Over the years as I’ve worked on projects, I have had a lot of thoughts about the nature of iteration when it comes to UX and design. Iteration has actually taught me a lot about the design process as well as about life in general: the right solution is always a product of trying something, failing, learning, and then trying again. Trial and error. It’s the iteration process that makes the design (and ourselves) better over time.
Kill Your Darlings
When you get too attached to a specific design or solution, that’s a good sign that it’s time to move on. As designers, we are constantly looking to design the best solution to the problem at hand, and for better or worse (usually worse), sometimes we think we’re pretty good at doing so right out of the gate. On one of my first projects in an agency setting, this was me. I had designed something that I thought was fantastic, but it wasn’t resonating with the team, and I could sense I would have to change it, and I was resisting that. But their feedback was good. Their points were valid. The design didn’t work!
I had no choice but to kill my darling design and start from a new angle. And you know what? It came out much better than before. As designers, we need to be flexible enough to take feedback and iterate on our designs. It’s rare that the first idea you’ll come up with is the best one, so if you embrace iteration, every design you create will get you closer and closer to the best solution to the problem at hand.
“Sometimes you need to go down a rabbit hole…”
Something I heard from one of my colleagues has continued to resonate with me. I’m paraphrasing, but it was something along the lines of, “Sometimes you need to go down a rabbit hole to realize you’re not a rabbit”. It’s a humorous angle to a well-known adage about iteration, but that specific wording made a lot of sense to me.
Sometimes when we’re designing, it’s easy to get so deep into a design that you don’t want to give up what you’ve done, even if it’s not the right way to solve a problem. But even though you might spend a lot of time on something that doesn’t end up working, that’s okay! That process was fruitful regardless, because now you know what doesn’t work. That can be just as or even more valuable than designing something that works right off the bat, because now you know not only that that design doesn’t work, but you also know why it doesn’t work, which can help you in later stages of the project.
The enemy of the good
The French philosopher Voltaire is attributed to a phrase (though it’s unknown to me where it came from) that I have tried to keep close to heart in my design career: “The perfect is the enemy of the good”. I tend to be a perfectionist in my own work, and a lot of times that leaves me spinning my wheels and not getting anywhere, afraid that I might waste time working on something that might not be the perfect design solution. But what Voltaire said all those years ago is a valuable lesson for any designer.
Just because your proposed design isn’t perfect doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go for it. Sure, we would all like to create something perfect, but if we wasted all of our time thinking about the perfect solution, we would miss out on the opportunity to create a good solution, or many good solutions. After all, it’s better to have a good solution on the table rather than have a perfect solution that’s still in your head.
Step by step
Iteration is the key to being a designer. You have to have the courage to put something on the page, even if it’s bad, because even that bad something will help you eventually get to a good something. And we can dream about a perfect solution to our own design problems, but while we work and sweat and spin our wheels trying to create the perfect design, we’ve wasted time that we could have been putting other good ideas on the table. We also have to be willing to scrap the whole thing and start over, but learn from that experience and let it inform our next attempt.
Just like in life, it’s nearly impossible to get something right the first time. But through iteration we improve, and as we improve, we get closer to the answer we’re looking for. I welcome failure in my life, because every time I fail, I know that I’m one iteration closer to success. So to all you designers out there, I encourage you to be brave, put something on the page, and smile when it fails. You’re that much closer to your goal.