On Being 100% Design-First

Idea->Design->Build is the basic, high level workflow for any project. Experience shows me time and again that jumping too quickly from idea to build, with insufficient design time, is really stupid. This applies whether you’re building a chair in the woodshed, a meal in the kitchen or coding an app on the old Macbook.

Because there are no limitations on possibility:

Larry Paige said in an interview with Charlie Rose that they’ve basically been able to execute on everything the’ve thought of. Basically, their ideas haven’t been significantly limited by technological limitations.  If you know that with enough persistence that everything is tractable, doesn’t it make sense to spend as much time as possible on the design phase to make sure the vision is very clear?

Design as solidifier of belief:

Despite that you CAN execute on anything you can design, sometimes the idea is SOOOOO audacious and seems so implausible and will be so expensive to build that design is needed to make the idea seem real in the minds of the collaborators, investors–maybe even you! As I’ve posted about before, leaders can get very far by just being a great “Picture-Painter in Chief.”

Design as key differentiator amongst commodities:

Especially with software, the actual tech that make the apps we use “go” continues to become stronger, faster and less expensive. The tools to help us create continue to improve and the level of abstraction increases as processing power allows us to have increasingly high level, simple ways to go from idea to product. The result of all of this is a lower barrier for entry into creation and, as a result, more competition. In this world, the efforts that win more attention are always the ones that are the most intuitive and fun to use. In a world of massive choice, the offerings with the best design win the market. There were dozens of messaging apps before Slack but Slack largely won because they’d designed something that performed the same basic function in way people enjoyed more and got more out of. They nailed the design. As a quick non-tech example, Starwood Hotels founder Barry Sternlicht often cites design as the key differentiator in the hotel products he’s built and key way they’d differentiate in what is, otherwise, a commodity (a room with bed and bath).

Design is vetting:

Design is the necessary vetting phase of any idea. Because ideas are cheap we a process to tease them out and think harder about them. Design is a big part of this. Ideas may be cheap but investing time to build something that hasn’t been properly or full thought out in a design phase is really expensive! There is risk in moving forward to build any idea but really solidifying thoughts in a disciplined design phases forces one to think a bit harder about whether this is actually a good idea and can help us feel we’ve worked to “derisk” it.

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