Are Designers Too Obsessed with Perfecting the Details?

A formula for when (and when not) to fight for that design detail.

Sagrada 2.pngLa Sagrada Familia, known for its exquisite details, began construction in 1882!

Whether you’re an architect fixated with the way a series of fluted ivory columns reach up to meet a ceiling full of geometric openings that let in just enough light or you’re a UX designer in love with the way the subtle shadow of an element animates and transforms to become a different page, all designers are obsessed with details.

The Biggest Problem with Agile Design (and how to fix it)

The Director and the Jedi.pngPhoto by Daniel Benavides via Flickr CC

I recently had the chance to watch The Director and the Jedi, an extraordinary documentary about the making of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and one thing was very clear from the film: Director Rian Johnson deserves a standing ovation.

While there might be some of you out there that feel like the film didn’t live up to the holy standards of The Empire Strikes Back (because it didn’t), it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t a successful movie. (It’s the 10th highest grossing film of all time for crying out loud.) So putting aside criticisms of the film itself, Rian Johnson deserves a round of applause because of the sheer amount of effort that is required to pull off a film like Star Wars.

Stop Staring at a Blank Canvas. Instead, Start Innovating like You’re SpaceX.

For most people, the beginning of a design problem is thrilling. It’s full of excitement and anticipation. You get to start with a completely blank canvas, imagining all of the wonderful things to come. The sky’s the limit. There’s just one problem — a world of infinite possibilities is actually pretty bad for creativity. We know, we know; this might sound like sacrilege to some of you. How can you possibly be creative if your wings are clipped? Shouldn’t we try to ‘think outside the box’, not shove ourselves into one? In short, the answer is no.

In my last article, I wrote about why ‘thinking outside the box’ is bad, because it implies you should forget about the constraints of your design problem. These boundaries shouldn’t be ignored; they should be embraced. They act as guardrails, preventing your designs from crashing and burning and instead keeping you on track throughout the creative process.

The best example of an innovative company embracing constraints is SpaceX. After looking over how they were able to do this, I realized that there are actually 3 superpowers that come with embracing constraints: 1) getting off to the races right away, 2) making better decisions, and 3) optimizing your time. If you’re interested in more information on these three superpowers, feel free to head back to my previous article. But if like me, you’re convinced that embracing constraints can help us be more innovative then you’re most likely asking yourself: how do I do that??

Why ‘Think Outside the Box’ Is Bad Advice

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been in a brainstorming meeting, and you’ve heard someone (usually the boss) say that everyone needs to ‘think outside the box!’ This advice is normally met with nods, yeses, and other signs of approval. And that’s because it seems to make so much sense. If you’re trying to come up with something truly innovative, then of course you shouldn’t be thinking about the problem the same way as everyone else. If you do, you’ll just end up with the same product or service as the competition. And no one wants to be a copycat when they’re trying to be innovative.

Recently this exact brainstorming scenario happened to me – even the part where I found myself nodding in approval. But the more I thought about it, the more confused I got. What exactly does this phrase ‘think outside the box’ mean? And is it actually good advice? In order to figure out this out, let’s first talk about what this phrase even means.

Think Outside the BoxPhoto by Bench Accounting via Unsplash

Finding Empathy: An Out-of-This-World Guide!

Imagine being stuck in a 1,200 square foot dome for 365 days. Sound like fun? What if that dome also had five other people? (Oh gosh, you better like those people…) And what if the only way you could communicate was through email that took 20 minutes to send? (Cue the terrible memories of dial-up sounds.) And finally, what if that dome was on the side of a volcano?? (This deal is getting worse and worse.) Well, believe it or not, this happened, and it’s one of the most incredible examples of empathy we could find.

Six complete strangers signed up to be part of a NASA-run HI-SEAS experiment to simulate what it would be like to live on Mars. The study was part psychological research, studying how humans would react to such extreme conditions, but also part design research, empathizing to design a better base for the astronauts that actually travel to Mars. While it might sound extreme, it’s really the only option for them. No one is currently living on Mars (that we know of.) So, in order for these designers to empathize with the future astronauts that will live there, they had to simulate exactly what it would be like. It’s also a great example for us. If these people are willing to go through a year of those conditions for the sake of empathy, then, surely we can take the time to find and empathize with our users.

Don’t Have Time to Read the Bestselling Book on Feedback? I gotchu.

No matter what project you’re working on, no matter what role you have, and no matter how long you’ve been doing it, giving and receiving feedback is important. This isn’t really an earth-shattering idea nor does anyone deny that. But despite the fact that everyone claims to know how important feedback is… we never really get taught how to do it and quite frankly we’re often afraid of it. This was the main reason I was so excited to read the book called “Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. And my quick feedback on the book is that it doesn’t disappoint.

thanks for the feedback

First, Let’s Meet the Authors.

Douglas and Sheila are both lecturers on Law at Harvard Law School and cofounders of Triad Consulting. They’ve worked with some pretty big time players like the White House, Citigroup, Honda, Johnson & Johnson, Time Warner, & Unilever. So yeah, they’ve got some experience working with big players and getting feedback from important people. They decided to take their experiences and break it down into an easily digestible and comprehensive look at giving and receiving feedback. Here are my 8 takeaways from the book.

The 4 Fundamentals of an Innovation Framework

baller Photo by Chelsea Ferenando via Unsplash

Learning How to be an Innovation Baller

We’re going to veer off in an odd direction, but stick with us for a minute. Let’s talk about basketball. (If you’re not a big basketball person, that’s okay; pretty much any sport will work for this, but we’re going to go with basketball). So to set the stage, let’s say you have a big game coming up against your arch rivals. Leading up to the game, you spend hours practicing your shooting and ball-handling skills. Then practicing passing, rebounding, and specific plays as a team. Game day arrives, and you are feeling pretty great at this point; there’s no way you’re going to lose. Then the whistle blows and the game begins. You’re shooting and playing defense almost subconsciously at times. You definitely haven’t forgotten everything you practiced, but in a game-time scenario, the other team is putting you in more situations than any team could possibly have practiced for. This forces you to just play the game and act on your instincts. Sometimes things go the way you want and other times, not so much.