Why Bad Design is Good for You

(I have to say, that image was ridiculously fun to make.)

As designers, we’re often taught a standard design process. Use whatever techniques to generate your ideas, and then, based on the critical requirements of the brief/client, filter out the ideas that don’t apply. Repeat the process until you’ve distilled your ideas down to the very best few, then proceed onwards.

One thing I notice, however, is that after a while, the generating process develops its own filter. Instead of producing ideas in the first stage and evaluating them later, we evaluate them immediately, and if found lacking, they don’t make it into our mind-map/chart/sketches at all. Those ideas are considered bad design, and since we already know that in the next step, those ideas would be eliminated, our mind takes a preemptive step by applying a negative prejudice on the idea the moment it comes out.

Do you know what this means? This means that a potentially good idea was eliminated from the drawing board before it had a chance to truly shine.

But is there all that there is to it? Here are two reasons as to why not only should you not toss out bad ideas, but you should give yourself some room to expand and experiment with them.

Failure makes for a better teacher
It might seem otherwise, but think about it. When you fail, you learn something. Maybe this approach didn’t work. Maybe you need to try using different materials. Maybe you do not understand the brief correctly. But success only teaches you one thing: what you did worked.

Observing and analyzing bad design is critical to the success of your design. Why doesn’t this design work? What can I do to improve it? If I changed element X, what would happen?

Get the ball rolling
Let’s see a show of hands: how many of us have experienced designer’s block at some point in our career? Yeah, I thought so. But what do you consider designer’s block? Are you truly unable to come up with anything, or are you unable to produce anything good? Think back on the times you’ve been stumped for ideas, and analyze your thought pattern. Were you mentally writing ideas off as rubbish?

Does this mean you were wrong and that those ideas were actually good? No, chances are they really were rubbish. But the mind is a wonderful thing. Once you bring rubbish out of your mind onto paper or any other medium, the mind stops seeing it as rubbish and starts to see it as inspiration. And now there’s space for a new idea, one that, thanks to the aforementioned inspiration, is better. And as you slowly continue this process, your mind’s gears pick up the pace, and BOOM! Designer’s block is a thing of the past.

So really, when you think about it, bad design is so helpful to you that it seems unfair to call it so. After all, many great inventors and designers of the past freely admit to coming up with failed designs or ideas before they achieved the success that made them famous. But one quality that they all have which I respect profoundly is the sense of respect and importance they have for their failed ideas. The ‘bad’ designs are no less important or vital to their success than the good one.

So what about you? What do you consider ‘bad design’, and how much of a role has it played in your career, if at all? What is your approach to bad ideas when they appear during your brainstorming sessions, and why so?

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29th August 10
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  • http://www.ashmenon.com/dare-to-fail/ Dare to Fail | Ash Menon

    [...] wrote an article previously about how bad design is good for you (which you can read here ). While I wrote that in the context of design, the message is applicable across the board: failure [...]