Good web development starts with passion and an idea. Excited designers draw up plans for a site that grow in ambition and scope. Options quickly become overwhelming, forcing hasty, ill-considered decisions. Driven by lack of time and a desire to make everything perfect, planned features are compromised, abandoned, or delivered rushed and stillborn. As work proceeds and the deadline nears, more features are culled to try to save on time. In the worst case, developers and designers burn out and become dejected. The work stutters, stalls, and grinds to a halt. Because it can’t be made perfect, the site is abandoned, or limps along as a shadow of its intended design.
Sound like anything you’ve worked on lately?
This development cycle is familiar to anyone in the design industry. The pitfalls are acknowledged and well-known. Yet we keep making the same mistakes
Poor planning is the developer’s worst enemy, procrastination the second. For the designer, creative paralysis is also high on the list. Very few people are completely immune to all three, and succumbing to any one of them usually makes for poor, rushed and stressful work. Having provided a site design project to a number of my students last week, I thought today would be a good opportunity to discuss some techniques to both inspire and keep on top of work commitments in the web development world.
Abandon The Concept of Linear Progress
While goals, deadlines and delivery dates are obviously important, it is vital for both today’s web designer and their clients to understand that the era of “one and done” websites is over. A website is never finished: it is always in the process of transition. The development process is not linear: it is a logarithmic spiral
Why is this the case? Because, like the architecture of Inception, the landscape that we work in is constantly shifting. Details of the HTML5 spec are in constant motion; new browser versions and mobile platforms are released weekly, and new social media services go viral in months.
This is actually good news: it means that we will be forced into fostering respectful long-term relationships with clients and sites that last years, not weeks. Our creations will keep returning to us, and the circle of Design → Develop → Review will repeat endlessly. It also means that we should always be proud of the work that we do: simply getting it done will not be enough. Being constantly confronted with (and reminded of) poor work is the seventh circle of designer’s hell.
The Perfect Is The Enemy Of The Good
Because a website is never finished, it is also never “perfect”. Some designers delay delivery of a site because it is not yet perfectly formed. While glaring errors should never be a part of any site, there also comes a time when you must push your work out before it becomes stillborn. Features, programming and security all fall under this condition: there will always be improvements to make. Sometimes “good enough” is enough, at least until the next review cycle.
While Parkinson’s Law – “Work expands the time given to complete it” – will always be true, it is also true that a great deal of planning fails due to insufficient time provided for the project. I’ve found this to be especially true of freelancers: eager to please, they tend to underestimate the time needed to complete a project. (I’ve talked about why this is a counter-productive stratagem previously).
However many hours you originally estimate for the work, double it. The resulting number will almost always be closer to the actual work time than your original estimate
Have Someone (or Something) Hold Your Feet To The Fire
Human beings tend to work harder when we are aware that we are being observed, and that the progress of our work is monitored. Having someone that you feel responsible to ask about your progress on a daily basis can help keep the work at the forefront of your mind. You can also set up various tools to minimize distraction and maintain a development schedule.
Find Fresh Sources Of Inspiration
Sometimes designers just get stuck. Sometimes code becomes more complex without actually achieving anything more. Often in those situations I find it advisable to step away from the problem: too much focus can lead your mind down a dead-end path while obscuring other options
Take a short break. Your mind will continue to work on the problem, without the stress of a glaring screen. For designers: while I believe that a good designer should be able to take inspiration from anything, I will share some of my personal sources in an upcoming article.
Have procrastination-busting techniques of your own? Share them in the comments below!