Jobs-vs-hoffman-digital-design-philosophy

Founder of LinkedIn and former PayPal executive vice president, Reid Hoffman famously said:

“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve shipped too late”.

Apple and Pixar founder Steve Jobs, on the other hand, had almost the exact opposite philosophy. He once said:

“Details matter. It’s worth waiting to get it right.”

He lived by this philosophy.

So, when it comes to design, who was right?

At DreamWalk, we help entrepreneurs launch new apps and the question “when is it ready for release?” comes up on just about every project. For clients, this is usually a more obvious consideration towards the end of the development project when bugs are being ironed out and last minute tweaks are being applied. However, considering ‘readiness’ in the design phase can be equally important.

mobile UX designer at work at DreamWalk

Mobile UX designers Melbourne – DreamWalk.

As a designer you can always keep working, keep refining and keep improving a design. But, at some point you have to put your mouse down and leave your precious baby in the hands of others. How do you know when is the right time to hand it over? Is it ok to hand over a design you are embarrassed by if it means potentially getting to market quickly or should you take your time to perfect it?

It all comes down to Hoffman or Jobs. Whose philosophy is the right one for designers?

I don’t presume to have the answer and I don’t know that there even is an answer that applies universally but I can tell you how I choose to approach it.

 

When it comes to creating a new digital product, I believe in the Jobs approach to design and the Hoffman approach to development. Here’s why:


Users will forgive you for the occasional bug. They’ll live with a lack of features or content. In fact, as long as you provide that one core service they need and can’t get anywhere else, they’ll tolerate all kinds of technical shortcomings.

In my experience launching over a hundred apps, I can definitively say that Reid Hoffman was right in a technical context. If you want the first mover advantage, getting a minimum viable product to market fast, bugs and all, is the way to go.

Nowadays, users have a very low tolerance threshold for poor design though. 

PayPal was launched in 1998, at the height of the dot com bubble and LinkedIn a few years later. This was a gold rush era. Users didn’t have nearly as many choices as they have today. Web design was an entirely new concept for designers. Everyone was learning and nobody had truly mastered the art form. ‘UX designer’ wasn’t even a job title back then. Oftentimes, websites and web apps were just designed by the programmers themselves as they went along. Design sophistication just wasn’t as important then. Things have changed though. Digital design has come a long way and user’s expectations have moved with it.

paypal-design-1998

Paypal home page design in 1998

In 2020, these are some of the big impacts design can have when it comes to launching a new digital product:

  1. Users instinctively trust something that is designed well. 
  2. Good UX design enables users to achieve their goals faster, increasing product satisfaction. Poor UX wastes time and causes frustration.
  3. Design can directly impact user engagement and retention
  4. There are a lot of options available to users these days. A great design can help a product stand out. 
  5. Good design shouts quality. Poor design conveys inferiority.
  6. First impressions matter. 50% of App Store users will install an app based purely on the first impression, for example.

There’s no need to take my word for it though. Just spend half an hour exploring the App Store and Play store. Look at the top ranking apps. Look at the apps with the most positive ratings. Look at the apps Apple and Google are featuring. What do they all have in common? They look great.

App Store featured app and charting apps

App Store featured apps and charts

Of course, look and feel is only half of the story when it comes to design though. At this point it’s worth recounting another of Steve Jobs’ memorable quotes:

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

By definition, poor design equates to a poor user experience and I think we can all agree that when it comes to designing great experiences, Jobs was the master.

So, in adopting Jobs’ philosophy as a designer, does this mean you should abandon timelines altogether? Of course not. Designers still have deadlines to meet and clients to appease. What it does mean is using design time effectively to get the best design outcomes. It means suggesting time and budget extensions where you think they are necessary. Being able to effectively articulate the reasons why spending more time on a particular screen, function or flow will affect the success of the product will help you get buy-in from stakeholders.

For every startup or new project, there will always be competing priorities. There will never be enough time or money to do everything. Knowing why great design is so important can help you to balance those priorities.

Reid Hoffman was right when it comes to development. Acting fast and getting a first mover advantage can be crucial to the success of a new digital product. But when it comes to design, Steve Jobs’ philosophy rings truer now than it ever has before. Details matter. 

By Joseph Russell — DreamWalk founder

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