I don’t know about you, but I think some designers have an in-built tendency to “over-think”. That is, they take a scenario and play out all the possibilities, both on screen and in their head a little beyond the call of duty. For designers with an engineering or scientific grounding, it’s part of the creative process and part of the job of taking something that is “ordinary” and (hopefully) making it spectacular!
For the vast majority of the time, the client won’t even notice this extra thinking. So why do it?
Well, I guess most projects and clients will require you to produce several ideas (and have sign off stages). The over-thinking can simply manifest itself as variations on a theme. The client can then choose a particular stage of the over-thinking and you can work up that idea to make it as good as can be.
So, in a way, over-thinking in design has a time and a place. You play around with all the possible variations and outcomes (like an engineer making sure all their calcs are OK), before latching on to the final design knowing that you have tried as many of possibilities as you can think of. Perhaps over-thinking simply sits alongside inspiration or creativity as another of those difficult to quantify or pin down bits of “being a designer”.
All pretty good so far. But over-thinking” isn’t just for the realm of the designer. When it is applied in all areas of a company (due to their corporate belief systems or the perceptions of staff of how they need to behave in order to be noticed) you see how it can cripple what seems to be a pretty benign process.
A product is being sent in a mailshot as a free sample. It needs a “free sample” sticker, but the place where you normally put the sticker is not suitable, so where do you put it?
Choose a nice place on the product for the sticker;Agree that it doesn’t have to be exact, it just needs to be visible in the area chosen; check with project manager; tell the warehouse… done!
I think a designer would instintively know that this problem doesn’t need too much thought. I mean it’s not about design, it’ s not affecting the financials and as long as the sticker is visible, it will be OK!
Choose a nice place; check with project manager; tell the warehouse; Warehouse worries (or over-thinks) about location, “can we replicate position consistently?” “would it be better here or here?”; double check location from an ops (not customer) perspective (you start over-thinking); Send precise location to nearest millimetre; Warehouse sends sample of stickered product and tests stickering procedure; get written sign off with chosen position; double-check with project manager, ponder board approval… not not this time; tell the warehouse… done.
That’s a standard, everyday occurrence. An example of over-thinking brought to the fore in a company’s culture. Everyone spends far too much time investigating the potential pifalls of the minutiae of a project without keeping an eye on what is actually important.
Company culture and procedures will influence opinions and opinions will influence the facts that are relevent. You simply end up with indecision. A common by-product of industrial strength over-thinking. When design collides with this culture you find delays-a-plenty!
A designer will choose when to over-think pretty well (in the realm of design, anyway!). When you know your craft, you know when a project demands that extra mile or needs to be approached from many angles.
Over-thinking of designs from a client or manager can certainly replace or disrupt creativity, but that’s really just part of the client / project manager / designer relationship. There’s nary a project alive that existed without some sort of meddling!
But be aware of the levels of over-thinking that go on outside of the design process. They are often where the problems really lie.