Curiosity? It’s Just a Button.

Curiosity can kill a designer. Wait, what?! Well yeah, sometimes. Curiosity is a natural behavior for designers. Creative studios want designers to be curious. Designers can’t help it. It’s in their DNA. But sometimes it can be deadly. Designers can get too hung-up on “What if…” and the “I didn’t think of that…” and not let go of further exploration. Then projects never get finished. I know, because I’ve been a victim of this designer disease myself. But I have learned to control the symptoms and avoid fatal mistakes. Here are three ways curiosity killed the designer:

Constant exploration, and chasing too many “what ifs…”

Designers have their own Pandora effect. We sometimes design regrettable layouts that make us question our abilities and decisions. But shouldn’t designers think through all possibilities, and try everything? Of course! But you want to be careful not to fall into a never-ending hamster wheel of concepts and variations, because you’ll end up back at square one.

I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t it healthy to examine all possibilities? Yes it is. But it can be dangerous to a budget and morale. This is when your best design instincts need to come into play. Roll with what your gut says is right. Build your confidence and go with a 1-2 punch, just a couple variations. Plan effectively. Pull out that mechanical pencil you have hidden in your top drawer and put your thoughts down on paper before jumping into Adobe. Do your concept exploration during the sketch phase. Then move on. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me four hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend three hours sharpening the axe.” The point being — planning is everything.

Misunderstanding the audience and/or the goals.

This was a young designer’s mistake for me. I remember starting a new job at a prestigious web design and development company when I was 25. I wanted to make an impact. I was hungry for clients and wanted to show off my design chops. I was curious what I could do for some of our fortune 500 clients. When the time came to create a website design I dove right in. No planning at all. I did all kinds of fantastic, badass-looking layouts I thought would impress everyone. But I hadn’t thought through what the client, or their audience, needed or had asked for. My design curiosity forgot about the most important part of the job — meeting client goals.

It’s just a button.

This problem is similar to the “what if’s”, but it is more about budget than planning. My very first task, at that same job I mentioned above, was a production task. A client needed a button graphic for a website. It needed to say “Learn More”. I spent HOURS  creating different button options. Some with rounded corners, some with none, one with a color variation and the other with a different font. Thinking back, I felt the need to impress the manager requesting the button and I worked on it in the evening and spent probably four hours creating button concepts. It turned into an obvious budget issue. I only billed one hour and ghosted the other three hours. The manager knew this, and told me the client was very satisfied with the options and appreciated our curiosity. But I wasn’t really curious. I was just eager to impress.

Curiosity is good. But overlapping it with personal neediness, or ego, or a lack of design confidence can be a serious obstacle. If I had created two button options instead of six, and explained the rationale behind why I created those two, the job would have been finished. I would have had my evening back.

So, work to avoid indulging in your curiosity. Ask the right questions, know your objective, and be confident in your work. Don’t over-pursue the small things. Sometimes, it really is just a button.