Enough Design can be Elegant Design

Nate Burgos

This post was previously on the Pathfinder Software site. Pathfinder Software changed its name to Orthogonal in 2016. Read more.

Orthogonal’s CEO Bernhard Kappe shared one of the Tech Talks by Pivotal Labs, whose Pivotal Tracker tool is one we enjoy using. Pivotal Labs’ Ian McFarland, VP Technology, talked about the relationship between design and the agile process. In addressing “What is Enough Design?”, McFarland’s presentation raised themes often echoed in making software. Here are a few worth reinforcing:

Products are iterations
“The first draft is never the last,” as the saying goes. Even if your team is composed of prodigies, this doesn’t guarantee good results (such as episode five of the latest “Project Runway” season, in which a team comprised of the supposedly better-skilled fashion designers aimed for perfection, lost to the team marked “average”). Whether it’s called prototyping, drafting, or versioning, a product is the result of exploring different arrangements of elements, one iteration after another, until it’s judged fit by everyone who has a stake in making the product.

Bloat is counterproductive
A complement to “Iterate, iterate, iterate” is Henry David Thoreau expression, “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” It would be fascinating to see how Thoreau’s fierce lean way of living would translate to executing software. At Orthogonal, we strive for MVP, Minimum Viable Product. Software is additive. Think Microsoft Word, Adobe, or any on-the-shelf software, that keeps on adding features for the sake of adding them. When it comes to an initial software release—whatever the medium or platform—it’s easy to layer capability upon capability. The constant challenge: evolving the basics of why the application exists in the first place. The basics are the essential or core capabilities, not to be confused with the bell-and-whistle varietal.

Agile’s requirement is constant attention
A tenet of Ray and Charles Eames: “The details are the details. They make the design.” That’s because details defy scale. Button labeling and placement are equally important to how many lines of code are composed. Every detail participates in the experience of the product. Being “agile” is really vigilance to making the details work as well as possible at each step of the journey toward a shared destination—shared by project managers, designers, developers and the client.

These are tall themes. Before graphic designer and illustrator Milton Glaser said, “Just enough is more,” writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry claimed, “A designer knows [she or he] has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Realizing “enough design” was never meant to be easy but worth pursuing and keeping at it.

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