In design, the wrong decision is not making one

There are two ways to make design decisions, but I’m going to start by telling you the wrong way, the way that too many companies use because it feels safer and easier. The way that’s guaranteed to crush the soul of every person in the project and result in unambitious, bland, ultimately forgettable products and increasingly lower standards.
That way is Consensus.

“Consensus: “The process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner: ‘I stand for consensus?” – Margaret Thatcher

What’s so bad about wanting a consensus? isn’t that democratic?

No. it’s not.

It’s cowardly. It doesn’t have to hurt anyone’s feelings because it’s not any one person’s opinion.
It’s an abdication of leadership and vision. It says that all inputs and outcomes are equal as long as no one objects too much.

I am no fan of Thatcher’s politics (although for many reasons, I admire her) but she nailed it about consensus. Design is about solving problems, and consensus steps around them for the sake of pleasantry and getting along.

Consensus is what gave us the Kendall Jenner coke ad. Consensus is what gives us the Eurovision entries. Consensus is what makes Microsoft products still feel shitty even though they have some of the very the best brains in the industry working for them, because at this point they have to please all these opposing interests, so the products please and cater to no one, but don’t alienate anyone too much.

This isn’t how you make an impact. You have to choose. You need to have conviction. You need to be able to see where this is going and who your people are in this journey and cater to only them. You might hurt someone’s feelings. You may be disliked. You may be seen as weird or niche, or mean.

You may even have to eat crow from time to time and pivot. And as long as you don’t do it at Theresa May frequencies and hold to your vision of how your want your product to impact people, you’ll be ok.

And you’ll be respected. Maybe even quoted.


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