Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Jun 2019

Lessons of Incomplete Design

Less “Finished” and More “What Else Is There”

Not every project ends in a beautiful design. Better said, not every project begins with the ideal experience being the thing that is delivered. Often, the idealized design becomes water down, modified, standards approved, or any other myriad of items before it lands into the customer’s hands. As a designer, whether talking about Web or services or hardware, you have to be OK with the idea of your craftsmanship being in an incomplete state. Still, being OK with that state doesn’t mean that there are lessons yet to be learned.

One lesson is that of the design experience was just a guide all along. There is some truth to the statement that often people do not understand what they want until they see it. And what happens here in there is that a design experience is created, however it is eschewed for something else entirely. There was one project we talked about here, that when it released looked almost nothing like the design that was created. The overall experience was actually similar to a few pieces of an early prototype. However, it was the choice of the client to MoveOn from the experience that was designed to experience that was closer aligned to their vision. Can’t be mad at such things, in that case, the product is actually doing well.

In another case, you may have the lesson of the design experience being held to, but the end result not calculated or foreseen. This would seem like an issue which comes from the lack of research, or even the lack of follow through with some of the metrics after the product has been designed. But actually, this is a matter of understanding that design experiences do not always, and should not always, understand every outcome. In fact, it is these unforeseen consequences of a design which should be sought after. This allows you to design a better experience later; and hopefully, there are no mortal injuries as a result of learning said lesson.

The last lesson, this one is for the practitioner specifically, is the lesson of doing too much. It is easily the case for an experience designer to calculate all possible directions for design experience. That ability to have a macro and micro view of the design experience is an asset. And often, notebooks are filled, Post-it notes are laid, and wireframes designed against both the macro and micro view. However, if the design experience is not brought to fruition as designed, the practitioner would feel that the design is incomplete. It is not incomplete; however, their expectations for what the design experience were supposed to contain was incomplete. They went beyond the scope of reality, not the scope of the design. This is an important lesson; it is the humility one.

Now, these are not the only lessons found in designing experiences. There are often several more. However, a recently concluded project brought to mind these lessons in part because there is a re-orientation that happens when you realize that an incomplete design is part of what should happen sometimes. The re-orientation is that design experiences are not the province of the practitioner, it belongs to those who will live with it and it’s consequences. The designer is merely the translator. Some phrases don’t need to be as polished as they hear them in their heads and hearts. All lessons need to be learned — these are just a few for those who create for others.