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Michael Lopp - The Engineer, The Designer, And The Dictator - DrupalCon Portland 2013

Check out the DrupalCon Portland notes hub page for notes from other sessions at DrupalCon Portland.

Keynote: The Engineer, The Designer, And The Dictator

Presenter: Michael Lopp

Day - Time Slot: Thursday, May 23 - 09:00am–10:15am

Twitter: rands
Web site:

Session page


Michael Lopp brought a very different and important perspective to DrupalCon. The perspective of the product(The question of whether Drupal IS a product is still up for debate).


  • Your job has an expiration date.
  • Resumes - They show how we bore easily.
  • After three years we say want’s next. What problem am I going to solve next.
  • Michael said he was bored at Apple 6 months before he left
  • You are three years away from building something new

The Engineer, The Designer, And The Dictator

  • The Engineer(makes it work)
  • The Designer(makes it work for humans)
  • The Dictator(make sure it gets done)


  • Without an Engineer you have chaos
  • Tron Legacy(worlds longest screensaver with a great soundtrack) was designed for engineers
  • Have the false idea that there is a perfect system
  • The engineering mindset. Striving to reduce chaos because it’s inefficient
  • Believe there is a right and wrong answer that can be discovered
  • Prepare for the unexpected by being paranoid.
  • Go to insane lengths for marginal efficiency
  • Love signal and hate noise
  • None of this is work, it’s how engineers work
  • Urge to build a new thing. Every three years.
  • Facebook, Quora, and Google all have engineers for CEO’s

The Designer

  • Humans will use the product
  • File save. Why the word save? Because we are waiting for something to explode
  • What are we saving it from? The engineers
  • Kernel panic / BSOD
  • Engineer’s are not the product’s target audience
  • Without designers you get the old gmail UI
  • Fundamental tension: Who owns the product?
  • What is a designer? NOT someone who knows Photoshop
  • A good designer’s traits:
    • Understand
    • Translate
    • prioritizing focusing and describing what users want
    • surprising and delight users to exceed to expectations
  • Panic Software (Creator of Coda)
  • Cabel designed Coda in photoshop first
  • Figuring out exactly what users want
  • Experts in designing the want
  • Delighting users: Setting the first impression of the product(Apple packaging)
  • Designers have the same urge as engineers. The urge to build a thing
  • Fundamental tension: Designers vs Developers - Battle between art and science
  • So who owns the product?

You Need a Dictator

  • You get nothing without a dictator
  • Over engineering(A twitter for dogs)
  • Beautiful design but it doesn’t work(Outsourced engineering ending up with 50% of what you wanted)
  • You need a moderator, and decision maker
  • Dictators know what they want
  • Dictators make a decisions
  • Dictators need to be experts

Dictator Examples

  • Popular dictator: Steve Jobs
  • Tosh: Webstock in Wellington in New Zealand
    • She wants to make sure you feel Awesome. “You are Awesome”
  • Steve Ballmer is not a dictator. Bill Gates was a dictator

A Good Dictator

  • A Good dictator kills inconsistency from politics
    • Consistency - Steve Jobs - “The Fear”
    • VP’s were afraid of fear
    • Kept big egos in check
  • Kills ambiguity
    • Steve Jobs killed the clones. The Grid. Moved from 16 products to 4
    • Shortened the product cycle
    • Why is this a problem? IBM, Oracle, and HP are no longer product companies.
  • Creates Velocity
    • Dictators can say No.
    • Why do we care about velocity? We have to ship it. Speed matters
    • Jobs abstracted the file system on iOS. No save
    • Force of nature because they know what they want


  • You are in a hurry
  • You are horrifically bad at something. What is it?

Q & A

  • Engineer is catch all for programmer/developer
  • Is there is place for a dictator in Open Source? What do want out of your product? Dictators speeds things up. You probably need an auditor. This is a very continuous topic.
  • How do you grow and produce dictators? Need a validation process and a way to eject them if they are not doing well.
  • Should Drupal 9 have a design lead, engineering lead and more leads? Maybe they can be micro dictators.
  • What is the right mix of designers and engineers? Do a survey to find out? Is it easier to use? Does it meet your needs?
  • Business cards are dead. Resumes are next: Resume is really a press release. The digital signature is the repos and blogs you have in public.

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Published by Bob Kepford

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