Paul McAleer

The king

Paul McAleer

"You come at the king, you best not miss."

Ten years ago, an amazing opportunity came my way. I knew someone who knew Jason Fried at 37signals and, as it turned out, the company was hiring a "web designer" at the time. She got me on the docket and I was invited to participate in their hiring process.

To say I was beside myself was an understatement. I was incredibly excited: they were doing amazing work (and remember, this was in their client days) and they clearly Got It. I wanted in, badly.

I remember sitting in my home office talking to Jason Fried about the design challenge that was the first round of the process. They asked everyone to redesign the front page of Verizon Wireless's website. We were given very few restrictions other than a due date and file requirements. And that was that.

It was a tough job. The current site was a hot mess. I started researching the big features of the current site. Text messaging was big and sending texts from the web was a novel idea. Why not bubble that up to the front page? And then there was the problem of current customers having lots of questions, but putting a FAQ on the front page wasn't suitable. I gathered the biggest questions, put them in plain English, and then slapped them into a dropdown. (Ah well.)

The visual hierarchy gave a lot of prominence to promotions, as the current site had, but the sidebar (remember those?) included the most relevant functions: Shop, Pay Your Bill, Contact Customer Service. It was service-oriented.

I wrote up a short blurb on my rationale and sent it off before the due date. And I got a rejection notice.

A bit later, 37signals posted all of its 7 finalists on its blog and solicited feedback, although they had chosen a "winner" internally. I naturally read the comments, and was happy when a couple of people said they liked mine the best aside from the rough visuals. And thanks to the Internet, here is my design.

Ten years ago, that cell phone was the shit. Check out my basic wireframe-esque design! (And a typo!)

Ten years ago, that cell phone was the shit. Check out my basic wireframe-esque design! (And a typo!)

But there was a clear winner and it turned out to be the page designed by Ryan Singer, who is still at 37signals today.

Even though I didn't get the job, I'm still proud of the work I did. While I saw this as a visual design challenge back then, it truly was a more holistic experience test. I look back and see proto versions of the tools and practices I employ today: understanding what a site (or app, or...) needs to do in order to support its users. And it's also just fun to see what I was working on ten years ago.