Bring Up a Design in the Way It Should Go

Some people talk as if you can make a product “without designing it.” That’s silly. You can’t make a product without designing it any more than you can raise a child without parenting him or her. You may parent poorly or well, but only in cases of extreme neglect could it be said that you didn’t parent at all. Same thing in making products; you either design haphazardly or deliberately, well or poorly, carefully or slothfully—but you can’t avoid Designing.

Designers are often compared to protective parents, watching over “their baby,” reluctant to take criticism of “their baby,” being proud of “their baby.” That’s all well and good—as long as you don’t spoil the child. Good design, like good parenting, requires discipline.

In parenting, one of the biggest risks is that you indulge your child’s every whim under the guise of “loving him or her.” It makes you feel good in the short term. It makes you feel liked. You may enjoy feeling like you’re a good provider because your kids “have it better than you did.” But if you overdo it, you end up with kids who can’t work for themselves, don’t respect you, and are very demanding. Not good for you, not good for them—because you won’t be there in a few years to defend and provide for them. They need to be able to stand on their own merits. The same applies to your design babies.

There is little risk that your design will start making demands on its own, but your own whims (and sometimes even good intentions) must often be curbed. Every time you add a feature, a decoration, a “little something extra”—does it really advance the design functionally or even aesthetically? Or are you “spoiling the child”? Are you adding bells and whistles in order to “keep up with the Joneses,” or are you really just building what’s needed?

Disciplined Design means knowing your audience and their needs.

It means prioritizing and setting limits (to scope, to budget, to resources).

It means saying, “No, you can’t have that right now. Maybe when you’re older.”

It means having a vision of what a product will be when it grows up, but having the patience to realize that it will take time to mature and reach that potential.

It’s saying “No” to some Good things to make room to say “Yes” to the Best things.

It’s applying tough love when your child goes astray, reining in when the design wanders off the straight and narrow path of meeting audience needs and out into the ever-shifting mists of fad and fashion.

So here’s to bringing up a design in the way it should go. Be kind and thoughtful, but also provide discipline, and maybe your “children” will bring you honor and joy, in good Biblical fashion.

posted by Ted Boren on Monday, Apr 27, 2009
tagged with design, process, discipline