Emory Ball
Design Solutions - The Importance of Getting It Wrong
Emory Ball
July 19, 2017

Design Solutions and the Importance of Getting it Wrong

Throughout my career as a designer, a great deal of importance has been placed on creating correct solutions in the shortest amount of time possible. Given budgets, deadlines and client expectations, it is understandable why we try and get things right the first time around, but in my creative process I find that to get things right, I have to be willing to let myself get things wrong. All the way wrong. Let me explain.

Design Solutions Are Not Just a Right or Wrong Answer

Instead of viewing the design solution as trying to create a right or wrong answer, try to instead view them as theories you want to test. It’s like using the scientific method – you have to run an experiment to test and prove or disprove that theory. Those experiments need to be run fully to get proper conclusions: you can’t just abandon them part of the way through and expect to learn anything.

Whether the experiment succeeds or fails is not the entire point – the outcome will be what you learn from it, and sometimes by observing the process carefully you can come up with solutions you never expected. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin from some forgotten, overgrown petri dishes! What if he had thrown away what he thought was a failed experiment at first? So if you start looking at possible design solutions in this light, the value of the unexpected becomes clear. Without the ability to try, and fail, we can not as easily expand our ideas of what works and what does not.

You could say that simply getting to the point where you can tell that a solution will not work is value enough and to a degree, you would be correct. But I often find that I cannot fully see why an idea won’t work until I complete it. In fact, I often find that one idea’s failure is what suggests the correct solution and the things I learned from that failure are what make the following solution truly stronger.

To me, design is a “messy” process. If I am trying to build something new, something that I have never built before, I’m bound to make mistakes. Sometimes, the mistakes end up as correct solutions for entirely different projects! I can’t count the number of times I have created an element in a design such as a navigation system that ultimately ended up not working for that particular project but were good ideas so I keep them and used them later when I found a project they did fit in. I do this a lot writing music as well, that bridge that did not work in one song might be the seed idea for a whole new song.

One great thing about working at PointSource is that it is an environment and culture where I feel truly free to question why things can or cannot be done. The idea that anything is worth exploring certainly frees up people to speak openly about possible solutions with no fear of judgment for suggesting something that is “wrong.” In fact, I would say that you can’t truly explore if you already know they way to your destination. You have to be willing to get a little lost sometimes.

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