Every thing you’ve ever designed should be dissatisfying to you. Sure maybe the day you came up with it all you could see was sunshine and rainbows. But if you look back on something you designed even a couple of months ago, you should feel a sense of dissatisfaction with what you produced.
You should feel dissatisfied because you don’t design in a vacuum and you don’t stop learning once you release something.
You’re constantly exposed to other design work. You stumble across ideas on the internet. You download a new app which does something novel. You hear about a startup or product which was new to you. Every one of these exposures becomes part of your design experience. You love some of it, and hate some of it. These inform your own design judgement. They build upon your existing knowledge and patterns. They increase your belief in what’s possible. They form a background context for the design decisions you will make, and they color the ones you made in the past.
Every experience you have colors and informs your design judgement.
When you look back on an older design you’re a different person. You grew while your design remained static. Even if your design was intended to evolve, the rules which govern it reflect your design mind in the past.
Ok, so you’re different, but still the design was the best solution for the problem, and still is. Right?
Not only does the designer change, but the world changes too. Users change. Needs change. Technology changes. Context changes. And as things change, your design, which might have been a great fit for the problem, slowly loses relevance. A gap emerges as the world around the problem changes. Maybe the problem doesn’t even exist anymore — no one’s getting rich redesigning telegraph keys these days.
We can look back and say, it was a good design. But if I were to work on it today, I would change this. I would do something different. Because design isn’t ever really done.
Design isn’t ever really done, but the designer becomes done with it.
We just stop designing when it’s good enough. We stop designing when we run out of time, money or interest. We stop designing when we need to ship a product and move on to something else. Earlier on in my design career I had this sweet notion that design could be done, or complete. My thought was design is done when innovation plateaus. So for Microsoft Word, design is done, Android is not, the iPod is done, but your thermostat still has lots of design potential.
I still agree that there is a terminal point for most design, where the team that’s carried it simply can’t figure out a way to go any further. And at this point it’s usually just rearranging the deck chairs.
You change the design because you’re bored with it, or because you’ve lost touch with why.
You’ve ceased to connect with the people that use it, you’ve ceased to care about their problems. You’ve ceased to be curious and inspired around the product.
This is the point when you should move on. Let someone else who sees the potential step in and take a shot at moving things forward.
You should be working on something that you feel passionate about.
You should go home tired and wake up wired because you can’t wait to dive in again. You should be working on projects that in the moment you feel satisfied with. You should feel like, today at least, this is the best design you could have possibly turned out. And you should be hungry to grow and learn. To evolve so that in a short time you look back on today and think, “I could make that better.” Because it always can be. And if you’re not dissatisfied, you’re too comfortable evolve it, improve it and make it better.