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The Hipstamatic Saga Makes Us Wonder Why Designers and Developers Can’t be Friends [UPDATED]

Let's all just get along!
 The Hipstamatic Saga Makes Us Wonder Why Designers and Developers Cant be Friends [UPDATED]

Ye olde troubled waters. (Photo: flickr.com/brokentrinkets)

Fast Company decided it was time to check in on the Hipstamatic guys. How’ve things been since the Instagram acquisition made them look like the losers in the photo app head-to-head? Well, no one expected everything would be happiness and fun times. But the picture that emerges in the second installment of a three-part series on the company sounds a lot like Lord of the Flies set in Silicon Valley. 

In the very first line, CEO Lucas Buick admits that, in the last year, the company has lost focus. Twitter expressed interest in an acquisition, sources say, but the idea wasn’t taken too seriously. Attempts to transition to social have been rocky.

But it sounds like matters haven’t been helped by a cultural rift within the company. Outlined in painful detail is a gulf between the founders and the developers the employees (many of them developers) hired once the company was up and running:

As Buick tells me, his founding team, which was composed mostly of designers, “never operated [Hipstamatic] as a software company. As we started building that type of company, we ended up with really talented engineers who were not used to our creative process. There was tension. There was separation on the teams.”

No joke. Sources told Fast Company that the designer-heavy founding team referred to themselves as “the Wolfpack,” which went over about as well as you might imagine it would. Said one developer who’s since left the company: “’I shit you not: They’d actually be like, “Wolfpack is going to lunch,” or “Wolfpack just got back from Vegas,”‘ recalls Norrie. ‘It was like, good god.’”

As Fast Company tells it, the tension culminated in a fight over whether to use Adobe’s publishing platform for the company’s Snap Magazine or build their own system, wherein Mr. Buick reportedly straight-up flipped off one of his developers:

“I remember I was like, ‘You’re completely wrong. I can pull up graphs on my computer and show you how much faster we can build it,’” Soffes recalls. “And he goes, ‘I got two graphs for you.’ And then he gave me the finger in both hands.”

Another source corroborates:

“The entire company basically saw the CEO of this company give the double finger to a developer,” Wight says. “It wasn’t in jest either. It was, ‘I’m angry, so fuck off.’ Lucas walked out. That pretty much sums up the company for me. You just don’t do that as the CEO.”

It sounds like everyone involved maybe just needs to take a chill pill. As much as Betabeat cringes at the cutesy talk of “Just Keep Shipping,” this might be the one situation where we’d recommend postering the office with the motto–it certainly couldn’t hurt.

UPDATE: Former Hipstamatic developer Jonathan Wight–one of the people laid off in August, and one of the sources quoted in Fast Company‘s piece–writes in to say the conflict at the company was less a matter of design feuding with development, but rather one of founding team versus everyone else:

Designers _were_ laid off when Hipstamatic shed 1/2 their company. A more correct take on the story would be “Founders vs Employees”. All employees (excluding the PR) were laid off and all founders (friends in college) were kept – including the “director of fun”. Needless to say the director of fun didn’t make the lay off a particularly fun experience. The group laid off all tried to work together to make Hipstamatic a great product but unfortunately the leadership of the company was just frankly plain weird.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com