Human beings consistently struggle with perfectionism -- the idea that everything we do has to be right on the first try, or else we have failed.
Consciously, we know better. We realize that perfectionism causes more problems than it solves. Even so, creative professionals still have trouble putting "good enough" into practice.
Web design projects, in particular, seem to be a magnet for delays, unexpected hiccups, and ever-expanding launch dates, all of which make life more difficult for clients and agencies alike.
We are no longer living in an era where delays on projects are excused as acceptable or even inevitable. Deadlines are no longer suggestions -- they're set in stone. Speed is now the most valuable currency of business, and the rapid pace of technological innovation means your competitors are pushing new products and new ideas into the market faster than ever.
In this landscape, we all have to learn to let go of old habits -- especially (my fellow) web designers. We hate having our wondrous visions restricted by pesky things like time, budget, and reality -- yet many of us struggle for a way to make new and better habits.
As you learn more about how GDD can change your life as a web designer, keep in mind these important lessons.
Why the Best Designers Don't Care About Being Perfect
Let Go of the Idea of "One Big Launch."
Understand that there is no longer one single, ceremonious launch for website projects. "Launch Day" used to be a very proud and emotional moment for us: releasing that flawlessly polished work of art, that took many long months to create, out in to the world. Letting that moment go can actually be quite difficult for us; We feel like we've lost out on a way to take pride and satisfaction in our work.
We may forget in our nostalgia that there is also often a darker side to "Launch Day." It often only comes after numerous delays and expansions of the budget, each one lowering our clients' satisfaction and patience.
We might have rationalized this to ourselves as a necessary concession -- after putting so much extra time and money into crafting everything just right, it would all be worth it when you pull back the white sheet and the client's eyes light up with delight at the dazzlingly perfect end result! That's the best sign of success... right?
With GDD, site launches are much smaller affairs. They aren't as sexy, they aren't as wow-inducing, they aren't always emotionally satisfying. But they are always improvements over the previous version, however incremental.
Client satisfaction remains a constant and relevant factor in design work, but equally or perhaps more important is to impress the client's customers, or better yet, to drive them to action. Strangely enough, the two groups often have very different opinions. If that's the case, it's up to the customer to have the final say on what works. GDD gets your work closer to the customers, and faster.
Learn to take as much pride in the process as a whole as you used to take on just one single Launch Day. Be proud of your team's ability to release quality work quickly. Take to heart how much value the client is getting from your speed to market. Remember how each iteration is also helping to improve the lives of customers as well as clients, and now those customers are receiving value faster than ever.
Solve Problems by Doing, Not by Thinking.
GDD's Strategy phase provides a framework for doing plenty of qualitative research -- diving deep into the client's current situation, exploring what we think are the customers' needs and wants, setting goals for the short and long term, and making certain fundamental assumptions based on the team's experience and expertise.
Without real world feedback, however, the power of research has its limits. That's why the process aims to put a limit on how much time is spent on strategic planning. Eventually, we do need to get out into the real world via our initial release "Launch Pad" site, and start to collect quantitative data as well.
You're the expert in your field. You've got a ton of ideas on how to improve metrics and satisfy customers. When you combine your expertise with the GDD process, you have a way to best optimize that expertise towards generating results. Do things that will conduct experiments to help answer those questions. After the Strategy and Launch Pad phases comes Continuous Improvement -- and that means that improving and learning never stops.
Set a realistic, yet hard-stop, deadline for when the strategy phase -- the "thinking" part of the project -- ends, and when the doing -- building the Launch Pad site — begins.
Let Go of the Need to Get It Perfect.
Perfect is the enemy of "done" as well as the enemy of "good." Growth-Driven Design (notice how it's not called Perfection-Driven Design) wholly accepts -- even assumes -- that our first hypotheses about the website will be slightly incorrect. So don't be afraid of not getting it right the first time. Nobody's life will be ruined if your first iteration doesn't hit ideal metrics goals.
Perfectionism is one of the largest causes of design project delays. Designers get bogged down in the search for that "just right" solution. If we don't find it, we'll keep on trying ad infinitum, generating more ideas, on and on and on, without limit, because nothing we've come up with so far satisfied us one hundred percent. All the while, we're losing track of time, missing deadlines and milestones.
The perfect solution to a design problem isn't in the designer's head, or even anywhere inside your office. It's out in the market. Your office is a nice comfortable bubble, and the outside world is gritty and scary -- but that's where your customers are. That's where your answers are. Use your Launch Pad site to collect real user data to make informed decisions.
Remind yourself, and counsel your team, that perfectionism is not expected of anyone. Nothing that your team can come up with will be one hundred percent right the first time. This is not only okay, but is the expected norm. Do not extend deadlines in order to gain more time to chase after perfectionism.
Don't Start What You Can't Finish.
Here's one for the project managers. Though there's no hard and fast rule, a typical Launch Pad site goes live 30-60 days after the project begins. That's not a lot of time, and it's certainly not enough time to do everything both you and the client want to do for the site.
Nor is it supposed to be. What a Launch Pad site is supposed to be is a notable improvement over the old website, as well as a tool for learning, experimentation, feedback, and improvement.
When planning a project timeline, be pessimistic, especially if you are new to the GDD process. For your Launch Pad site, you may streamline the process by simplifying features, or postponing the release of certain features or pages until the second launch.
Remember the "80/20 Rule" -- around 80% of the value customers get from the website likely comes from around 20% of the pages and features. When your team is successfully able to identify those high-impact areas, you can be confident that you're allocating time and resources optimally.
GDD workflows take very tight team communication. When a single day constitutes a much larger percentage of your work time than ever before, a single unproductive day where someone was blocked, or wasn't prioritizing or focusing, is a huge hit to productivity. For my team, I mandate a minimum of two check-ins per day.
To help the team maintain focus on what they can finish, keep a wish list of tasks to be done in the future. This helps calm the anxiety associated with not being able to get everything done at once, and goes a long way in managing expectations with the rest of your team.
No one's ideas need be rejected, merely saved into a trusted system and postponed for a later time. It's this wish list that you and the client often refer to when deciding what to work on for your next release.
Nothing looks professional when it's half-baked. "Done" is the key word here! If you can't finish a page or feature in time, it's better to leave it out entirely, put it back on your wish list, and plan to finish it for a later release.
The Key Takeaways for Agencies and Designers.
Once you learn to embrace the "done" rather than the "perfect" in your work, it's quite a liberating feeling. Launch dates aren't nearly as stressful when there are many small ones instead of one big monster launch.
You aren't fearful over making a mistake. The thought of not finishing everything on your wish list in one go doesn't cause crippling anxiety for your team. You take pride in the fact that every new launch is a chance to improve your work, learn truths that are actually backed up by real data, and improve customers' lives. In time, you come to a place where true growth can happen for your clients, your team, and you as a designer.
Originally published Oct 20, 2016 5:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017