is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
We need an upstart challenger to bring simplified, elegant interaction design to the consumer financial software market and, in no uncertain terms, to completely upset the dominance of Intuit. That company’s industry-leading software is powerful, useful and ubiquitous, but it’s also clunky, overly-accreted and no fun to use. I have a contemptuous relationship with their business accounting package, QuickBooks, whose menu item for closing an accounting file is labeled — I’m not making this up — “Close Company,” and I have only moderately more affection for its personal accounting package Quicken.
So I’m happy to see the talented folks over at Firewheel Design produce a product like Blinksale, a soon-to-be-released, Web-based invoicing tool for small to medium size businesses. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at its extremely well-designed interface, and picked up its basic principles in literally just a few minutes — five minutes from log-in to sending out my first test invoice. All told, it’s a beautiful piece of work.
Whether this product will truly be able to steal any market share from Intuit, well, I’m not so sure about that. There’s a class of small business owners for whom Blinksale will be too simplistic. One thing I learned in starting up Behavior is that the intricacies of bookkeeping can get fairly complicated fairly quickly, even in a tiny enterprise. At least in its current state, Blinksale doesn’t seem to suggest remarkable scalability, though there could well be plans to add more hooks and features shortly after launch.
Still, there’s at least another group of users for whom Blinksale will be perfect: independent contractors who create invoices on an ad hoc basis, sometimes turning out serially numbered invoices using programs as ill-suited for accounting as Microsoft Word or even QuarkXPress. These users basically improvise their own invoicing systems, and having the benefit of the coherent, elegant feature set of Blinksale is likely to be a welcome improvement.
Which makes Blinksale another example of designer-engineered software products, brought to life in part thanks to the power and elegance of Ruby on Rails. Blinksale was clearly developed neither by hardcore software engineers nor certified public accountants, but rather by design-minded individuals. It bears these origins in its limitations, but if you forgive those, it’s hard not to commend the fact that it’s a kind of software product that would have been impossible a decade ago: a superbly interfaced feature set targeting an under-served market. It may not beat the shit out of Intuit, but I hope there will be many more like it.+