Don’t start from scratch
Design | March 25th, 2015
We all want to leverage our time and effort. That’s why ideas like the 80/20 rule are so popular. Work on something until it’s good enough, then move on. But our work just isn’t good enough? What if you want to go beyond 80%?
That’s what I want to talk about today.
A couple weeks ago I was up in the mountains of North Carolina with a few of close friends for a mastermind retreat. During one of our feedback sessions James Clear asked for feedback on his wildly popular blog. That gave me a chance to mention something that I’d been thinking about for a while: I felt his site design didn’t live up to the quality of his content.
It wasn’t that the site was bad—in fact, I liked the minimal style—but a better design would have more attention to quality and typography.
James thought for a second and said, “I guess I could get it redesigned.”
The peril of starting from scratch
That’s something I’ve heard a lot: if something isn’t good enough, it’s time to redo it. Sometimes that’s necessary, but more often you should use the foundation you already have to get closer to perfect.
James didn’t need a site redesign. He just needed to spend a little time to add the final level of polish to make his design truly stellar.
So that’s what we did. After dinner that night James opened up the styles on his site and started making changes. I’d point out little things like: “Let’s find a new font for that title” or “let’s change the navigation color.” But for the most part the next two hours were spent with James making small tweaks and asking the group, “What do you think?”
Instead of starting from scratch and having to spend days designing and building a new design James was able to take his site design from “good enough” to “great!” in a couple hours.
Had he hired a designer or created an entirely new design it probably would have only reached 80% before it was declared “good enough” and everyone moved on to the other aspects of running a popular blog.
Fix the little things
At ConvertKit I’ve prioritized growing the business and designing a solid user experience over adding little bits of polish to the interface. That means ConvertKit is powerful, easy to use software, but it lacks the nice icons, illustrations, and animations that really complete the experience.
There were a handful of little quirks that were really bothering me, so the other day I opened up my code editor and started fixing them one-by-one.
I changed the hover state on a button, organized form fields on a page, made it so you could link to a specific tab on the settings page, and reworked the success and error messages.
What surprised me is just how little time these took to fix. Some of these issues had been bothering me for months, but I’d never had time to take care of them. Or at least I felt like it was a big deal so I put it off till when I could make it a priority.
That time never came (surprise!).
But when I just set aside an hour and fixed the little things, it was amazing how quickly everything came together.
James noticed the same thing. His site didn’t take weeks to redesign. Instead the process took about two or three hours.
The old design:
Redesign vs. Realign.
Years ago I heard Cameron Moll talk about how good designers redesign, but great designers realign. Meaning great designers take what’s already good and add the last bit of polish to take it to the next level. Rather than starting from scratch and spending all their time trying to get back to 80%.
James finally went to bed at 2:00 AM. Though when I walked passed his room 30 minutes later I could see that instead of sleeping, he’d got his laptop back out and was making tiny tweaks to his site.
When I made the ConvertKit changes the other night I didn’t want to stop. Seeing small bits of progress on things that have been bothering you for months can be addicting.
So my only caveat is that once you get in the flow of fixing small things, you may enjoy it so much you stay up way too late.