4 principles to decide what’s the right solution for you.
Imagine you are standing in front of a maze. You can go straight, left, or right. Which direction do you pick?
In the design realm, finding the right solution is as hard as discovering a path to the end of a maze. Even worse, design is a wild card that is only limited by imagination and creativity; you are in charge of where you go and how you reach the best possible place.
Even for something as “rational” as UX design, you never know whether the solution you’ve chosen is a good one. A voice keeps whispering at you: What if something out there is better? Do you have the confidence to ask other people to follow your decision?
As a UX designer, this is the battle I secretly fight every day. Sometimes every decision seems to be set plainly in sight. But in most scenarios, my mind refuses to settle as the complexity and intricacies of a problem kick in. Should I pick the one my boss likes the most? Should I go with the one easiest for engineers to implement? Should I let users decide during user study sessions?
The short answer is, none of these are good benchmarks for picking the right solution. Even for the designs that everybody raves about initially, the glory might soon fade away as the features are shown to be irrelevant to users, proven wrong in analytics, or abandoned by the company. For some changes, no matter how trivial, laborious, or “hateful” they may seem, once in place, they keep paying dividends in the long term and become the best investments in the product.
So, what are the characteristics you should look for to spot the “future stars” in an array of seemingly possible solutions?
The first and foremost question about a design solution is, does it solve a real problem? Be as specific as possible. Do users keep complaining about this problem? Is there a business initiative behind it? If you can’t accurately describe the situation it is designed for, then it’s better to spend time identifying the problem and the need first so that whatever solution you design addresses a problem that needs solving.
Since no solution is perfect, focus on the key metrics/areas you want to improve and stop caring about everything else that doesn’t make the cut.
For example, if you want to make a feature as easy to use as possible, examine every single detail until you cannot possibly make it any simpler. If you want to add something new, make sure it accomplishes the most important things first before you request the team to add bells and whistles.
No matter if it’s a new feature in an existing product or a completely new product from scratch, syntactical consistency should be considered and built into your solution from day one. It provides foundations and cohesion, as well as Lego blocks to build the empire. It ensures the system will only grow richer and stronger when more products and features are added.
Without syntactical consistency, conflict, confusion, and chaos will get in the way and quickly grow out of control.
Before you give a green light to a solution, make sure it is neatly integrated into your existing design language, information architecture, and user flows. If not everything in a new feature can inherit the existing syntactical system, create new components that follow established rules to extend your library. There should be no room for conflict, sloppiness, or carelessness.
When you take a step back and look beyond the design realm, does every part of the solution fit into and benefit other functions — engineering, data, business, etc.?
Design should not be a sum of compromises, but a means to a better end for everyone.
This is usually where the battle comes in. People have their own interests — designers want to deliver the best possible experience in the world, PMs want to ship new features and enhancements as quickly as possible, engineers want to achieve the results as efficiently as possible, business people want to promise anything they can to customers. Does the solution take every aspect into consideration? Does it provide more value than the effort required? Does it solve multiple issues at the same time? Eventually, the right solution will gain support across the board, even it means investing more time and effort upfront.
As product design is a never-ending journey, extensibility of design becomes important and contributes to the quality of the product and the productivity of the team. A short-sighted solution will only hurt the product and waste people’s effort. Ultimately, it will cost more to fix the supposed solution than it would to get it right in the first place.
A right solution could serve as a lighthouse; a path to the ideal world is unveiled in front of you, allowing you to see how you will get there, every twist and turn.
Though the solution will only address the immediate needs in the moment, you can picture how upcoming features and functionality will fit in and play a bigger role as you push forward. Examine the solution from a bird’s-eye view and design a few steps ahead to make sure you won’t need to reinvent the wheel every time. Let it grow “organically” on top of the existing system.
Finding the right solution is a process of finding the unexpected yet most efficient route to the desired state that elegantly avoids all the pitfalls. Never take a shortcut and commit to half-baked ideas. It might take longer to find the right solution, but once you do, the outcome will yield a long-lasting and positive impact that could never be achieved otherwise.
“In the end, a design should stand by itself, without excuses, explanations, apologies.” — Massimo Vignelli