The Art of Design Compromise

Design is hard. We put a lot of effort into coming up with concepts.

The Product

We work diligently to identify user goals and support them in the product. We create animations that help guide and inform our users. We design in little touches to add delight for our users. We put our heart and soul into our work.

And as much as we would like it, we know that not every little thing that we come up with will be implemented as designed. At some point, we will have to let go of something.

There are many reasons for this. The data that users need might not be available or easily collectable. Potential build costs might be too expensive or take too long to market, causing key things to fall out of MVP (and beyond). Whatever the reason, at some point we will all be asked to take what we designed and compromise to some new solution. With this in mind, I am here to offer some tips.

Shoot for the Moon

When you design, your first and foremost concern is supporting your users and their goals. You should be laser focused on this. Even though you know that at some point you will have to compromise, you should drive forward like you won’t until it becomes inevitable. There are several reasons for this.

First, each design change may have an impact on other parts of the system. We are designing systems, a series of inter-related pieces that all work together. Compromising early has some benefits. You can account for the issues early and avoid the risk that you will need to make major changes late in the game. On the flip side, the sooner you make a change, the more impact that you may have.

If you pull the trigger too early, you weaken the foundation of the entire system. Consider a rock rolling down a hill. A rock near the bottom of a hill will roll quickly and come to a stop. A rock that starts from the top can hit more and more rocks, causing a rock slide. The earlier in the process a compromise is made, the higher up the hill you are letting loose that rock.

Second, it’s easier to preserve a singular ‘ideal’ state than it is to preserve good ideas that have been abandoned along the way. Many systems can’t be built exactly as designed, but the ideal design is still worth preserving. When designers compromise, it’s important to mark what the designed state is and preserve this so that future versions still have something to aim for.