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August 8, 2012

How 37 Signals Missed a Trick with the new Basecamp Design - It's not Responsive

Published: 8 August 2012 

Pretty Vs Ugly

When 37Signals unveiled their ‘new’ Basecamp late last year I was most impressed with the new look and feel. Let’s face it, Basecamp classic could have won an award for world’s ugliest web application. It’s not surprising that any change was a step in the right direction. Here's the fancy new design complete with smiling faces as seen on the 'Progress' page (used to be called the timeline).


And here's the old basecamp timeline, wow what an unwelcome trip down memory lane. Ugly.


As ugly as the old version used to be, you could actually get a whole lot more information on one page than is possible in the new and 'improved' version of Basecamp. Yes all of those smiling faces are taking up way too much vertical real estate and result in much scrolling if you want to flick through the day's progress.

This is but one example of where style over substance seems to have won out in the new Basecamp design, which leads me to the question. What is going on with responsive web design in the world of web applications?


The world of 'everyday' web design, particularly WordPress sites, is awash with fancy new responsive designs that re-size based on the browser window size in which the pages are rendered. In fact you can buy beautifully crafted, responsive themes online for as little as $35. Mobile browsing is driving the trend as more and more people surf on mobile phones and tablets. Checkout this responsive theme demo. Click through and if you're on a desktop try re-sizing your browser window size and see what happens. Cool hey? Now jump on your mobile device  (or just browse?) and see how the elements render to be optimised for small form factor display.

It's not Responsive

Back to the world of the big time web apps. It's understandable that large web apps like Basecamp and Mailchimp might find the task of implementing a responsive design a little daunting. However, considering the new Basecamp was only launched in late 2011, one really has to wonder why the brains at 37 Signals didn't weave some kind of responsive smarts into their new design. It's actually not even running any kind of basic mobile template.

Referring back to the screenshot of the new progress timeline, if we take the smiling faces out of the equation, imagine how much more usable the timeline would be if the full width of a large browser window was made available by unwrapping multiple lines of text up onto a single line, if and when screen width allowed? This would be a much better experience in my books and it's just one simple example of how a basic responsive design can improve usability.

Here's hoping the big boys can take a leaf out of  of the WordPress developer community and embrace and implement some responsiveness into their designs as they evolve and update. Sorry Basecamp, but you really missed a trick with that new design.

Hint Hint...

I wonder what we've got planned for the Matter Solutions website design in the not to distant future? Yep, we're excited!

Ben Maden

Read more posts by Ben

2 comments on “How 37 Signals Missed a Trick with the new Basecamp Design - It's not Responsive”

  1. Hi, I'm Josh from I find it pretty frustrating that the new Basecamp doesn't have Mobile support for iPhones. I have to use my computer to add and tick off day-to-day work tasks. Would be nice to have it on my phone. I've emailed 37 Signals about it and they have no specific date or plans to roll it out - but it works on the iPad "they say".

  2. Josh, Agreed! a mobile template is a bare minimum as far as I'm concerned. 37 Signals correct in that the site works on iPad, in fact it works on iPhone, the problem is it's not optimised.

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