Good Enough

I've been thinking a lot about building better products lately. After all, I'm writing a book called Build Better Products, and it'll be out this autumn, so I haven't been thinking about anything else, really. 

The hard part about building better products is often knowing what better means. This is especially true when building MVPs or first versions or experiments or whatever you want to call that thing that you put out in the world in order to see if anybody might care about it.

It's even harder, I think, for designers, since many of them seem to have some sort of belief in the idea of Good Design as its own thing. Like there's a cosmic governing panel that decides whether something is Well Designed that is independent of whether the product makes users happy or makes money for the company.

And it's a tricky balance. I'm the first one to point out that if you release an incredibly crappy product, you're not going to learn anything other than that people don't like to use crappy products. We're already pretty clear on that. They don't. On the other hand, if you spend months tweaking the fonts and obsessing over every single word or loading the product up with unnecessary features, you're very likely to waste a huge amount of time and money building things nobody wants. 

How do you choose? I really wish I had a simple system that would allow you to decide when you've hit Good Enough every single time. "Should I release now? Y/N" Maybe someday we'll get that working. Until then, how about a weird analogy? 

Let's say you're cooking dinner, and the first step is to cut up some potatoes. Now, if you do a terrible job of it and hack them up into uneven pieces, it's probably going to ruin the dish and make it inedible because half of the potatoes will be raw and half will be overcooked and mushy, and the whole thing will be awful. So, instead, you take a little time and use good knife skills and cut the potatoes better. 

Now you have to decide how much time you're going to spend on the potatoes. 

Obviously, you could make them perfect - where perfect means all exactly the same size and shape and weight or cut into animal shapes or trapezoids or whatever. Molecular gastronomists have almost certainly discovered the golden ratio of surface area to interior, and I'm sure they'd love to tell you about it.  

But the more time you spend carving your potatoes into identically sized spheres, the less time you have for cooking the rest of the meal. And, frankly, having the potatoes perfect doesn't contribute that much to the overall meal. The end result of perfect potatoes may not be noticeable to the person eating the meal, and even if they did notice, it wouldn't increase their enjoyment of the meal enough to justify the time it took you to do it. They don't want perfect potatoes at midnight. They want good potatoes at 7pm. 

Remember, your goal isn't to make a perfect potato - whatever that means. Your goal is to make dinner. Preferably a dinner that the people eating it will enjoy. 

And when you think about it, you don't even know what "perfect" means. Is it that the potatoes are all the same size? Is it that they're all the same weight? Is it that they're all exactly 20% smaller in order to improve the texture? Does it depend on the person who is going to be eating the potatoes? (note: it does! If you're cooking them for me, they should be sweet potatoes, and just go ahead and fry them, thanks.)

You don't know what "perfect" means. - Tweet This

The great thing about cutting decent potatoes that are close to the same size but not worrying about more than that is that you can get the meal on the table, have your family eat it, and then make decisions about what you want to try next time. Maybe the potatoes would be better if you cut them a little smaller. Maybe the dish needs twice as many potatoes. Maybe you decide to substitute cauliflower for potatoes like a terrible person who doesn't deserve food. Maybe the problem isn't the potatoes at all. It's the spices. They're all wrong. You didn't see that coming, did you? 

You'll have a much better idea of what "better" means once you've shipped the meal and gotten feedback about what people liked and hated and what they left on the plate and why. 

Remember, the more time you spend obsessing about the damn potatoes, the less time you spend fixing important things like the fact that you forgot to make dessert. 

This is why I say that there's nothing wrong with aiming for "good enough," especially on the first few versions of something.  Good enough doesn't mean "too crappy to learn from" and it doesn't mean we're never improving it. It means we're getting something out that is good enough to get feedback on and that we can improve over time.