How to Design New Information Environments That Don’t Suck

Define and defend the “M” in MVP.

Source: Wikimedia

In systems design there is a rule of thumb known as Gall’s law. It states:

“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system.” 
— John Gall

Information environments (websites, apps, etc.) are systems, so this law applies. (I’ve seen it in action.) We acknowledge this when we talk about starting with a minimum viable product (MVP).

One of the main challenges teams face in such projects is arriving at agreement at what constitutes the “minimal” feature set. Designers can — and should — help teams clarify the product vision upfront. This helps make the process less painful.

Once a clear vision is agreed upon, the designer’s role shifts to defender of the vision. This is necessary because there will always be forces pulling things away from the minimal feature set — often for valid reasons.

When the product is real and can be tested, it can (and should) evolve towards something more complex. But baking complexity into the first release is a costly mistake. (Note I didn’t say it “can be”. It’s guaranteed.)

So:

  1. Clarify vision,
  2. define minimal,
  3. defend minimal,
  4. launch,
  5. evolve.

Jorge Arango is an information architect and a partner in Futuredraft, the experience design consultancy that solves complex problems using co-creation throughout the design process. He is one of the co-authors of “Information Architecture: For the Web and Beyond” (aka “the polar bear book”) for O’Reilly. You can follow him on Twitter @jarango.