August 18th, 2008
Have you been watching the Olympics lately? I sure have. Every single minute I watch inspires me to apply the dedication necessary to become the best in anything that I do. With every success and every failure, there’s a story and a lesson to be learned.
What I found particularly interesting was the Track & Field 1500M race. I’m not much of a runner, so it’s the first time I’d witnessed a race such as this. For the first 1000M or so all of the runners stay in a surprisingly tight group. No one really attempts to push forward during this stage. I’d love to hear a runner’s insight as to why this is, but my guess is that doing so early on in the race offers a great amount of risk (tripping, overextending yourself, injuring yourself), for a small bit of reward (the temporary lead).
For the next 200M, the runners really begin to pick up the pace, and you can see the stragglers start to fall back and the contenders emerge from the pack. Finally, during the last 300M, everyone goes into an all out sprint to the finish. The pack really thins out and it becomes more like a line. There are clear champions during this stage, and there are clear stragglers.
At the Enterprise UI Summit, Craig Villamor of Salesforce.com mentioned something akin to “Designing the last mile”. At first, it seems like a different way to just say “Designing the details”, but it takes a different feeling when you apply it to User Experience and User Interface. I began to ponder the term over the next few days, and I’d like to share with you my thoughts.
On Your Marks… Get Set…
Imagine your company or product is in the 1500M race I described above. Next to you are some competing companies with competing products. You get on your mark, you set up, and POW! The gun fires. The importance of reaction time here depends on the type of race you’re in. If it’s a 100M sprint, then reaction time is quite important, for the 1500M not so much.
Applied to your business, you’ll just have to figure out if time to market impacts you. There are businessmen more savvy than I who can help you determine this. Just know that if you require a quick reaction time, then expect to do more sprinting than anything else.
The Majority of the Race
Everyone groups together for the first 1000M, which is a majority of the race. For product design, this stage is the building of fundamental features. Is the product basically usable? Does it satisfy the requirements of your target market? This is where most companies and products do just fine. They are listening to their customers, and they are delivering a usable product.
Just like the runners don’t attempt to push ahead during this portion for fear of injury, it’s tough to take risks at this juncture as you may wind up missing your target. It’s best to listen to your customers and provide a foundation that satisfies their needs.
That isn’t to say you can’t innovate in this position, but do so at your own peril. You may miss the mark completely.
The Last “Mile”
Right at 1000M, the pace begins to pick up. Product innovation occurs and you are actually starting to challenge the other companies’ offerings. You provide differentiating features and interface elements, and pull away from the pack of companies content to provide the bare minimum for their customers.
At 1200M, the all out sprint begins and every little detail counts. Visual cues are enhanced, workflows are simplified, consistency is obtained and context is nailed down. Your ability to win this race depends on your ability to design for this last leg. Most companies simply don’t have what it takes to compete in this last part of the race. Many companies seem completely unprepared, as though they were unaware that you were *supposed* to sprint this last part, and they give up, completely exhausted.
So how about it? When do you consider your app “done” or even “release-able”? Much like the final sprint, it takes dedication, practice, and a will to be the best.
Expect more posts on this topic in the future! I’ll teach you what it takes to design during this stage and what is and isn’t worth your time. Maybe I’ll make it the topic of a book some day
* all pictures are owned probably by NBC and screenshotted from their videos on NBCOlympics.com.