You might design several versions of something. If each version isn’t better than the last, then what are you actually doing? But if you are able to make version 4 better than versions 1, 2, and 3… why didn’t you just make version 4 from the beginning?
The answer: you learn things in between, but only if you’re willing to fall out of love with something immediately after you make it.
As a product designer you have to make a lot of designs that you have strong emotions about, and make a lot of designs that represent you as a designer.
As a good product designer you also have to kill most of those designs, either by designing something better, or, sometimes, by measuring it and learning that it doesn’t work. And sometimes there is just a better idea, and you go with that instead. Or maybe the client didn’t like your favorite idea.
I often say “I am better at version 2.” Once I get version 1 out of my system, suddenly I see all the things I could have done better… so I do.
Magic requires ignorance.
As soon as we understand the trick, the magic becomes a method. Less fun, but more impressive when you think about it. Suddenly you realize how much practice it took to make the method look like magic.
It’s hard to be impressed by something that is obvious, but nothing is obvious while you don’t understand it.
When you suddenly know what made something amazing in the first place, it stops being beautiful because it was mysterious, and starts being beautiful because it is elegant.
It’s hard to improve on something that is mysterious to you, because you don’t know what to change.
If you design something that works really well, but you don’t know why, you will be afraid to change it. You will feel like you’re going to break it. And the truth is, you might.
But you’re not doomed. You’re just not informed yet.
Things only seem sacred and untouchable when you don’t understand them.
And the simple truth is, designing a lot of things tends to reveal the ingredients in the sacred recipe. Testing your designs reveals the ingredients even faster.
You notice connections.
You discover patterns.
You learn “rules of thumb”, which you will unlearn and re-learn until they get really good.
You get surprised. A lot at first. Less and less over time.
You start to get faster at deconstructing and improving designs you like. Maybe even systematic.
And eventually the magic is gone, but now you can do something pretty crazy: create sacred things whenever you need them!
But that’s also when you become a designer, and stop being an artist.
Master designers can imagine whole systems of design for any problem you might throw at them, and if you change the requirements, they imagine a new system of design for that instead.
And they are not upset about killing their first idea at all, because it wasn’t the right design for the situation. For the master designer, the magic isn’t about how much they love a design, it’s about how well the design solves the problem.
There are two aspects to improving your own designs: knowing why you did something, and knowing why it worked.
If you do your research, it’s not that hard to know why you did something.
But knowing why your design works means you have to prove that it works, and that it wasn’t something else that made it work. That’s hard.
My best advice is to deconstruct your designs. A lot. Set high standards and make your designs pass them.
Take it apart and question everything.
What if that button was red, what would change? What if the text was more fun? What if you made that headline and that button look more like a group? Or less?
If people aren’t clicking your button as much as you would like, question why you made the page in the first place. Is that what the user thinks? Is that what the copy says? Are you leading the user’s eyes to the button, or to something else? If you stand across the room, is the most obvious part the most important part? Why not?
It’s endless, but it’s not stressful. It’s progress. If you are good at thinking about your own thinking, and if you do it a lot, and if you test and question and learn along the way, you might be surprised what is hidden in version 4.
You just have to understand version 1, 2, and 3 first. ;)