The Tendency to Overdesign

I got an email tonight with a great question and I thought I'd share my thoughts / gather some feedback.

Here's the question:

One problem that I have always had that after I design a website or Silverlight application I tend to start second guessing what I have produced. Next thing you know I start tweaking a little bit here and a little bit there and in the end it ends up totally different when maybe it was fine to begin with. It's almost as if it's not good enough and I am over critical. Do you have that problem? If so, how do you deal with it or how do you recommend I deal with it?

Here's my response:

That's a great question. I'm certainly no stranger to overdesigning something that was good to begin with. On the other hand that refining process often makes things better not worse. So, I don't have a perfect answer for when to stop, but I do have some thoughts:

First, your instincts get better with time and you need to trust them. If you don't have that "in the pocket" feeling about something, it's probably good to keep exploring. You can always go back.

Second, it's always a good idea to put some space between you and a design from time to time. I usually have two or three things "cooking" just so I get some perspective as I bounce between them. If you have the luxury of a time, taking a few days is great. Use that time to try to shift your thinking, find new inspiration, etc. When you go back, you'll almost definitely see the design in a different light.

Third, backup as you go and keep a history of your iterations. Once you give yourself some space, go back and try to deconstruct your thinking. That will give you a chance to find the good among the bad. It will also help you understand yourself and refine your instinct.

Your response?

Wondering what other folks would say to this. Anybody have thoughts to share? How do you know when a design is good enough to stop?


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