Design is like tacos 🌮

an explanation for designers about time.

I know this sounds ridiculous, but bear with me for a minute.

Let me start with a simple idea:

Spend more time in your design and the result will be better.

Sounds right, doesn’t it?

Teachers taught me this when I was at school and, if you’re a designer, you’ve probably heard it too.

I’ve been intrigued with this idea for a while, I’m calling it The Time/Quality Fallacy, this is how it looks:

A fallacy is something false that looks truthful in the surface

When more, means less

To understand why I believe it’s a fallacy, we have to look at the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility.

The Law states that as a person increases consumption of a product, there is a decline in the marginal utility that person derives from consuming each additional unit of that product.

In visual terms:

More is less graph

As you see, the happiness and well-being produced in the first couple of tacos is amazing (indeed, tacos are amazing), but with time happiness and well-being drop until you get sick.

Infinite tacos will make you sick

Design is like Tacos

I believe the Diminishing Marginal Utility Law applies to Design too, (also to ice-cream).

I’ve added the 3 main stages of Design to the graph to visualize it better.

In the graph you can clearly see that the quality of your design reaches its peak (best possible quality) at the sweet-spot, the intersection between the ideal scenario (fallacy) and the Law.

This is the highest, most effective possible point in your design process.

From that point on, just like tacos, if you keep eating more, I mean… If you keep putting time after this sweet spot, you are prettty much just wasting it.

We’ve all worked beyond that sweet-spot; wandering around, running in circles, second guessing and overthinking, designing many different versions of the solution and even presenting them to the client because “he’ll know which one works best”.

No.

You worked beyond the sweet-spot because you didn’t do your job.

Your job is to understand. Research and Definition will give you an amazing amount of understanding in little time because they act like multipliers of the quality of your work.

Spend more time understanding, less executing

Just like a surgeon wouldn’t operate before running blood tests, radiographs and tomographies, a designer shouldn’t start executing without understanding.

Designers job description, 60/20/20

to reach the highest possible point of quality spend a lot of time doing User Research. It’s the most effective way to gain understanding. Go watch your users, interview them, record them and ask them anything.

The quality of your work is limited by the amount of understanding you gain through research and definition of the problem.

When User Research is impossible, you can use other methods like analizing existing data, running surveys or doing expert interviews. Learn more about these and other methods here.

Your job as a designer is to gain as much understanding as possible, no matter how, no matter what.

Note that you will never reach 100% understanding of a problem, so don’t get frustrated when you don’t, trying to reach 100% is unproductive, we’ll talk about this in another article.

It’s time to stop wasting your time

The time you don’t spend understanding is time you compensate with extra screen time.

Time to stop compensating.

Seek clarity before starting.

If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll have to walk a long way before it “appears” right in front of you. Start writing a problem statement, list the things you know and the things you must know, then research.

Define intention

Unlike art, serendipity is rarely useful in the design process. Define what success looks like (always thinking about the users first). Remember, design is an excercise of applied intention.

Develop sensitivity.

Sensitivity will tell you where the swet-spot is intuitively. The more you think, see and try, the more experienced you will be. That experience will allow you to feel whenever the problem is solved, avoiding those extra hours.

A final thought

I want you to work less, to spend less time in front of your screen, I want you to go home earlier.

Today we learnt that the quality of your work is not dictated by the time you sit in front of your screen; I hope this idea can help you become a better designer, but most importantly, a happier person.

If this was valuable to you, share the love ❤

*Thanks to Rogelio for helping me develop this article.