Making better product design decisions

How to untangle design dilemmas

David Portelli


When designing products, our thought process can sometimes feel similar to a driver encountering road blocks and taking detours to reach the desired destination. As we’re designing, we pass through countless dilemmas which crop up and get in the way of us reaching our intended outcome.

The space between our starting point and the desired outcome is what design is all about. As we design, detours may be exploratory directions or decisions we make which do not move us closer to the desired outcome in the most intentional and efficient way. This may happen for a number of reasons such as having strong opinions on what to execute, making irrelevant explorations for wrong reasons or simply getting tangled with design dilemmas which throw us off our path.

Before moving forward I’d like to clarify that design is indeed an iterative process which involves a high degree of back and forth and ample exploration too. However there is such a thing as iterating responsibly so that each round of iteration is an overall step forward in the right direction. Bad iteration on the other hand is directionless and often times a result of bad framing of a problem. When this is the case, it can lead to solutions to problems which don’t exist or aren’t in scope.

Here’s how I like to depict bad iteration and good iteration side by side; Bad iteration looks like a mess of spaghetti and good iteration looks like an upward spiral.

Bad iteration looks like a mess of spaghetti, good iteration looks like an upward spiral.

The process of great iteration is facilitated by asking better questions and being more analytical. In doing so we may begin to avoid the unnecessary detours and start driving in the efficient routes that help us reach our goal with clarity, intention and efficiency.

This article is a distilled list of questions I ask myself or others when situations need some untangling.

What problem am I trying to solve?