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Process vs Progress

14 September 2013

The process vs progress battle is something that I think every creative deals with and continually learns from on a regular basis. This battle essentially defines the end result of the products we build. This is a topic that has been weighing heavily on my mind for sometime now. So let me try my best to explain.


Process (noun): a series of actions that lead to a particular result.ª

Progress (noun): movement, as toward a goal.ª

The Craft

One of the biggest challenges I’ve continually had in product design is finding a healthy balance between making progress to meet the destination set and truthfully crafting the product during the process.

We have all heard that cheesy quote, “it’s not about the desination, but it’s about the journey along the way”. If we were to translate that into Product Design it would be so, “it’s not about the end result, but it’s about the process along the way”. Following?

In the book Mere Christianity, C.S Lewis does an excellent job of illustrating how progress is directly impacted by the process:

C.S Lewis
C.S Lewis doing what he does best.

“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back sooniest is the most progressive man.”

All Hype Shawty

“We all want progress”, C.S Lewis says. We all want to build the next Twitter, or the next Medium or whatever it looks like to you. In the time I’ve been in the tech industry, I’ve noticed companies and creatives get really hyped up in the initials stages of the process but as they progress they get sloppy and sort of rush towards the finish line. We’ve all bought into this “it ain’t shit ‘til it’s shipped” mentality. So we rush natural parts of product development only to get an approval five-high from Dave at that tech conference this weekend.

4th Quarter

No professional athlete gives his worst effort in the 4th quarter of a game. We need to become sharper and sharper in the craft of our process as we progress towards the end result of the product we are building. If that means going back to your typesets and spending an extra day testing different typefaces for simply three navigation links then so be it. I’m not saying go unnecessarily crazy on details, even though any designer would say the contrary, I’m saying find a balance between improving your product and rushing your product.

Ryan Singer nails the coffin on Quora:

“Every feature can be better. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. But each element should be solid and well thought-out before you move on to the next.”

Therefore, the process is not an enemy or opponent of progress. They go hand in hand. I believe a beautiful and successful product is always the consequence of the understanding and balance between the process and the progress.