Meet Mr. Cellophane

Ladies and gentleman, you are about to read a story of web development, audio engineering, humility and user experience

When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.


— Godfellas (Futurama episode)

Long before I turned my hobby of software development into a career, I spent my days (and often nights and weekends) as a professional audio engineer. I wasn’t much of one for rock-n-roll shows, instead enjoying the challenges of corporate meetings, parties and other special events. A routine moment might find me turning knobs and pushing faders at a celebrity wedding, an awards show, a high school commencement, or even a large conferences in a hotel or arena with anywhere from 50 to 15,000 people in attendance for their big event.

The feeling of power and responsibility that comes with that used to overwhelm me. Would the microphones get turned on at the right time? What if the band is too loud? Too quiet? What if there’s feedback during the emotional speech at a wedding? While that feeling faded with experience, it never fully went away.

As it faded I had more time for contemplation: What was it that I was really striving for? I found myself wondering what it meant to actually do the job well, instead of just trying to not screw up. You might think I’d look forward to compliments as folks left, or thankful remarks for the good job I’d done, but you’d be wrong.

As a conspicuous person, usually near the door that everyone walks out as they leave the venue, my number one goal became to do my job in such a way that people never even noticed me or thought about me at all.

I think that’s really what the essence of good web development (or design) comes down to: doing your job as best as possible to make the user experience flow as naturally as possible. Can your users sit down to your app and get started without watching a video, or jumping back and forth between documentation? Is it possible to design something so intuitive that even an in-app tour is rendered unnecessary?

Sure there will always be exceptions to that ideal, but I think that should be the question that developers and designers should be asking, rather than worrying, “how can I wow my user with extra animations,” or even worse, “what can I do that will show off my skills?”

Instead I think it’s time to to start building things with the attitude that serves the customer first and above all – something that we all care about, but struggle to do when our egos get in the way. So, what can you do to be more invisible?

Michael Prasuhnconfusing archeologists since 1981