How Do You Decide When a Design is "Finished"?

Kim Goulbourne

When dealing with code, it’s usually apparent when it’s time to move on to the next feature or wrap up the project. Once the code works and it’s written well you can typically call it a day.

In design however, drawing that line can be tricky and has the tendency to be very subjective. While others may look at a design and think it’s up to par, sometimes there’s an uneasy feeling that it’s not quite done yet. It’s a feeling that can’t necessarily be put into words and so instead we keep pushing pixels until it “feels right”. But what makes it feel right in the first place? I chalk it up to a few things that run through my mind subconsciously:

Have I explored everything?

This is challenging because it can easily lead to design overkill. With so many trends and patterns in web design it’s easy to fall into the trap of using them on every project. While reusing some patterns allow for a more intuitive experience, they don’t allow for innovation so my first instinct is to always explore options that either put a new spin on a current trend or attempt something completely random and potentially terrible instead. The idea here is to take enough risks until there comes a point where you’ve tried different things and are now satisfied with the outcome.

Have I asked for feedback?

It’s easy to design something, get excited about it and think there’s nothing to improve. Design reviews are always nerve-racking for me because while I may think I’ve exhausted all possibilities, occasionally it turns out that I haven’t. On the flip side, this is the very reason getting feedback is so valuable because a new set of eyes and different perspectives are always beneficial for any project and growth as a designer.

Have I stepped away more than once?

With any design work, if you look at it too long you won’t notice the pitfalls. Try to step away from your work periodically. I may step away to take a walk and or step away for a whole day. Not only does it help to reset my thinking but I always tend to gain new inspiration.

Am I making good use of my time?

The awesome thing about deadlines is that it forces you to make better decisions faster because there simply isn’t enough time to thoroughly explore everything. If the project is on schedule however, then I’ll definitely take the time to massage the design in areas that are most important though this also serves as a reality check for when the time is nearing to move on.

Am I excited about where I’m at?

In hindsight, this and the first point I mentioned are probably the ones I’ve noticed the most. If I’m not overly excited about the design then I’m probably going to keep meddling with it. The excitement is directly tied to pride. If I’m not proud of my work then I’ll never fully feel ready to move on.

Being able to identify why you’re not ready to move on from a design is helpful in order to comfortably move forward or make the necessary adjustments.

How do you decide when a design is “finished”? Let me know on Twitter (@madebybourn) with the hashtag #itsfinished.