Design Is Never Done

March 09, 20141 minute to read

My dad always told me that the New York Mets have never lost a game. They just run out of innings.

A more high-brow metaphor can be found in Dante Alligheri's epic poem Purgatorio. The sixth terrace of purgatory is occupied by those souls who were slothful in their earthly lives. Their punishment is to spend eternity running around the terrace without rest, never finishing.

Design has no finish line. It only has a time limit.

The beautiful thing about programming is the certainty of closure. You know you’ve accomplished your goals when the code compiles. Either it works or it doesn’t. The measure of success is concrete: the little light turns green.

There's something beautiful and comforting about certainty. The clarity appeals to the temperament of people who love solving puzzles. I've heard many developers tell me that the greatest moment of programming isn’t when they ship, or they earn a promotion, or learn a new skill. The greatest moment is when the compiler status light turns green. It means their code works, and is "done".

Design is totally different. There is no bell that rings to let you know the cupcake is ready. The measure of success for a good design is whether the user smiles when they tell people about their experience using the product. That’s almost impossible to capture mid-design.

I try to remove ambiguity from the design process and inject objective measures: brand guides, KPIs, and browser constraints. These constraints act like bumpers keeping the designer on course. Without them, we might never finish the race.