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Ben Nadel
On User Experience (UX) Design, JavaScript, ColdFusion, Node.js, Life, and Love.

Are There "Dark Matter" Designers?

By Ben Nadel on
Tags: Work

In the engineering world, people like Scott Hanselman, Ward Bell, and John Papa sometimes talk about a cohort of developers that they call, "Dark Matter Developers". As Hanselmen described them 8-years ago, these dark matter developers:

... don't read a lot of blogs, they never write blogs, they don't go to user groups, they don't tweet or facebook, and you don't often see them at large conferences... Where are the dark matter developers? Probably getting work done. Maybe using ASP.NET 1.1 at a local municipality or small office. Maybe working at a bottling plant in Mexico in VB6. Perhaps they are writing PHP calendar applications at a large chip manufacturer.

This group of developers is "the unseen 99%" that aren't yelling into the on-line echo-chamber, chasing the "new hawtness", or worrying about which framework is better at rendering 150,000 elements on a page. They're in their office, using "boring" technologies, getting work done one day at a time, one task at a time.

In some ways, I feel like a dark matter developer. Yes, I blog a lot and I go to a meet-up occasionally. But, I love "boring". And, it takes an earthquake-level event for me to switch technologies. Getting stuff done is what drives me; and, deep familiarity with my technology is definitely my "happy place".

Dark Matter Designers?

The other day, I was on a user-interview Zoom call; and, when the conversation lulled, I asked the user, if they had one wish, what would they love to see change in the InVision platform? Their answer:

More control over PDF generation.

I am 100% certain that if I went to every Product person at work - myself included - and asked them what we should work on next, none of them would have suggested better PDF generation. Because PDF generation isn't sexy; it's not cutting edge; and, it's definitely not the thing that's going to disrupt the design industry.

But, this answer gave me a lot of pause. It makes me wonder if there are "Dark Matter Designers"? And if so, what are their needs? What would make their lives better and their work-days more efficient?

I feel like these are "my people". As a self-identified dark matter developer, I feel a natural kindred with these dark matter designers; and, I feel compelled to take care of them. So, you better believe that I've already starting thinking about more granular PDF generation: I recently added comment-filtering to prototype exports; and, just this morning, I started looking at generating PDFs with different-sized pages in Lucee CFML.

But what else could I be doing?

I spent part of the weekend working on better enterprise reporting - another decidedly un-sexy feature. And, I'm honestly beside-myself with excitement at the notion that such a small thing is actually going to blow someone's mind when I start rolling-it-out with our CFT (Customer-Facing Team).

But, what else?!

I'd love to spin up a "Dark Matter Task Force" that focuses on just this kind of stuff. We have so many people at work that are focused on where the industry is going - which is, to be clear, absolutely critical. But, I'm fascinating with the boring stuff.

Going forward, I'll be looking at life through Dark-Matter-colored glasses. And, I'm very curious to see what I discover.

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Reader Comments

Recently I used pagedjs project to get a live preview of a pdf in the browser. I think the library can be used to build an app that gives more control over the generated pdf, in the browser.

here is what I am talking about: pagedjs.org/

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While there may be dark matter designers, that seems like someone who would go crazy in the round robin project flow designers and typically have between them and those they are designing for. LOL, sounds like a bad career mix.

To the point of the blog. What you speak of here is the concept of Outward Mindset. Arbinger has some great books on this topic. Conquering the mindset is even more powerful than proven techniques.

https://www.amazon.com/Outward-Mindset-Seeing-Beyond-Ourselves/dp/1626567158

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@John,

I've not heard of the "outward mindset"; but, looking at the summary on Amazon, it makes sense. I will admit that it is sometimes extremely hard to understand other people's point-of-view. As I've gotten older, I've gotten somewhat better about this. But, it's also important - I find - to "dig deeper" into what users are asking for. Meaning, not just taking their asks at face value, but trying to understand why they are asking for such things; and, what deeper problems might be at play.

That said, it's very hard. And, I am too quick to dismiss ideas that don't align with my own internal sense of what makes sense.

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@John,

 Not so crazy. My experience is that people who spend more time listening (i.e. "dark") are very good at customer relations. In the words of a famous Yogi, "You can observe a lot by just watching." You can also learn a lot by just listening.

I'll take a look at the book suggesting, and return the favor with something complementary :
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
https://www.amazon.com/dp/0307352153/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_4jp.EbHJNTWD4

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