How Not to Design: 13 Effective Ways to Fail

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Here’s a great summary of the many ways we can fail at designing, quoted from the book Understanding Design:

  1. Always cling to your first idea.
  2. Jump into the details immediately.
  3. Solve one aspect of the problem first.
  4. Ignore a stakeholder, preferably a vital one.
  5. First design the form, then sort out how the thing should work.
  6. Promise too much to the client, really inflate his expectations.
  7. Don’t listen to your client, lie to him if necessary.
  8. Be inflexible in your ideas and approach.
  9. Try to surprise your client with a completed design.
  10. Ignore any tests that say the design might be below par.
  11. Wait for inspiration.
  12. Stay ‘fresh’ by not gathering information.
  13. Do not plan (because that takes too much time).

And here’s my notes on each of them:

1. Always cling to your first idea.

Also: always cling to your first interpretation of a problem.

2. Jump into the details immediately.

That happens a lot, esp. when the designer is a milquetoast. A milquetoast designer waits for the clients to tell him what to design, while generating ideas and forming opinions are the responsibilities of designers.

You see, when you’re not busy generating ideas and helping the clients shape the product vision, it’s very easy to occupy yourself with details based on thin-ice assumptions.

3. Solve one aspect of the problem first.

It’s all about context. How the solution fits into the bigger context of the problem.

A typical example is the website. A website is usually the last step of the initial engagement with the users/customers. How they come to the website matters a lot. Improving the website might not even matter that much if the root cause of a problem lies somewhere before one visits the website.

4. Ignore a stakeholder, preferably a vital one.

Here’s another common failure: a vital stakeholder ignores the designer.

5. First design the form, then sort out how the thing should work.

The “First design the form” part is not necessarily bad, it’s the “sort out how the thing should work” part that hurts. Generating ideas about the form is sometimes very useful in the understanding or the exploration of a design problem.

6. Promise too much to the client, really inflate his expectations.

Isn’t that what many companies have been doing for centuries?

7. Don’t listen to your client, lie to him if necessary.

Paraphrase: don’t try to understand your client, trick him into believing you really understand him if necessary.

8. Be inflexible in your ideas and approach.

My experience tells me this: the design practices vary a lot and they are usually tightly coupled with the work culture where they’re applied. So whether a method or process works is subjective.

The implication is that, there’s no magical method that you can simply take and apply and then expect success. Ironically, there are so many books on innovation, design, management, etc. out there promising exactly that.

9. Try to surprise your client with a completed design.

Well, if you can do it in half an hour, maybe it’s not that bad an idea.

10. Ignore any tests that say the design might be below par.

Looks like a communication failure.

11. Wait for inspiration.

Also: wait for requirement docs.

12. Stay ‘fresh’ by not gathering information.

It’s hard to stay ‘fresh’ when, as a designer, you don’t think it’s your job to shape opinions and generate ideas.

13. Do not plan (because that takes too much time).

To design is to plan. So not planning means not designing.

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