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The Long Hard Stupid Way

The long, empty road ahead

You see a long, empty, desolote road; we see an opportunity to pogo across America

I think we’re all idiots at Primate. A little for starting up a web agency in a time of economic instability, slightly because of some genetic form of mental retardation, but mainly because we take the most time consuming way possible to solve every problem we encounter. It’s a phenomenon known as the long, hard, stupid way. And we’re most definitely stupid.

As a businessman, I don’t know why we do it. It would be quicker to fling every site we build onto a CMS like WordPress, easier to use dirt cheap hosting, faster to combine together every open source tool imaginable without thought into some horrendous Frankenstein’s monster of an end product… but we don’t. It’s sheer lunacy really and a mentality that leads to suggestions like building our very own WYSIWYG editor, an idea so utterly fucking stupid that it can only be matched by my ridiculous suggestion of a new government run by a trinity of one exceedingly smart, one exceedingly buff and one exceedingly hot person (an idea, which I must confess, deep down I still think has merit).

As a craftsman though, the benefits of the long, hard, stupid way are obvious. The attention to detail is second to none, the function and usability is precise and measured, the design and content is well-thought out, has meaning and connects with the user and, not to mention, the final overall quality of of the end product is incredibly high.

by turning a process into a labour of love we imbue it with characteristics and qualities beyond the mere technical or tactical

But aside from these clear advantages though, there are also a lot of subtle and less obvious ones. Human beings have some innate desire to achieve perfection and, regardless of whether or not we strive for it individually, it’s a quality that we admire and respect in others. It’s this psychological facet that Frank Chimero discusses in his talk about the long, hard, stupid way and how by turning a process into a labour of love we imbue it with characteristics and qualities beyond the mere technical or tactical. By pouring our hearts and souls into everything we do we not only receive pleasure but also give joy to the end user because, ultimately, it is all of those little things, the subtle nuances, the last the one percent of extreme effort that people do notice and do care about it.

The mantra of the long, hard, stupid way is not about ignoring open source software or existing frameworks or conventions (the right tool for the job and all that), rather it’s about making sure everything is absolutely perfect, right down to the smallest detail, and not compromising in your vision using sub-par components because it happens to be quicker or easier. It’s about taking pride in your work and finding joy in crafting every tiny component and piece of the puzzle, enjoying the actual process itself rather than simply the financial rewards at the end.

For us this means making sites responsive when they don’t need to be, implementing baseline CSS so every tiny piece of text sits just oh so right, making custom images for every single blog post we write, and crying ourselves to sleep at night because that damn bespoke WYSIWYG editor just won’t bend to our collective programming will. For others it means making a Mac Book with a light that pulsates to the exact rhythm of the human heart, designing an Amazon logo that has an arrow that just so happens to connect A to Z, and painstaking drawing a portrait using 3.2million individual dots.

Guess that means that there are plenty of other idiots out there who follow the long, hard, stupid way too.

Photo credit: John Rawlinson

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Author: Gordon McLachlan

Gordon is uncomfortably good looking.




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  1. Pete Schuster January 13, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    One of the first articles you’ve written that I’ve not only disagreed with but scoffed at entirely. The web without the open source community is nothing. I do agree that writing your own code, scripting your own plugin, programming your own module has its advantages. It ultimately helps you learn more about what you’re doing and how similar examples work.

    When it comes to writing your own WYSIWYG, or your own CMS, that truth should remain in practice. You’re essentially locking your clients into this system that they can’t get out of without breaking their site. The advantage of open source, is not that its free, its that its OPEN. Its well documented, hundreds if not millions of people have tested it, used it, contributed to it, and thus made it stronger than any code you could write as a small, closed team. You’ve made some comments before about WordPress, but its the most popular CMS / blogging platform out there because the quality of its code is so high. You’re in for a longer, harder, stupider road ahead if you continue to dismiss open source code just because you think you can do better.

    • Gordon January 13, 2012 at 4:44 pm

      You’re right, of course, and perhaps the article came across as being anti open source which wasn’t the intention at all. WordPress is great – this very blog is WP – and the Internet just wouldn’t be the same without it and other open source platforms. The mantra of the long, hard, stupid way isn’t to ignore everything that has come before but rather (in my opinion) to pick the right tool for the job without compromise. The allure of open source is often it’s speed and ease to implement but, as a negative, that can cause an amalgamation of tools that don’t quite fit together and are a bit disjointed. Our WYSIWYG editor is a great example of something where it would’ve been easier to use an open source tool (much, much easier) but we didn’t believe the end result would’ve been quite as good. It was our call and, yeah, business wise it may end up biting us in the ass. I mean, don’t forget, it’s called the long, hard, stupid way for a reason ;)

    • Lele March 1, 2017 at 7:33 am

      Kick the tires and light the fires, problem ofclaifliy solved!

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  2. Justin L. January 13, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    The only thing I would add is that we have to be careful not to create a false dichotomy. Very rarely is it an either-or situation that we encounter in our work. More often than not, I take what is open-source and then cut, chop, slice and bend to my will so that my clients get a quality, tested product, that is built on open technology and designed for their needs, and I utilized a time-saving platform where all the hard work is already done.

    Nearly all of my projects are a mix of open-source and custom builds. The mixture is completely dependent on many things, but all of that is chosen at the beginning of the project. In your WYSIWYG example, I most likely what have adopted the best, existing open-source project and then modified it to fit my needs. Not saying what you did was right or wrong, just that the false dichotomy can be an alluring reality.

    > by turning a process into a labour of love we imbue it with characteristics and qualities beyond the mere technical or tactical

    Just make sure that it doesn’t turn into an ideology that binds you to choices made external to the reality of the context. Remember, you are in business, and there is no business without at least some profit :)

    • Gordon January 16, 2012 at 11:52 am

      Pragmatically, you’re totally right and the best course of action is to be sensible and practical, take what you need from open source and build what you need to in order to produce the best overall product. The article wasn’t meant to be anti-open source, just exploring the concept of perfectionism and the results. What I didn’t mention, for instance, was our heavy use of JQuery, backbone.js, Ruby on Rails etc, all of which are open source.

      However, I’m also a bit torn in general because great products – and very profitable ones – have been spawned out of the concept of the long, hard, stupid way. Just look at Apple and Steve Jobs. He’s a great example of someone who pushed without compromise and the result was some incredibly well engineered products (with little touches like the LED pulsing to the human heart beat on the Mac Book) that made vast amounts of money. It just wouldn’t have been the same had Apple used cheaper, quicker, standard off-the-shelf components.

  3. matt January 17, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    but your not steve jobs… thats what you have to remember.

    but i do totally get what your saying

    • Espen Brunborg January 17, 2012 at 8:06 pm

      Gordon’s not Steve Jobs, for sure, but Steve Jobs was just a person, just like the rest of us. He embraced ideals that are available – and applicable – to all industries.

      • Gordon January 17, 2012 at 11:34 pm

        That aside, he was also renowned – and even a little infamous – for being extremely tough with people over quality and precision. He didn’t compromise, ever.

  4. [...] following our truly insane mantra of the long hard stupid way, we came up with this idea for creating a new CMS, our own CMS, where editing content was [...]

  5. [...] in mind that we are self-confessed followers of the long, hard, stupid way [...]

  6. O Kong, Where Art Thou? | 8 Gram Gorilla December 6, 2012 at 12:41 am

    [...] particularly when we’re idiotic enough to follow the perfectionist principle of the long, hard, stupid way. Cue example of us spending an entire month building our very own text [...]

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