Oh No! Another Design Bites the Dust…


Image by pmorgan
There often comes a time when designers gather around, give each other hugs, pass the tissues, and say farewell to the fruits of their labor. Saying farewell to designs that did not make it.
Kidding aside, this is one of the harsh realities of design and product development, despite the best efforts of all people involved, even with perfect planning and execution, design programs do and can get “axed”. The worst timing is perhaps when the product is right at your door step.
In my time as a designer, products getting “axed” happens to me on average of about 1 in every 5 design programs that I manage, perhaps more. There is no hard and fast rule on why it happens, it just does. The reality is getting a product out requires many elements to be perfectly aligned before the green light can be given.
I can remember clearly three incidents that stand out. The first, a television, failed because our vendor failed to deliver. In this case it was the choice of our contractors and due diligence of their capabilities that failed. In another instance, a sound system product completed its tooling phase, and during the testing, it was found that the electronics design was sub-standard as the engineers involved quietly hid the fact they had no knowledge in reproducing the technologies the product required. The last story was the most painful, the product was almost perfect, the industrial design well received, and the technology astounding, but the delays in development and unforeseen change in market environments, meant we missed the boat.
Sad stories all. But how do we deal with such situations when designers living and breathing the projects often become overly attached to them?

Take stock and recognizing that it’s a business decision

I think this is perhaps the biggest one here. Despite whatever is at stake, the decision to kill a project is often a business one. If you can take a step back and consider the decision this way, it makes the passing a lot easier. Often times you will need to see this issue in its entirely, something that not all designers get an opportunity to. Really, sometimes it is much better to write off half a million in tooling than to blow 20 times that amount selling a dud.

Don’t get too emotionally attached

We touched on this issue in the previous point. I know it’s often hard, but try to take a step back and look at the issue objectively. Designers sometimes need to understand that the world does not always revolve around them, or that the success and failure of the project is never always up to them. Of cause designers do play a big part, but know that elements of a successful product requires more than what a designer can do.
Also, designers tend to put much effort and love into a design, thus having to say goodbye is never easy. Like most things, it does get easier with time. Look at it this way, there will always be that next project to work on. The projects will never end, unless you let it.

Learn from it

Though it is never entirely our fault, we can learn from this experience and try to avoid making the same mistakes again. This I think is something that will differentiate the great designers from the oh-hum ones. Look at it, study it, learn from it, and grow.

One for the portfolio

Not only do you not throw it out, you display it prominently in your portfolio like a badge of honor. In most portfolios I review, I always get to see the award winners, or the the ones that made it big, but never the ones that got away.
The ones that got away always make fantastic stories, and a good laugh or cry during an interview. Tell them what you did, tell them what happened, and tell them what you got out of the experience. Trust me, you will come out ahead.

Enjoy the process

Last but not least, design and the design process is extremely, for the lack of a better word, fickle. Not only are you essentially making something out of nothing, you also have so many different constraints and elements that have to be considered. Furthermore if one element is out of place, the chance of success drops.
Thus I always like to tell my design team, you will never know what is going to happen to a product in the end, so enjoy the process or the journey, instead of focusing on the results. And if you do get results, that just becomes a very sweet bonus at the end.

1 Comment
  • accessible website design

    April 14, 2008 at 10:56 am Reply

    I used to work at a website firm that was all about getting new clients. Each designer had about 50 clients at any given time. A lot of designs were lost in the mix of 2 or 3 versions per client.
    After 3 years I started to forget random versions of dr so and so’s website. Now I try and take a little reminder from each design that I do so that I always remember them.

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