When quantity trumps quality

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It’s not uncommon to believe that quality trumps quantity, after all this is what a lot of articles and influencers on the web tell us. In some cases they’re right. Quality should outweigh quantity. This is especially true for things like client work. However quality over quantity is not a universal rule to be blanketed on all scenarios. There’s many situations where it pays to have quantity as the main focus.

As a creative you know that the quantity of your output should be consistent and regular. After all, if you’re not publishing your work, does the work even exist?* Whether your current focus is to regularly add work to your portfolio or publish some form of content each week — staying accountable to quantity encourages you to continuously show up and put in the work.

However a common problem with quantity is that it sacrifices quality. You may have 1 million followers or mailing list subscribers, but do you have quality connections with each of those people?

Alternatively perhaps you have only 50 followers or subscribers. You know each of them reasonably well and have had several one on one conversations with them. Because of this they’re highly engaged and more likely to purchase something from you. The quality of these subscribers far outweighs the quality of the one million.

Does practice makes perfect?

To achieve quality requires patience and practice. Quality and quantity aren’t independent of one another. The more you practice at something, the more chance the quality will improve over time. Let’s say you want to start learning a new skill. Unless you’re a prodigy with an unknown hidden talent, your quality is going to suck to begin with. But quality isn’t the focus during this phase, quantity is.

“There’s certainly a great lesson here: Try something a lot of times to master it, instead of trying to do it best once.”

Yakim van Zuijlen

When I began learning hand lettering the quality of my work was terrible though I didn’t let that stop me. I continued to show up and practice. The more I practiced, the more the quality started improved. Each time I drew the letter A, it was just that little bit better than the previous A drawn. Like Dr. Suzuki said, you practice on the days you eat.

You’re not going to be a master the first time you try something. To create that perfect letter A you’re going to have to show up in your sketchbook again and again.

There’ll be failures but there’ll also be wins. Each is equally getting you closer and closer to a quality letter A. Your skills improve over time and with practice. The more times you show up to practice, the more your lettering skills will improve.

Does more quantity = less quality?

If we let quality dictate our actions in this early phase, we’re far more likely to give up early. Take a Design Sprint for example. One of the first steps in a Design Sprint is idea generation. We’re encouraged to get all of our ideas out — every single one gets a post-it note no matter the quality of the idea. Here the focus is on quantity. Later in the sprint the focus will shift towards the quality of the ideas.

There’s an underlying belief that the more quantity, the less quality. This can be true so it’s worth being aware of when this happens in your output. Creativity and energy are not finite resources. They need to be given time to recharge and reignite. The important thing is to take notice of that moment when your quality begins to dip as it may be time to take a rest.

Sacrificing one for the other

There will come a point when quality naturally surpasses quantity and it’s time to refine. In this case, quantity should lower so you can focus on refining the quality. Your actions will eventually switch to drawing less A’s but with increased quality and control. Without letting go of the quantity factor, you limit the possibilities of creativity and refinement as you’re constrained by how much you produce.

“I’d rather have less clients per year and do amazing work for them than many more clients & my work be just okay.”

Rachel Shillcock

My friend Kieran recently paused the consistent quantity of publishing weekly content so he could focus on improving the quality of his website. If he’d continued the weekly consistency, he wouldn’t have had the time, energy nor focus to improve the quality of his positioning. Sometimes we need to take a step back on quantity so we can take a step forward on quality somewhere else.

Quantity over quality is a great starting point for building momentum and practicing. However there is that sweet spot where to continue improving the quality, you’ll need to sacrifice quantity. The problem with this debate is that we’re greedy. We want each one equally but with less effort. If only we could produce a lot of amazing, high quality work all of the time — right?

Depending on whether you’re practicing or polishing, either quantity or quality could come first. Give yourself patience and practice and eventually you’ll have that perfect letter A.

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About the author

Hi I’m Femke — a designer, writer and podcaster who overlaps between a day job, freelancing and side projects. I love to help other creatives be the best version of themselves. I’d love to get to know you more, say hi on Twitter 👋

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