Dallas Barnes / Design / April 29th, 2014

Designers Can Find Their Best Work By Failing – A Lot

“There is no best. Therefore a designer has to choose which is least bad.” – Matthew Carter

Last week, Geoff talked about the value of failure when starting a business, but it’s something I think has value across any discipline. Grand failures should obviously be avoided – plus, no one likes to crash and burn – but there is value in quickly moving through failed designs and arriving at a design that meets the goals of you and your client.

There is a steady movement throughout the digital industry that embraces this “Fail Fast” mindset. Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of those against it as well. However, most people tend to think that the benefits of failure extend only to people leading a new startup environment rather than designers or developers in the for-client environment.

But as a UI designer in an agency world, the Fail Fast perspective resonates quite well.

Fail Forward

For one, the word “Fail” scares a lot of people. We’ve long praised the “American Dream” and its underlying message of hard-earned success, but we often lose sight of the hundreds (or thousands) of missteps and wrong turns on the way to success.

So when I say failing, it doesn’t reflect the end result (i.e., failing to provide a successful result to a project is not ideal) and has more to do with incorrectly guessing at a design choice when A/B testing proves our assumption to be null. It’s about using successive failures as stepping stones to a good design.

Don’t Work in a Vacuum

As designers, we emotionally set ourselves up for discouragement when we fall in love with a composition that hasn’t been seen by a second or third set of eyes. One of my fellow designers recently talked about how agile development benefits the creative process, and it fits into this same notion of failing quickly.

We know that designs often change, and agile facilitates smart adjustments. Since clients and team members are frequently collaborating on all facets of the project, the design is bound to adjust or pivot based on team feedback and project development. We should view the interface design as more of a collaborative art form, and less as a solo piece.

We Don’t Have Time for Grand Failures

Reality is a harsh mistress, but in an agency environment, we may be given a month’s time to fully design an interface. Spending a day or two going back and forth with different color choices and photography because you’re not sure which one really “works” is not the best use of your time.

Rather than going back and forth on those colors, it’s far better to run an A/B test with something like Visual Website Optimizer and let solid user feedback guide your design choices. This way, you know that the design you choose delivers better results, you can apply the time you saved to other areas that may need it.

Beyond time constraints, the one variable that agency designers must always account for is the client. If a project is set at 4 weeks, you may have up to 2 days to get up to speed on all of the details of the project. Chances are good that you’ll miss a detail or two or they won’t even be brought up in the first place.

But if you can avoid holding onto your design with such a tight grip, the client will be able to supply you with valuable insights throughout the project. Since we know the client will make multiple adjustments during those 4 weeks, we can pivot the design incrementally without having to constantly go back to the drawing board for a whole new vision.

So, fail fast with the small things – it might just make the end result successful.