The Principles of an Effective Process

by Steve Hickey

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I’ve been fairly obsessed with the idea of optimizing my design and strategy process since about a year and a half ago. That was when I first became aware of just how abysmal it had become and that if I didn’t do something to change that I was never going to elevate my work. On every project now I try to do something a little bit differently than I did last time, just to see if I can push myself forward. This has resulted in a rapidly evolving set of tools and artifacts, but the principles behind this work have formed and remained consistent. I’d like to share these principles with you.

Principle 1: Be prolific

The best idea is almost never the first one you come up with. I’d say it never is, but then someone will show up in the comments to disagree with me by quoting some sort of personal anecdote that is probably a lie anyways. The thing is, if you go with the first idea you came up with then you have no way of telling if another idea would have been better. If you produce 5 ideas then maybe idea 3 or 4 would be the best. If you produce 20 ideas then I can guarantee 15 of them will be crap, but the best one is probably in the second half. If you only produce 1 then you’re pinning your success on the unlikely hope that you nailed it the first time.

The point is to get out the obvious stuff so you can move your brain towards something truly interesting an innovative.

Principle 2: Get feedback, early and often

It’s really hard to do good work when nobody else is seeing it or critiquing it. You’ll probably love what you’re doing, but that’s because you’re so close to it. When you show it to someone else, they’re going to see the glaring error that your mind has been dancing around to avoid hurting your fragile ego. They’re going to say things out loud that you knew and didn’t want to address. And they’re going to bring up things you never even considered. The sooner you get the discovery of these problems out of the way the sooner you can reach the right solution. And the more often you provide yourself with this sanity check the less time you’ll waste on the wrong path.

Principle 3: Iterate

As soon as you think you know where you’re going, build something. It will probably be the wrong thing. That’s ok though, you won’t know that until you build it. You’ll learn from the first thing, build more things based on what you learned, get more things wrong. But you can’t figure out what you did wrong until you actually do something. Be humble enough to recognize and learn from those failures and you’ll make some great things.

Principle 4: Be open to new information

Every time you learn something new on a project you’ll realize that earlier information is no longer valid. Don’t ignore that realization. Insisting on following old information because the new stuff would force you to do more work or invalidate something you already built is stubborn and just plain stupid.

Your understanding of everything you’ve produced so far will evolve as you get further into a project, strengthening your understanding. If you allow this process to occur it will make the final product better.

About Fresh Tilled Soil

Fresh Tilled Soil is a Boston-based user interface and experience design firm focused on human centered digital design