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I love design and hip hop — I’m really happy to be able to write about these two worlds of mine colliding.

As most of the world knows by now, Kanye West has released his latest album The Life of Pablo to the world. Botched release of the album aside, there is a lot to be learned from Yeezy’s latest.

Specifically—It’s okay to iterate on an idea (it might even take years), and iteration usually leads to a better, more validated final product.

It might take a few years to get an idea right

With all of the hype surrounding the release of the album, I stumbled upon a post linking to this clip from Stones Throw Records in 2010. Kanye was working with producer Madlib, on a track that would end up becoming “No More Parties in LA”.

It might feel like artists or designers that you look up to can just release hit after hit, but it took Kanye 6 years to make the track a reality. There is this whole process behind the scene that we get to see here, which we don’t get to see in most artist’s work.

Here’s another example, of Kanye working on a beat in 2008 that would ultimately become “Feedback” on The Life of Pablo:

8 years to get the beat just right. I’m sure he worked on it, paused, came back to it a bit later, etc. Every time, bringing his new experiences with him and putting those experiences into his music.

It’s okay to iterate

With the realease of The Life of Pablo, we get to see more than just the progression of the beats and ideas over time. One of the more controversial aspects of the album release was the fact that Kanye pulled and re-uploaded the album, and is actually continuing to work on the album after its debut to make it just right.

He is working on fixing up some of the tracks now, including Wolves. There’s rumors of more tracks coming out on the album. The album is now seen as a growing, living thing.

Kanye called the album Swish, then Waves, before settling on The Life of Pablo. Some people call it indecision, I think it’s awesome. Kanye was iterating and even testing the album title with its core demographic.

With every iteration, and every decision Kanye made, between both pulling the actual album to work on a revised version, as well as working on the album title, it exposes us to a process which is typically hidden from the consumer. To me, it feels as though Kanye is comfortable enough with his process that he can work and continue to work on the album to get it just right.

Apple design chief Jony Ive put it really well in 2013:

I think a lot of people see simplicity as the lack of clutter. And that’s not the case at all. True simplicity is, well, you just keep on going and going until you get to the point where you go, ‘Yeah, well, of course.’ Where there’s no rational alternative.

Kanye is continuing to work on his album, and crafting it until it comes to its natural conclusion, just like any other design exercise.

It also helps that Kanye loves Jony Ive:

Jony Ives (sic) who is like, in in my opinion, from what I know, Elon Musk included, it’s like, the world’s greatest living designer. And has the best mentality behind design… There might be some others. There are a lot that are great, but Jony Ives (sic) is the best that I know.

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Best rap duo of the century. I’m calling it now.

But iteration takes time!

One could easily argue “iteration is time consuming, and we just don’t have the time!”. I like to refer back to this article from Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen when the issue of cost (in time and money) is brought up when it comes to working iteratively:

If anybody says that design iterations will break your ship schedule … point them to this article, because some of the prototypes progressed through 7 versions during 2 weeks. Testing with users before even breaking out the HTML editor was cheap and it showed which alternative designs worked best.

This iterative process also helps us become more efficient. In 1988, Marilyn Tremaine and Toby J. Teorey wrote an detailed cost/benefit analysis of using iterative design in software development. Their findings stated:

It is important to establish incremental levels of improvement from current practices and to recognize that improvements to the user interface are iterative.

Increased experience with new designs and new ideas will eliminate user problems in subsequent software systems. If this is not done, considerable time can be spent trying to implement a design to meet unreasonable requirements.

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Adapted from Tremaine and Teorey’s original cost-benefit curve

It took Kanye 8 years to complete and release the “Feedback” beat. I’m sure that every time he came back to the beat, his past experience allowed him to understand the nuance and intricacies of each sound. In the short term, yes iteration takes longer than just creating something once and being done with it. Over time however, the iterative design process pays in dividends when it comes to designing more creative ideas, and more effective solutions, at a more rapid pace.

We only see the payoff, not the work to get there

With all of the work (and rework) that goes into any creative endeavor, it’s very rare for us as consumers to see all of the effort it takes to get a creative project across the finish line. With The Life of Pablo, we get a peek into Kanye’s creative process.

We think of the release of an album as a one stop, quick drop. We see that Kanye worked and refined on the album, across many years and many concepts. We don’t see the work on the cutting room floor, we don’t see the blood and sweat that goes into the work.

People in creative fields can learn a lot from Kanye — to feel confident that we might not get it right the first time, and it’s okay to keep working at something you believe in; fixing it and crafting it to the final product you want.

When I first started off in my career as a designer (my friends over at Nascent can attest to this), I would get frustrated when I didn’t get an idea right the first time. I felt compelled to be brilliant—to come up with a radical, breathtaking solution on my first try. It’s a continuous fight to feel comfortable and confident in getting an idea wrong first, and working your way through getting it right. It is only through the process—only through iteration—that one gains the intimate knowledge and detail required to craft a good idea into a great one.

As a designer, I feel inspired to continue in pushing an idea further along, even if it means crafting the idea over a long period of time. I’m continuing to work towards a more considered approach, and make sure I’m putting my best into my craft.

It’s okay to not get an idea right the first time; sometimes it may take years to finally get it right. Even Kanye is able to look at his work after it was released, and decide to refine it even further. To that end, I know I am going to keep working and iterating on my work, and thinking about my work as a living, breathing thing. I might even pull up this post in a few years and see how my experiences have shaped and changed my opinion, perspective and attitude, and ima fix it—just like Yeezy.

Written by

Designer. New York based, Toronto raised.

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