The Reason to Iterate

Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. - Thomas Edison


Well known quote. So what?

I think it applies to the concept iteration quite well. When you start a project that you’re excited about, it can be nothing short of exhilarating. The high of having that idea, that cool new thing that you can create can drive people to create some amazing things.  But that quote is the perfect example of what really happens when it comes to product creation. That idea, that initial excitement and that initial burst of inspiration are nothing but a small part in the creation process. What happens after that initial push is actually a lot more important in the long run. 

I believe that you have to get to the prototype stage as quickly as possible. Whatever the idea, whatever the concept, getting it sketched out, visualized and prototyped is absolutely critical. You get to see so much more with a first prototype. The true value is a lot greater than all the thinking and pondering you can do. But, what do you do after? That first prototype tends to be a bump for a lot of people. You finally get to see those ideas in reality and some of those ideas are likely not what you expected. You’ll find new flaws, new usability issues that you didn’t think about. Suddenly, the project gets complicated. 

This is where iteration becomes key. The reality is you’re likely chasing a very specific idea that you see in your mind's eye, and those first attempts at that idea are going to be poor. You’re going to try your best to nail it, but you absolutely can’t nail it in one shot. This is where the rest of the work comes in. And a good portion of that 99% is really iteration and exploration of the initial prototype. 

Here are some tips:

  • Grab your team and take the time to review the iteration thats in front of you. How does it compare to the initial idea or the initial brief. 
  • Create a complete list of the issues that you can pinpoint on the initial review. Note those down for your future reference.
  • Let a trusted outside party review the product. Do your concerns resonate with someone who doesn’t know this project as well as you? If there are new concerns, explore them further.
  • The user is key when it comes to products, having several people test your project might yield further usability based insights
  • Once you catalogue all comments and issues - begin to create a list of fixes. How do you solve the problems?
  • Create the next iteration based on your fix

The trick of course is to not loose sight of your initial vision and idea. If you show your product to too many people, the concept might get diluted. It can be easy to focus group the product to death and let it loose all of its unique attributes. The initial brief is an absolute must. Is this product delivering on what you’re setting out to do? Will the changes on this iteration bring it closer to the initial brief or compromise the idea? You have to be aware of the changes you choose to make

And now here’s the secret sauce - Iterate as many times as you can within your schedule. You product, like any piece of art, will likely never truly be finished. I’ve always believed that the more iterations we had, the better the product became. As you get further and further into the process, you begin to iterate on the crucial details and you’ll begin to solve usability issues. 

So, while the initial idea is a powerful thing, having the discipline to iterate and improve your prototypes are the true necessary work. They require time and they require a great amount of effort. Don’t skip on the iteration. It’s the juicy center - and really where you get to learn quite a lot in the process.