On making design mistakes

Give yourself permission to be wrong.


I work with developers who want certainty. Every question answered, every use case covered, every last i dotted and t crossed.

Design isn’t based on certainty. It’s based on educated guesses (an education that’s equal parts experience, learning, and user research). You have no idea how people will react to the design you create. You only know how they’ve reacted in the past, and once the design is in front of them, how they’re reacting now.

When you design towards certainty, you find yourself spending hours asking how many angels can dance on top of that button. You don’t find yourself asking whether that button is even needed.

So as I wrote up the style guide for all the devs to follow, I focused far too much on the tiny details of the various UI components. Every last little detail had to be written down, lest another dev appear at my door and ask about angels, as they were doing every single day. But that meant I wasn’t focused enough on patterns. In trying to get every tree right, I was getting the forest wrong.

By refusing to let myself screw up, I was screwing up. Much of that style guide is in the garbage bin now. It was so airtight with certainty it was useless as a design document.

Don’t be certain. Just have a good idea.