Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Eventual Correctness

Have you ever heard the term Directional Correctness or perhaps Directionally Correct? In the software business it is often used for when the concepts, functionality or usefulness of a thing is understood or apparent, even when there are details or bugs that prohibit full acceptance.

If you are building a form for the user to input data, having all the form elements and the submit button without any formatting, style, or validation would be considered Directionally Correct.

The process of building something new is often littered with the broken attempts and failed assertions. This is actually one of the driving motivations between Test Driven Development. Good designers use iterative processes to arrive at a great solution, it doesn't just magically appear. Great designers help those around them iterate also.

Have you ever looked back at the end of the day and realized you worked on the same design element the entire day? Have you ever had a user or consumer completely yank the carpet out from under you and realize that all the progress you made wasn't progress at all? A key reason this occurs is because we get too focused on the details too soon in the game. After all, the greatest engineers are perfectionists. It isn't done until it's Right. And that is what trips us up.

As engineers and designers we should foster or sense of elegance and perfection. Just not right away. We need to evolve our solutions, not magically produce them instantly. Produce something ambiguous and generic but somewhat functional. Or at least demonstrative of functionality. Get the users and consumers hand-waving in the general direction. Once you've achieved some agreement on the direction you are taking, then you can start hammering in nails and confirming details.

Besides being able to verify your work with consumers, it is important to delay details for your own benefit as well. The old Forest vs. Trees problems can impact even the most seasoned woodsman. As you implement your vision the details will reveal themselves. The gaps and holes will become obvious and you can address them with precision and prejudice. If you focus on details only after you have verified your directional correctness, they won't move or shift so you can be certain your specific solutions will serve.

It can be hard to iterate, especially with our innate desire for perfection. Iteration is like delayed gratification. You can make it perfect, it will be amazing and elegant. . .eventually.

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