Killing your darlings

Last month I wrote about my process of designing what I called vesting sparklines. I was super excited about them because they packed so much information into a small area and because they made so much sense to me.

There is nothing like the moment when you suddenly come upon the answer to a design problem. Whether it is a particular interaction or the perfect design element, it is a moment of pure elation.

-Joshua Brewer, 52 weeks of UX

Testing my idea

When I showed a couple coworkers an early version, they were extremely confused. They wanted to understand but even with me there explaining it to them, it took a while. Even then, they didn’t seem to love it.

And these are patient, smart people, open to the idea.

Users are typically in a rush, distracted, and resistant to change.

But that’s okay, I thought, it’s just an early version.

Tweaking my idea

So I added a detailed modal to my prototype, so that if you click the sparkline you see a carefully labeled version of it with a table showing all the data below. Hover any piece of the chart and the appropriate table row lights up. Hover any row and the appropriate bar on the chart lights up.

Retesting my idea

Recently, another group of coworkers was discussing showing a timeline of events. I couldn’t contain my excitement so I called them over to my desk and showed them my sketch file with the table and the hover and everything.

It fell flat. Again.

Five brilliant people, all very knowledgeable in the world of equity compensation, didn’t understand it. So I explained. And explained. And it still wasn’t clear.

Example chart of price vs. quantity for upcoming equity vests

Part of my “improved” design: simple, right? Wrong!

Then a coworker asked “What pain point is this solving?”

Oh. Yeah. That.

The problem with my idea

My problem with this idea was that it wasn’t directly addressing a known user need. It was just an exercise I came up with based on the Tufte book I read.

They say when the only tool you know how to use is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I was wielding my Tufte hammer and swinging it all around, not realizing that there were no nails sticking out.

Another lesson here is that even designers are guilty of self design. I’ve always been an Excel nerd, in love with spreadsheets and data and graphs. Most normal people aren’t. So while the sparklines I designed may have been perfect for me, they were utterly baffling for most other people.

Killing my idea

It’s hard to do, but as a designer, sometimes you need to kill your darlings.

So goodbye vesting sparklines. It was nice knowing you.

On the bright side

While designing this, I taught myself how to get API responses from the Chrome inspector, turn that json into csv, and play with it in Excel. This has already come in handy in a real work situation when we wanted to dig into the responses of the API when testing some recent work.

Also, I enjoyed the process of creating this design. It was truly eye-opening to test the it and see what people thought about it. Those tests didn’t go as planned, but that’s why we test!

Fall out of love with your ideas and fall in love with your process.

Chirryl-Lee Ryan

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