Designed to death.

You need more time, right? More time to get more done. You’re so far behind, so much to do.

More with less, they say.

I don’t do more with less. I do less and get more.

It turns out that you — and I — are spending too much time designing things to be perfect, instead of designing them to be useful. To be impactful. To be viable.

First, let’s define design for the purpose of this article. When I say ‘design’ I mean anything that you arrange to be used or found. Presentations, text, reports, brochures, tweets. Anything you give consideration to so that it is used in the way you intend.

This article, for example, has been designed — arranged in a specific way — to be used by you.

Alright, design — you are spending too much time on it. But wait, I didn’t say don’t spend anytime on design. You are spending too much time on perfection, being ‘on brand’, the look and feel. In turn, you are spending too little time on the impact, the experience, on how it makes customers feel.

I had a VP of Marketing sit through a 4-day service design workshop. She was involved and excited. She saw the light, drank the Kool-Aid and was convinced her organization would be more effective by implementing the changes we built together.

Until the very end. Until the last moment of the workshop, just before we are about to end, right as I asked for any final thoughts.

“Troy, we have so much on our plates, how will we be able to get this done?”

She was nervous about the results not being perfect when the whole idea was that they don’t have to be.

I was once in that place. I spent hours designing this site, the Pattern ‘brand’ and everything that would go with it. But I did not design it once, I tweaked it, changed it, expanded it and perfected it. Weekly, if not daily. I was designing an experience that no one would actually experience, except for me. Problem being, I am not my customer.

I did it with speaking appearances too.

I figured out that for an average keynote appearance, I was spending almost 22-hours creating my talk. The problem was I spent 18 hours designing the slides and about 4 hours designing the content.

For all of that effort, no one ever came up to me, after a workshop or speaking appearance and said “you know, that color choice on slide 15 was brilliant and I noticed that all of the quotes used the same font!”

The person I was designing it for didn’t even notice.

When you spend nearly two days creating something that no one notices it makes you doubt yourself. Your skills. Your mind. Everything that you thought you knew.

It makes you think you have too much to do and no way to get it all done. You are designing yourself to death.

I changed how I build my keynotes. I now spend about 10 hours on content and about 2 on design. I switched my approach then put a greater focus on what actually helps people and stopped worrying about perfection. I am saving time, feeling better about the presentations and get more positive feedback from attendees.

Oh, and now I have time to do the other things I love.

Isn’t that what we all want? Feel better about our work, get feedback to improve it and spend time on what matters.

To do that, design needs to be useful for the customer not perfect for you.


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