Perhaps the hardest part about any great work is learning to let it go. We asked several user experience and web design experts what they do to prevent getting too attached to their work, and what we learned is that designing an experience or a product is a lot like dating. It requires not putting too much weight on aesthetics or falling in love with the idea of something. Rather, it’s about asking questions, listening to each other and learning to work together as a team. It’s about knowing when to push back a little and when to walk away.
Here’s what our design experts had to say about the art of letting go.
Embrace your imperfections
We often call ourselves perfectionists, but perfectionism is not about self-improvement, it’s our defense mechanism to minimize the risk of disapproval. We crave constant approval and acceptance of our work, because if we aren’t getting it, we think it means we’re bad at our job. But design doesn’t have to be about our egos — it’s about teamwork and collaboration. At Capital One we use low-fidelity sketches and rapid prototypes to share our designs as early as possible with our business partners and developers, and to our customers. Our designs aren’t perfect — they are conversation starters. And when you don’t spend too much time on your design, it’s so much easier to let go of it and move on to a better solution.
Kit Oliynyk, Creative Director, Capital One
Looks aren’t everything
Discovering flaws in a design you put a lot of effort into is disappointing, but it’s far worse if you choose to neglect them and the business suffers afterwards. The sooner you let it go and address the issues, the better. It’s your choice how much time you invest in a prototype, for example, but build it only after a complete understanding of the problem you’re designing the solution for, so you don’t end up in disappointing situations. Whether you want it or not, investing hours in aesthetics and cool interactions will ultimately get you more attached to a design than you should be, since changing it means you just wasted your time. Do your research before jumping to design, be open to other opinions, admit your own mistakes and develop your soft skills – they’re terribly underrated.
David Teodorescu, User Experience Designer, iMedicare
There is no “I” in team
Babe Ruth once famously said, “The way the team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.”
I feel exactly the same when it comes to design. The definition of one’s contribution to a team is sometimes a mixed one. There’s a tendency to become too attached to the things we design and never let go. When we don’t let go, we’re not making the best contribution we could be making. For me, the easiest way to let go is by having a mentality that prototyping is the quickest way to the wrong answer. My aim is to get to the right answer faster. I have to remember that I’m designing for people. If I forget that, I’ve forgotten about people. If I forget about those who I’m designing for then I’m making something that might just look great, with no function. Simply put, people value design that values people.
Mark Jenkins, UX Consultant & Designer, The Lucky Strike
Talk things out
Before I start designing anything, I spend time researching my client’s business, their industry, and what problems their customers need help with. With this in mind, I build a website to be as useful as possible to my client’s customers. However, a different situation can be a phone call from my client who wants me to put “something” on the home page that I know will degrade the design. This situation is difficult and I don’t want to change the design under these circumstances. I will spend a lot of time explaining what would happen if we went ahead with the change and 99 percent of the time my client understands and lets the design stay the same. After we talk about the requested design change issues, I will follow up by asking my client why they wanted to make the suggested change in the first place. Quite often the person was trying to solve a problem and instead of sharing the problem with me, he or she offered a solution. We talk through the problem and then I’ll spend time thinking through some solutions to discuss with my client and then get their approval for any proposed changes.
Tricia Littlefield, Web Designer, The Simple Web
Stay together for the users
It’s a mistake to pretend that you’re the customer and that you know what they think, how they feel and the emotions they experience when interacting with your design. You shouldn’t rely solely on the opinions of stakeholders, including your own. Instead, test your design with real users. Do this early in the process before you become attached to your design. Then, make decisions based on research, data and facts — not your opinions. When facing resistance from stakeholders, share this research with them. After all, this is not their opinion vs. yours — it’s your users.’ This approach has worked very well for me. It doesn’t bruise any egos and removes any friction while doing what’s right for the end users.
Andrew Kucheriavy, Founder & CEO, Intechnic
Don’t base your worth on your work
We enjoy and love what we do, and so we often become emotionally attached to our work, to the point where it’s really difficult to let go. This is perhaps the most difficult issue for me to overcome. I tend to emotionally invest in every project I work on. It’s been helpful to realize and keep in mind that design is a job and as professionals, we can’t afford to get too attached to our ideas. If I find myself seeing the situation as a personal failure, I try to see it as a new challenge instead. It’s an opportunity to explore a different approach or design direction, and to see where else I can take things. Letting go is an inevitable part of the process and if handled well, it should only lead to an ongoing success.
Teodora Nikolaeva, UX, UI and Front End Development specialist, Teodora Dev
Marry your significant other, not your designs
Great design is evolutionary, with one new idea igniting others, but rarely eternal. It is easy to fall in love with the latest new creation, but closing yourself off to tomorrow’s possibilities is invariably self-defeating. Designers need to take off their rose-colored glasses and get feedback on their new love from peers, colleagues and others. Secondly, set parameters on what you invest and be cognizant of what it takes to be in a healthy business. Your tools and time are valuable and should not be squandered.
David Clarke, PwC CxO & Experience Center Leader
Fall in love for the right reasons
Great designers don’t fall in love with the solution; great designers fall in love with the problem.
It’s easy to let yourself fall in love with the solution and for excitement and ego to distract you, but when you fall in love with your solution and get too attached to your designs, you increase the risk that the solution isn’t going to be the right solution. To fall in love with the problem means that first you actually have to identify it. Too many teams and designers skip the step of identifying and defining the problem. Find it, write it down, and share it with your team so that everyone is anchored on the same problem. Second, don’t design in a vacuum. Get feedback from other designers. Don’t think that the solution lies solely within you. Ask for feedback early in your design process so that you can course correct before you’ve gone too far. Finally, focus on people and not pixels. It sounds silly to give this reminder, but there are people on the other side of your designs — get to know those people so you can have them in mind as you design for them. Do ethnographic research to really learn about them. As the designer Hillman Curtis said, “Eat the audience.” In other words, internalize their lifestyle, behavior, needs and wants.
By focusing on the right problems, getting frequent input and feedback, and intimately understanding the people you design for, you’ll be able to design the right solution.
Sarah Doody, Independent User Experience Designer & Founder of The UX Notebook
What do you do to prevent getting too hung up on your designs? Share your tips with us in the comments below.