ARTICLE: Beautiful Mistakes

You want to launch with imperfections

Are we trained to fear failure?
As we grow up we are often taught failure is bad. We learn how to lie. We learn how to hide. We learn ways to avoid shame. We covet encouragement from those who raise and educate us. And we work hard to find ways to receive more praise. Positivity after all can be a great motivator for personal and social change. Is it no wonder that as we begin to work for others in our professional lives that we already have a build in negative response to failure? It is only made worse by a management culture that often treats failure with harsh words, threats, firings and demotions.

For the world of digital development and consumer experience it is no different. In fact in such a high pressure, fast paced environment it can be amplified. Mistakes are bigger, reactions more dramatic, collapses of careers and projects down right epic.

Usually the mistakes made in any given project that only materialize after launch. Often someone else points it out. Sometimes in a casual question or comment:

Some of my favourites:

  • “I thought that would have been clickable”
  • “How do I log out?”
  • “Oh…I didn’t see that scrollbar”
  • “Don’t you find that colour is lost on top of that background?”


Mistakes Matter
It is these “Beautiful Mistakes” we are unfortunately chastised for committing rather than encouraged to learn from. It may seem like a small shift in management approach to not react with an attack. However positivity for a younger generation of workers – who may just as easily start their own company or product than be verbally abused for mistakes – it may matter more now than ever. You could loose good future talent resources and often damage your workplace reputation. Or worse like many younger forward thinkers they could easily create their own startup and become your competition.

To me, mistakes are one of the most important parts of a process built on versioning and updating through real experience. No other medium is so dependent on outside opinion when it comes to design other than product development. We don’t design for ourselves, or our portfolios, or our bosses. We design for the audience. And if we don’t – we may not have a company or product to design for in the future.

It is amazing to me that we call what we do User Experience when more often than not users have absolutely nothing to do with it until the final stages – and more likely on small projects, updates or 90% of marketing digital promotions – not until AFTER the project is already launched and the issues start to appear. This is when real people start finding all the cracks you thought you were so smart in finding and solving. We may enter QA functionality testing and occasional on the street BETA testing but not often enough. Where as TV commercial productions have been working at the consumer feedback level as early as scripts and drawn storyboards to get a gauge on how the commercial will be viewed or new food products have been taste tested before anyone even had a name for it. Granted I’ve sat in enough consumer TV testing sessions to see how painful it can be for the creators – seeing what the average consumer interprets of their award winning idea – I still don’t knock the necessity.

Lack of early testing and QA can often happen because of our own fear of collaborating with too many people. It’s a safe fear to have. We all know too many cooks in the kitchen will burn it to the ground. Like Steve Wozniak who spent months building a prototype of what would eventually become the first Apple Computer in isolation and who has often been a strong believer in the need for working alone. Sometimes it is necessary to work on your own with no outside influence. This is the incubation period – where you are usually not even sure what you have yet. However after that stage it is important to take a pause and get real feedback and adjust. You can’t do that if you keep holding off until its perfect.

It will never be perfect.
Even if you asked a team or third party to QA for months with unlimited funds. Even – yes I’m talking to you brand managers – if your wife, husband, grandmother or intern tried it and gave some of their wisdom on what to change. It will never be perfect. It will never match that testing pool that is the general public. Like a painter – every painting is one step in an ongoing exploration of personal development. You are only as good as your last piece. And you carry all that experience and learning into the next one. An artist would never finish a painting and say, “Well, I’ll never be better than that. I’ll just stop”

You want mistakes to happen. You want to find then and solve them.

Now I’m not talking the basic no-no’s like unsecured payment processes or broken links in dev. I’m talking designed user experiences and a more organic ability to quickly fix them with a solid response team and a good feedback loop in place post launch. We as a digital culture now expect things to be imperfect online or to age quickly. When you phone stops working or an app crashes – do you instantly scream, cancel your plan and throw your phone out? No. You restart the phone and play with it a few minutes. Then you likely search online for people with similar issues. Then you start calling the phone company or emailing the app builder. And if they are smart – they are glad you finally called or posted your forum question – because you just gave them something to improve on with real user feedback.

Launching on time with a few imperfections but having a response team in place to review and fix quickly for the first few weeks will get you farther than holding off on a launch or delaying where the project risks becoming an infinite cycle of internal fixes. We often call this model the MVP – Minimum Viable Product. If you have it close and are ready to share it – then share it. You can build a better experience on top of it quicker.

This is a common process in software development. However it terrifies brands and marketers – which in turn leads to long wasted hours and missed or pushed media launches. Costing money, stress and jobs. Usually the designers and developers are then shamed into thinking their inability to foresee everything is the real issue creating a negative hole that will eventually result in someone leaving or loosing their motivation to work.

Think of how fast we could accelerate digital experiences if clients were less afraid to live by a MVP model for their launches and phase in elements as their media continues to drive visitors. Who could actively see and play a more valuable a role in the experience. Instead the only real power the consumer has in brand experiences is that of passive audience or social controller if they don’t like what they experienced.

If you are a manager in this industry or an owner or a client – embrace Beautiful Mistakes. Encourage ways to push boundaries and build your teams on versioning and quick response. What an interesting approach indeed.

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