Design Through Failure / by Gavin Lau

Why it’s good to fail as a designer

A lot of experts have discussed the importance of fast failure in the design process. Here is why it is imperative to embrace failure as a designer.


Avoiding premature convergence

The role of a designer is not just to design interactions or visual elements, but more importantly to solve problems. It is part of the designer’s job to ensure that the right direction is taken, but also in making sure that sufficient exploration has been done to avoid prematurely converging on a solution. To quote the famous quote by Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for faster horses”. Imagine if Henry Ford had only explored better nutrition supplements to make horses procreate faster horses, instead of thinking about designing a car. Maybe that would have been useful but it still only solves a different problem.


Avoiding complacence

Some designers have become too comfortable in using the hamburger icon, to the extent that they have started using it as a crutch and refuse to think beyond it. While it is wise to follow best practices, employ design patterns and avoid reinventing the wheel, it is equally important to question and understand why certain interactions are in place and how they work together in a bigger context. There are often better ways of designing more usable and meaningful interactions. If you have ever thought “this is how we have done it in the past and it has worked”, consider challenging it.


Getting out of comfort zone

This sounds cliché but let me explain. What works today may not be true tomorrow and one size doesn’t always fit all. Making mistakes intelligently and purposefully is a quick way of learning. “Iteration”, an overly used word in the field is applicable even to the designer’s mindset. Success from doing things a certain way is often a deterrent to innovation, the way it was even for a great company like Microsoft in the mistakes they made in the mobile platform. As a designer, it is necessary to explore different options and look for meaningful ways of solving problems and purposeful fast failure is one way to do it.


Taking risks

Designers should be wise to take calculated risks. It is possible that timelines and budget might not allow this to happen in the industry but is still a good practice to follow internally, be it in a team or as an individual in an organization. What teaches you how to make the decision to take those risks? Learning from experience is wise, but what’s wiser is to learn from other people’s experience.

The ulterior motive of the designer should be to embrace failure and use it as a ladder to success. Failure should be welcome and fear of failure is something to overcome.