First Iterations

We all know the Greek story about Sirens who would lure nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices… How many of us are guilty of succumbing to the Sirens in our design work after settling for the first idea that comes to us?

It’s super easy to fall in love and become seduced by first iterations

After all, we designed them. At the time, they likely appear to have all of the right ingredients. But do they? Are they in fact the best possible approach?

Experience has shown me that they almost never are.

I’m as guilty as anyone

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that I am guilty. My plate is always full. I’m always eager to wrap “this thing” up, so that I can quickly move on to “that thing”. But in doing so, how often do I head down a less-optimal design path?

One quick method I’ve found to help avoid the Sirens

A couple of years ago, I attended a day-long workshop by Brandon Schauer from Adaptive Path on sketching and rapid ideation. It was excellent.

One of the points he made really stuck with me.

We were given a verbal summary of an interface that needed to be designed. We were then instructed to sketch out a solution (these were super quick, low fidelity sketches). After we were done, we were asked to raise our hands if we liked the direction our sketches were headed. Naturally, the majority of people were really happy with their sketches.

Next, we were asked to make 6 boxes on a blank piece of paper, and to brainstorm alternate approaches. We were given a total of 15 min to complete all 6.

At the end of the 15 min, he asked everyone to rate their favorite sketch, be it the original, or one of the six new sketches. He then went through and asked us to raise our hands for each set. The revelation came when only about 5% of the audience raised their hand for the original sketch. 95% of us preferred one of our alternate approaches. This blew my mind.

“Ya, I don’t buy it…”

You may look at this experience and be suspect of the conclusion that I came to. You might suppose that without doing any sort of 15-min-6-box activity, that you might just as well arrive at the same final design through the process of iteration. Truth is, you might be right.

But is it possible that this is just your pride getting in the way of you making progress? Is it possible that you are so set in your ways, and so used to the design process you’ve come to know that you’re unwilling to even try something new? I hope not. And to that end, I hope you give it a try, answering these questions for yourself.

It’s about giving yourself more paths to choose from

That’s ultimately what it boils down to. Instead of starting with a single option, you start with half a dozen. Starting with multiple options will give you better odds of actually heading down the right path from the very beginning.

So next time you start a new design, why not set aside 15 min at the very beginning to sketch out some alternative approaches. If it’s not for you, no worries, you’ve only wasted 15 min. But who knows, it may very well give you the edge you need to avoid those deadly Sirens.


I don’t do comments on this blog, but if you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them. You can email me at designpro@gmail.com.