As important as iteration is when it comes to UX design, it’s also important to know when to stop. Too many times I have worked with designers who didn’t want to finish, who tweaked and changed and refined so much that (sometimes) the work had to be pulled away from them to be completed.
This is not the way to do it, for many reasons. First off, it makes you look indecisive and insecure… which does the whole UX discipline no favors, either. Second, it takes time away from the developers who have to execute your design, which is unfair to them.
Finally, any delay caused by excessive iteration endangers the project and could prevent ANY solution from reaching end users. The whole point of user experience design is to create solutions for people… to make their lives better. If nothing is ever “shipped”, then no one will get any benefit from what you have designed.
(This final point is especially important to me. I have worked on many projects in my time, and sometimes the project was halted before it was completed due to business decisions or budgetary reasons. Yes, the designs look good in my portfolio, but I’d rather the work benefit other people than just sit there unused.)
There’s a lot of reasons that some designers are like this… here’s some of them.
“Mr. Blue Sky”
Some of this excess iteration is driven by excessive optimism, where the designer is incredibly aspirational and wants to “change the world.” While I’m an incredibly optimistic person, I also have some perspective. The world is a very big place, and I’ve been involved in some design projects that did, indeed, make a big impact in the lives of a lot of people… but those are few and far between. We need to be realistic and temper our aspirations.
Designing for the next big thing
Lots of UX designers are, like me, fans of technology. Some of them are such fans that their designs aren’t feasible… yet. They design applications that would only work with “future tech” – advances that are being worked on in the lap, but are still months or years away from being released in the marketplace. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because we all need to dream big sometimes… but it’s not very practical if you are on a deadline-driven project. Doing this too often could also result in a reputation as having a “head in the clouds” and may impact opportunities and your career.
“Great artists ship”
This quote from Steve Jobs is one of my favorites, because it combines art and commerce in the most simple elegant way. User experience designers need to heed those worlds, and focus on results and outcomes rather than process. While I spent a lot of time in UX101 talking about process, I also tried to emphasize outcomes and deliverables as well. You have to finish, so that your visions and designs can become reality. Endless iteration means that you will never produce a final product, and that benefits no one.
“Perfect is the enemy of good”
This is another favorite quote of mine, an aphorism attributed to Voltaire. I have seen designers who iterate too much because they want everything to be perfect. Well, perfection will never be achieved, no matter how many times you tweak the details. Starting is hard… but for people with this attitude, finishing is even harder.
I’m sure if I spent more time writing I’d come up with lots more words to detail out the user experience domain… content that would (hopefully) explain more advanced techniques and information. But that would be #UX201, wouldn’t it? The point of this work is to provide foundational understanding and advice about UX to people who are new or interested in the domain. I think I’ve done that, and so I’m following my own advice: I’m letting go, and finishing.
(In fact, you can replace the words “user experience design” in the above section with “writing”, “painting”, “filmmaking” or any other creative endeavor, and most of the thoughts would still be appropriate and apt.)
This work was a labor of love – I don’t expect to get rich off of it, and in fact will be giving it away as much as selling it. The reason I did it, my “mission statement,” was to educate and inform, to hopefully get more people into the UX discipline… More practitioners mean more ideas, and more ideas means better ideas. Ideas that can raise the bar, making the quality level of the software and hardware we use better… resulting better experiences for all.
Will this happen? As noted above, I’m a practical man and I know my place in a (very big) world. Any impact will be minimal… but if this work helps even one person get into UX, or get better at their craft, then it will have been worth it.
If you have read this far, thanks! It’s up to you, now. Take these ideas, use them, and hone your skills. Design that cool UI or application that will make people’s lives better.
In the words of one of my favorite starship captains: Make it so.