A Rule of Thumb is Dangerous in the Wrong Hands

I get involved in a lot of design work and it is one of the most enjoyable aspects of marketing, but it can also be one of the most frustrating. I came across these “rules of thumb” for design and they have helped me working with clients on many occasions. I truly can’t remember what the source was so if it is you then please let me know so I can give the proper credit.

(Thanks to my brother-in-law Jim for the witty quotation in the title)

Rule of Thumb

Design Rules of Thumb

Good not Perfect – Web products, and content that is correctable and improvable on the fly, we need to decide when good enough is good enough because it can always be changed.

It’s not the number of steps that cause delays in development – it’s the space between the steps.
Have you ever been frustrated with how long it takes to accomplish projects? It’s not the number of steps in your project plan that determines how long the project takes, it’s when you take a breather between every step that causes delays. Good project management minimizes the space between the steps and stays focused on achieving the milestones and ultimate goal.

Freeze and Go!
Changes should be collected and released on a simple schedule (quarterly, semi-annually, etc.)

Prefer action over study
If you or your team is studying something to death – remember that death was not the original goal!

Brainstorm, Mock-Up, Build, Alpha, Rebuild, Beta, Pilot, Test, Launch, Evaluate, Re-Do.
There’s the process. It’s pretty simple, and many make the mistake of trying to skip a step. Each step can be quite small and contained. You don’t need to bet the organization’s future on a single initiative.

Remember the rule of six (6) in usability testing
You get very diminishing returns after asking the same question of like people. Sometimes we think that we can reduce the risk from the implementation of our innovative product features and functions by testing it with hundreds of users.

Remember the 15% rule
Humans have extreme difficulty in actually seeing a comparative difference of less than 15%. I once read that research shows that when we see the light from 100 candles, we don’t see a difference in brightness until 115 candles are lit. Interesting – I understand that the same thing is true of sound volume, color variation, and other matters of human perception.

Use the 70/30 rule
“I agree with 70% of the plan and can live with the other 30%.” That’s the key to consensus decision-making. Lord knows the time wasted trying to achieve 100% agreement to all points and ideas. If you can lead your team to agree to this principle, you have made a major step forward in breaking the logjam of unmade decisions in “almost” complete projects.

Remember the old 80/20 rule standby
No matter how few or how many users you have, 80% of your usage / revenue / statistics, etc. will come from 20% of your users. If you remove 80% of your users who aren’t delivering good user numbers, you’ll still be getting 80% of your use from 20% of your users. Remember that 80% of users, who are not using your product or service a lot, are your non-users and also your future or emerging new users, users who are still getting comfortable with the product, users from other demographics where you’ll discover new products and services to create, and users who are just at a different point in the adoption curve.

Remember the 90/10 rule
It’s true enough that 90% of your costs in both time and money are in implementation, not development. Never underestimate the amount of time and effort that will be required after you have given birth to your baby product or service. Just like human babies they require a lot of effort, expense, care and feeding, training, and support to bring them up to their full potential. And like kids, be patient, they’re marvelous when they’re all grown up!

Remember FABS
Understand the differences between features, functions, and benefits. It’s easy to design hundreds of features and functions into a product or service. It is hard to know which ones are the most important to each user. The true skill is in knowing what the benefit of each is. If it doesn’t meet someone’s true need, then seriously question whether it’s worth doing. It should also meet the need of your priority target user. Then you must market and sell the benefits to your users – not the features and functions.

Ask the three magic questions:

  1. What keeps you awake at night?
  2. If you could solve only one problem at work, what would it be?
  3. If you could change one thing and one thing only, what would it be?

I have discovered that these questions are truly magic. They start conversations with users rather than delivering simple answers. They’re open-ended instead of closed-ended, yes or no answer questions. Just set the context and ask away.

Respect diversity
There’s an enormous amount of diversity out there, and it is not just traditional diversity around income, gender, sexual orientation, race, culture, ethnicity, or language. Of particular interest to information professionals is diversity of information literacy skills, learning styles, and multiple intelligences.

Every organization has thousands of ideas that are worthy of consideration. No organization can do them all. That’s the tough part. When you have 100 good ideas to choose from, the critical skill isn’t choosing five, but sacrificing 95. Learn the skill of temporary sacrifice. You can store your good ideas in an idea parking lot and bring them forward into the strategic planning process as projects are completed. If you don’t focus and choose to limit your energy to achieving success on those that will deliver the most value to your enterprise and users, then you are choosing mediocrity.

Know any more rules of thumb you can share?

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Stephen says:

    Some great advice here. I’ll send it to my web developing business partners.

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