Understanding when to put your pencil down is a real challenge for designers. As a designer, you have to ensure you are paying attention to the right details and when a design is, well, good enough.
Sometimes designers are trapped in the limbo of pixel pushing. I remember myself spending hours and hours refining every pixel of my design without any Breakthru. I was burning my time without any results or with very small progress. I was trying not only to feed my ego, and high aesthetic needs but also, it will sound funny, to impress other designers. I needed something that would be visually appealing, that would look amazing in my portfolio, that would be just perfect.
Leonardo da Vinci once told:
Art is never finished, only abandoned.
The same goes for design. You can improve stuff for ages. But… Achieving absolute perfection may be impossible and so, as increasing effort results in diminishing returns, the further activity becomes increasingly inefficient. You just burn your time.
Robert Alexander Watson-Watt, a pioneer in the development of radar, was instrumental in creating a system to detect airplanes that many say contributed to the Royal Air Force’s 1940 victory at the Battle of Britain.
Explaining the decision to employ the far-from-perfect radar to protect the British shores, Watson-Watt said,
“Always strive to give the military the third-best because the best is impossible and second best is always too late.”
This attitude of being good enough, not perfect, has been dubbed ‘the cult of the imperfect’.
Voltaire summed the attitude nearly two hundred years earlier when he wrote,
“The best is the enemy of the good.”
So if not perfect? How we should describe the good? Good enough?
Aristotle, Confucius, and other classical philosophers propounded the principle of the golden mean, which counsels against extremism in general.
The Pareto principle or 80–20 rule explains this numerically. For example, it commonly takes 20% of the full time to complete 80% of a task while to complete the last 20% of a task takes 80% of the effort.
So how we could use the Pareto principle in our work?
While the 80/20 principle is not about “doing the bare minimum,” it is about focusing energy on what needs to be done. If 80% of your positive results flow from only 20% of your overall effort, that precious time needs to be treasured. The 20% is what we should focus on.
So here are my 5 tips on how to obtain a superpower of being efficient.
First, establish the items you are prioritizing and write to them. These can be:
- Features that you plan to implement
- Jobs to be done
- User groups or personas
- Research activities
Next, you’ll define the criteria according to which you’ll perform the prioritization. For prioritizing different ideas, the criteria could impact on the user or feasibility. For prioritizing personas, they could be the percentage of user base and ROI.
The matrix that I’ve made a while ago:
- User Frequency of usage (times per week)
- Importance to users (1 to 10 survey result)
- Complexity to design (approximate hours that I need to spend)
- Importance to business (stakeholder evaluation)
- Frogs (my sympathy to the task, I will explain that in details a bit later)
After feeling this matrix I can see which task/parts of the project are the most important & need to be addressed first.
Which parts will be the most visible, the most important to business, which of them have the biggest value to the user.
Based on those values, I create deadlines, timeframe for myself. How much time I can spend on each task/part of the project.
If you eat a frog at the beginning of every day then you could more or less ensure that it’d be the worst thing you had to do.
Each of us has a battery that drains. Tasks that we hate are requiring more will power and overall energy to do or finish. When we do stuff that we do like, we appear in “flow”, so we use less will power, I think all of you had that feeling while doing some fun job that you are in sort of trans, and even after hours of doing the work — you still had a lot of energy. So first you do the worst stuff, stuff that you hate the most that drain your will power and leave the stuff that you do like to the second part of the day.
Being aware of the details you don’t want to do, and the things you want to do can help guide you to properly prioritizing your work.
I do a safety net of “good-enough” designs, where I reach 80% , the good enough result without trying to reach perfection. For low priority tasks, I can do even the bare minimum.
E.g. when you draw illustration, there is no point to draw every detail with perfection, if you know that nobody will see those details. Sometimes you need to ditch the details to achieve the great result while doing illustration work. The same could be applied to design tasks.
It’s the core stuff that you need to get right. All those corner cases, that are “invisible” to user or business, need to be covered, but there is no need to seek for perfection.
I consider deliverable “good enough” when:
- It successfully solves the problem, addresses the need
- The quality of work is consistent with or above the level of previous work, it meets the brand’s quality standards
- It has been reviewed by other qualified individuals
After finishing all the tasks that need to be done I know that I have fail-safe solutions.
Now I can go deep into those parts that I want to polish, to make them outstanding without blowing the deadlines. Or I can do other project or any other activities.
I use that rule 80/20 also to define my weakness. If I spend on some tasks the majority of time with diminishing results, I try to master them, so net time it would take me less time.
So once again. Use your time and energy wisely. Done is better than perfect