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Default CategoryJun 03, 2014

Don’t Be An Ostrich: Look Ahead When Design Gets Overwhelming

Chris Bobbett

The process of creating something always requires navigating numerous constraints: time, money, technology, human ability, perception, social norms, politics, and more. Additionally, you may be responsible for more than one aspect of the design: visual, interaction, and perhaps even service design. That can be a lot of design load to carry. If you ever find yourself feeling overwhelmed with design issues, I’d recommend the following approach: stop what you are doing and work on the next version of the design. It may sound counter intuitive but I have enjoyed several benefits from doing exactly this.

Benefit #1: It’s Fun

In every project I work on there comes a time (or two) when the stress of balancing numerous constraints drives me batty. I can tell when the moment arrives because the design stops progressing, I think everything is garbage and my thoughts are full of “what ifs.” That’s my cue to begin working on the next version of the design.

This is the fun part. Remove all constraints and ask yourself, “How do you want it to be?” Imagine there is no missing technology (software or hardware). Pretend all the data needed is immediately available and everyone in the world has the connectivity and bandwidth to access this solution. Now design the system/user interface/interaction. Fun, right?

Benefit #2: It’s Cathartic

For me, the design exploration not only helps me see where the design can go but also provides a lot of cognitive relief as it relates to the current design I’m working on. Just knowing there is an even better version in the future helps me deal with the natural design tradeoffs I’ll have to make in the present version of a design.

Benefit #3: You Can Show Your Client a Future That Is Even More Awesome

Most projects of any significance in scope are achieved through a series of iterative milestones. At some point in the project, a discussion will occur with your client involving how to make some part of the design better. I can’t tell you how many times this discussion occurred and I whipped out the future version of the design and it becomes a catalyst for our discussion. These discussions are usually a lot of fun because they give you an opportunity to get group input on the design while also demonstrating to the client that you are actively working on solving these issues. And don’t worry if the future design isn’t complete. My experience has shown that clients tend to appreciate the proactive work and forward thinking in helping them achieve even better results around the corner.

Benefit #4: Designing With the End in Mind

One of the best benefits of designing the next version is the solutions within them that can be applied to your current design. Knowing the path before you, even if only a little, goes a long way in helping you make decisions today that will support the direction you want to go tomorrow.

A Couple Warnings

Don’t try to solve all the problems in the future version during your exploration. You can’t. You don’t even know what all the problems are. Just make the design like you want and don’t sweat the details. This should be fun and liberating.

Also, be mindful of how much time you spend on the future version. The point of this exploration is to give you a playground to envision a future design that may help guide your current design. Think of it as a grade school recess, not a sabbatical.

Happy exploring!

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