MEET THE DEVELOPER
The Master Planner
The creator of OmniFocus finds the perfect balance between function and design.
Accomplish More Every Day
Culturally, 1980 was a momentous year. Ozzy Osbourne released his first solo album. Scorsese’s Raging Bull hit theaters. Douglas Adams published The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
It was also the year Ken Case, now CEO of the Omni Group, picked up his first coding manual.
The middle school Case attended at the time had the budget for just one computer—which meant he could use it for only 30 minutes every two weeks. Fortunately, Case’s parents saw how passionate he was about programming and bought him a machine of his own.
About a decade later, that purchase would lead to his founding the Omni Group, one of the most successful independent Mac companies today and creator of the legendary app OmniFocus and other productivity tools.
“I started writing programs to help my parents save time in their work,” Case says. “My father actually turned in one of my programs as an employee suggestion at Boeing, and it saved the company enough money that they gave him a bonus—which paid for more RAM, a floppy-disk drive, and a 40-column printer for me.” Case was still in middle school.
Even as a young programmer, Case knew that he wanted to build applications to help people. His philosophy hasn’t changed. Whether it’s OmniFocus, OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner, or any of the company’s other productivity-enhancing apps, the aim is to help people do “the things they need to do without being constantly overwhelmed.”
We have a ton of respect for the Mac community, and we try to demonstrate that in the way we work.
OmniFocus, for example, has become the task manager of choice among power users, packed with tools for slicing and dicing your task list. OmniGraffle is essential for information architects, project managers, and anyone else who needs to create stellar-looking charts and diagrams.
When you think about apps like these, design probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. To Case, however, strong design coupled with great functionality has always been essential.
“We work hard at balancing those factors,” Case says. “Without strong functionality, our apps would just be entertainment rather than tools. But that functionality has to be coupled with strong design principles that help guide people through using the app.”
Over the years, Case has become something of an industry celeb (insiders recognize him by his signature crushable fedoras, which he sources from Viennese hat purveyor Nagy Hüte). He attributes much of that to the company being in the right place at the right time, but there’s far more to it.
“We have a ton of respect for the Mac community, and we try to demonstrate that in the way we work,” Case says. The Omni Group hosted the first mailing lists focused on Mac OS X development, even before Apple hosted its own forums. It also has a long tradition of publishing free source code to help developers get started. “We’ve always tried to be very respectful of all the great work done by others.”
If a young Case were starting out today, what advice would he give to himself, knowing what he knows now?
“You’ll have far more ideas than time to act on them,” he says. “Pick a few and run with them. Enjoy the process, the great team you’re working with, and the results you’ll see when your work makes a difference in people’s lives.”