about being the first to use the newest web gizmos. We believe in being thoughtful and providing the simplest, best possible solution for our clients.

You don’t need a pen that’s also a parachute, you need a web site that works for the people who use it.


Other companies talk about the importance of designing for the B2B, B2C, C2B, or B2C2B market. We don’t.

The truth is corporations don’t use web sites, people do. B2whatever, we’ll design a site that works for the person on the other end.


A list of unsolicited 37signals sightings from around the world. We say thanks.

(TL Note: omitted)

My Cousin’s Buddy is a Web Designer

Then let him do it.

The money you save by using your cousin’s buddy is nothing compared with the cost in time and money required to undo his mistakes.

Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

  • Scrolling news ticker
  • Spinning logo
  • Frames
  • Beveled Buttons
  • Pictures
  • Splash page
  • Music
  • Banner ads
  • 3D
  • Virtual reality

None of these things are inherently bad. There is no evil in any one of them. The problem is that many of these things are used because they can be rather than because they should be.

Sure, there are times when light type on a dark background is appropriate, but we don’t think “it just looks cool” is reason enough.

37signals believes that “hip” and “legible” don’t have to be mutually exclusive. We love “cool” as much as the next person, but we also realize that part of our job is to make people’s lives easier, not harder.

Make it Useful

“Usability is always secondary. It’s never the most important thing about an experience. I will accept poor usability if I get what I need, if the total experience is great. I will reject perfect usability if I am not rewarded with a useful, engaging experience.”

— Donald Norman himself, author of “The Design of Everyday Things”

Usability isn’t enough

Usability this, usability that. With all the talk about usability people sometimes forget the other “u” word, usefulness.

You can have the most usable site in the world but if it doesn’t provide a useful, helpful service, you’re just wasting your visitor’s time. And, when your visitors are frustrated, your competitors are their best friends.

So please, be usable and useful.

Simplicity by Design

  • Lightbulb
  • Teapot
  • Pencil
  • Frisbee
  • Post-It Note
  • Paperclip
  • Brick
  • One-button Mouse
  • Paper
  • Airplane Wing
  • Magnet
  • Lego
  • Spring
  • Screw


Goods received by a merchant for one (1) Viceroy tulip:

  • Eight fat swine
  • Twelve fat sheep
  • 63 gallons of wine
  • 60 kegs of beer
  • 30 kegs of butter
  • 1000 lbs. of cheese
  • A silver drinking-cup

In the late 1500s, tulips were introduced to Holland. The flower was considered so rare that wealthy aristocrats and merchants tripped over themselves to buy them. Speculation ensued and the flower became wildly overvalued.

In 1637 the tulip trade crashed. People who thought of themselves as extremely rich were reduced to poverty overnight.

Trends are temporary. Don’t just do something because everyone else is doing it – do something because it makes sense.

Linkin’ Logs

The internet gives strength to individual voices. The following sites are not only entertaining, they represent the power that each of us has in shaping the message of this medium.


We know, we know…you need it done yesterday. We’re all living in web time now and it’s redundant to even bother saying a project needs to be done ASAP.

At 37signals, we forgo the bloat and bureaucracy that plagues our industry. We don’t have red tape or 5 layers of management. When you talk to us, you talk to us – not someone representing us.

We’re sharp, efficient, and pay attention to the details. It’s amazing what a difference this can make.


Highest Common Denominator

Steve Jobs, Apple CEO and co-founder on building a tight team of very talented people:

“…I found that there were these incredibly great people at doing certain things, and you couldn’t replace one of these people with 50 average people. They could just do stuff that no number of average people could do…small and medium-sized teams of these people could accomplish extraordinary things and run circles around large teams of normal people.”

What’s in a Name?

Mankind constantly analyzes radio waves from outer space in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Since this analysis started, almost all of the signal sources have been identified. 37 signals, however, remain unexplained.

Our Team

The Bio

37signals, located in Chicago, designs interfaces for web sites and applications. Pioneers of minimalistic, user-friendly designs, we have worked on projects for Qwest, Tenzing, Performance Bike, FOX Sports, and We have also garnered significant attention for internal projects like Signal vs. Noise, eNormicom and Kicksology.

Our work has been featured in the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Chicago Tribune, and numerous other publications. We have also appeared as featured speakers at AIGA Risk/Reward, Activ8, South By Southwest, and other conferences. We also launched the AIGA Chicago Experience Design Group.

We Come in Peace

Be not afraid.

We’re not racing to IPO; Big billings are not what drives us.

What drives us is the knowledge that the everyday person is seeing only the smallest glimpse, 1/100th at best, of the full potential of interactive media today. To most folks, the web is a scary place. Our mission is to change that perception.

Signal vs. Noise

Our soapbox

Signal vs. Noise is our weblog with ongoing dialogue and musings on the web world, design, entertainment, politics and whatever else we feel like talking about on that given day.

It’s what’s on our mind.


There’s got to be more out there.