Thursday, August 22, 2013

Have You Hugged your Developer Today?

Four years ago, as a newly self employed designer, I started attending PepCon. As the decision maker at my own little company, I felt it was worthwhile to spend my personal money to go to my very first professional conference. And let me tell you, it was a real stretch financially. But it so worthwhile that I keep going back.

These days, I spend a bit less time in the sessions, and more time with the developers: those nice guys at the vendor tables, quietly sitting and waiting to demo their amazing tools to anyone willing to stop by and take a look at what they've created.

But what's really great about the developers is that they're not just there to sell existing tools. They are also there to listen to the end users and find out what their needs are. Kris from Rorohiko told me once, "I'm not an InDesign user. I just write scripts for InDesign." Think at about that one for a moment.

Kris and me: InDesign plugin developer and InDesign user

So every year I spend a little less time at the sessions and a little more time chatting with the developers. And not just with independent developers. I've also met members of the InDesign engineering team. I've personally given them my list of feature requests (complete with links to blog articles with additional information), and I've personally show them reproducible bugs.

At my last PepCon, I got to meet a former InDesign team member, Ashley Mitchell, who graciously gave his permission for me to get a T-shirt printed with some of his LBOP artwork on it. (This T-shirt is a joke about using GREP styles.)

Me and Ashley Mitchell, former senior tester for the InDesign team
Also at my most recent PepCon, I managed to corner one of the InDesign engineers right after the Meet the InDesign Team session. I think he handles the code for a part of InDesign that I wanted to see improved. I was chatting with this developer recently and he said "Oh, you did that thing on patterns at the InDesign smackdown." He was talking about my Ignite session! He remembered me from the conference!

Slowly but surely, some of my ideas for InDesign tools are becoming reality. Today I discovered that an obscure bug I had personally shown to an InDesign engineer at PepCon two years ago has been fixed in InDesign CC. It took my breath away to see that they had fixed it. Here's what they fixed:
"In the Find/Change dialog box, under Conditions, the scroll bar doesn't scroll with the mouse scroll wheel. It just jumps all the way from the top to the bottom. It should scroll properly."
I think only about 5% of InDesign users ever use conditional text. And probably a very small fraction of those will ever have enough conditions in a single document to warrant a scroll bar in the Find/Change dialog box. So the amount of people who would ever experience this bug is very small. But perhaps the fix was a quick and simple one. I don't know, as I am not a developer. But I know people who are!

So if you want feature improvements to InDesign, start coming to PepCon and hang out with the developers. Develop friendships with them, encourage them, write articles about the awesome tools they make. While I think that petitions and survey sites can be useful tools for making your needs known, I've personally gotten a lot more accomplished by simply having relationships with the people who can build the tools I need. In doing so, I am more than just a signature on a petition or three votes on a survey site. I am a friend. And friends help each other out with projects that may not be huge money makers.

I don't know what developers make on the plugins that I conceive and beta-test. And I will never ask. But I have tools now that a few years ago, I could only dream of.

So if you have plugins that you want, go befriend some developers. And I think it doesn't hurt to bring some chocolate or other goodies just to make what you have to say more memorable.