In a post last week, I briefly mentioned the concept of design creep, not realizing that many of you might not know what that meant. Since Grimreader and I have had a lot of experience with the problem, we decided to have some fun explaining the concept. Follows is this post written by Grimreader. Thanks Eric.
The title of this is not a reference to one of those pencil-thin mustache, used-car salesman types (“oh, no, here comes ‘The Design Creep”). It refers to a design that starts at point A and ends up on the diametrically opposite side of the planet. Sometimes this is a result of deliberate and unethical planning by one of the parties in order to get more than was paid for, but more often it results from endless tweaks to the original by overzealous technicians whose hearts are in the right place, but who have no idea how little cash is actually on hand. So, in order:
From the designer, the design creep is going to be like the former type. Is this the designer not actually knowing what they are asking for or the result of trying to get something for nothing? Try this test:
Is the designer dumber than a box of rocks and nastier than The Soup Nazi?
If so, then it’s probably design creep from ignorance. You can try educating the designer, but with a School of Hard Knocks lesson, like Kathleen used with the designer who didn’t want to hear about zippers in the pencil skirt.
Is the designer knowledgeable and friendly?
Does s/he want something “like a t-shirt, only completely different”? Then s/he’s probably trying to get something for nothing. Meet him half way: give him nothing for nothing, or better yet, just the t-shirt with some scratched-in changes.
On the the other hand, design creeps from engineers and technicians are almost always the result of overzealousness. It’s sorta like “Hey, let’s add this feature, then, if we do that, we need a bigger power supply, then, if we do that, it has to get bigger”. You start out trying to design a 1964 VW Beetle and before you know it, you end up with a Boeing 767. Here are two examples of design creep by engineering:
In 1501, some guys with the Wool Guild wanted some yard art, something roughly the size and shape of a lawn jockey. They commissioned champion yard-art maker Michel A. Buonarotti, who took 3 years to finish the ornament. Why? Well, it seems that he had this 17 foot piece of rock that he thought should be used for something, and this seemed like the perfect project. Today, it keeps the doors open in a gallery in Florence.
The Pontiac Aztek. Actually, this is an example of something designed by committee, but rather than arriving at consensus, they simply voted for every feature requested by every member of the committee. Butt ugly exterior? Check. Useless accoutrements? Check, check, check. Also, this design is creepy, so I get bonus points.
There is a natural conflict between marketing and engineering: marketers promise more than is currently available and insist engineers can do it easily, engineers never want to call the design finished and feel that marketing insists on unrealistic release dates. The trick is finding out exactly how much or little the customer wants, needs, and/or desires, and how much they are willing to pay for those features. There are a host of formal mechanisms for doing this: market surveys, focus groups, Quality Function Deployment (QFD), and so on. The problem is that most design shops don’t have access to this data, so they add on what they think customers want. And if they have a long development process, it will be months before they get any feedback. Information is costly.
Further compounding the problem is the fact that the people with the data don’t understand the development process, the costs and risks incurred and weighed in the development process, or the costs of production. Again, information is costly.
Design creep usually stems from lack of direction and knowledge of the trade offs, so an integrated design and marketing team, i.e. a product development team, is an attempt to reduce transaction costs. They also need direction, a strategy by which to determine which features should be incorporated and which left on the cutting table. Determining this is the role of the entrepreneur.