Jon Ferry

October 27th, 2009

How To: Make Great Things For People

At some point in your life you’ll have to create something for somebody. You become a maker. That is, you apply your creativity to build something to please someone. Whether you are a professional or an amateur, a veteran or just starting out, there are several techniques that separate a good maker from a great maker. So how do you make great things for people?

Understand the Needs of Your Customer

There’s a popular phrase in engineering: “Quality, cost, speed. Pick two.” It means a project can be well built, low cost, or completed quickly, but never all three together. Often times the customer demands all three. They have a right to. They’re spending the money. They’re going to earn a raise or promotion based on your work.

To please your customer you have to understand their needs. Unfortunately, it’s a rare case when your customer comes in with a set of prioritized goals. You’ll need to work with them to discover their needs. You should work to understand their business, what they do, and why they came to you. Ask questions. Differentiate their need to have goals from their nice to have goals.

Understand the Needs of Your Users

These are the people directly impacted by what you’re making. It’s the couple on a first date enjoying a glass of your wine. It’s the executive finalizing tomorrow’s board presentation with your software. It’s the family that’s going to grow old in the house you built.

Your goal is to provide your users with a pleasant experience. Strive to create something remarkable. Something they’ll want to tell others about. If you fall short on remarkable and deliver something good, that’s ok. It’s some of the best made things that we barely notice: the toothbrush, the cardboard sleeve on a coffee cup, the stapler, etc.

Always keep in mind that you’re making something that will affect people’s lives.

Balance the Needs of Your Customer and Your Users

Sometimes your customer and user are the same person. Other times, your customer and users are different groups, each having their own competing goals. In this case, the best makers analyze the needs of both groups, prioritize the needs, and design an approach that targets the high priority items. This takes careful thought, research, and experience, but will help narrow the scope of your work and prevent you from traveling down rabbit holes.

Resist Creativity

I know that’s a strange thing to say. It’s your creativity that separates you from other makers. It’s your creativity that lead the customer to you. Why would you want to resist it?

As makers we are constantly learning new techniques and ideas. When applied in the right context, these techniques and ideas bring success. When applied in the wrong context, they bring failure. Makers have to resist the urge to follow creativity blindly. Always remember the context and question your own direction. If you’re confident in your approach, keep following it. If you’re not confident, something’s wrong, reanalyze your approach.


Perhaps the most important thing to remember as a maker is to communicate. You’re not just creating a product or experience, you’re also creating a relationship. Communication is the key to any successful relationship.

The points made above are a framework for being a successful maker. Chances are you’ve already applied these concepts to projects you’ve worked on. Maybe you’ve applied some others as well. What’s your framework for making great things?