Progress over perfection: How to design smarter in 2016

Managing Partner
New York

As businesses feel increasing pressure from both traditional competitors and new entrants, design teams are tackling more complex and urgent problems. As a result, project timelines are contracting, teams are becoming more diverse and a larger number of partners are required to support piloting and launch. In this new environment how can companies ensure teams have space for creativity and innovation?

In 2015 we experimented with a number of new approaches. Our goal was to help our clients quickly make progress in bringing transformative products and platforms into the world. Here are a few tips to help you move faster and be more innovative this year:

1. Make the project kick-off the first iteration

When you’re moving fast it’s crucial to quickly build trust between team members and align around a common goal. Starting day one of the project; an intense working session where you unpack the problem and begin to generate solutions areas can serve as the first iteration in discovering where powerful solutions might lie, while understanding the different perspectives and personalities on the team.

2. Structure projects to encourage improvisation

There are times in a program where the team needs to be given space to adapt their approach and improvise. Breaking programs into short modules (2-3 weeks) allows you to learn as you go and course correct at the end of each module. The start and end points must be clear but the path in between can be more open. Working within a well-defined area encourages experimentation and empowers the team to think more holistically and decisively. Building pauses at the end of each module is critical in building the brief for the next module. As a result project planning needs to be more dynamic and project charters written to enable more dramatic changes in direction.

3. Conduct experiments rather than testing concepts

Framing more ambitious projects as experiments encourages teams to push boundaries. A dramatic change of course based on a new learning should be seen as a victory rather than a failure. Innovation experiments require piloting in a real world context but also need to operate under the radar. This could mean piloting in a region outside of the primary market or in a restricted area such as within a corporate campus. The key is to get something convincing up and running in a realistic enough environment to make the learnings valid. It’s better to be approximately right rather than precisely wrong.

4. Use data to support human stories

Data has a role both at the outset of a program to landscape existing behaviors and patterns, and once prototypes go live, to track behavior as design work evolves. Data analysis isn’t a substitute for deep qualitative learning, but it gives the opportunity to go broader and see patterns over longer timespans. The combination of human stories backed by data enables quick decision-making and creates the organizational momentum required to be successful more ambitious projects.

5. The end is just the beginning

Traditional projects are focused on delivering a presentation or prototype however this is always just the beginning of another phase of the effort. Often teams change between phases and ensuring a good transition to new team members should be the main focus. This requires creating compelling and shareable artifacts to communicate the project journey and in-person time working one-on-one with new team members to ensure a smooth transition.


We found success in 2015 by applying these principles but we know 2016 will involve refinements and new approaches. Here’s to a transformative 2016 full of new products and platforms that better serve people and your organizations.