The W Effect

This is probably the meanest article title I’ve ever written, as the “W” refers to a person, someone that I used to work with1. The critical phrase went something like this:

“How hard can it be? It’s only a button!”

Those two, tiny sentences hide a lot. Let me explain.

I’m mainly technical. I have been in the industry for over ten years now, did a computer science degree and spent many hours when I should have been revising for my German GCSE programming my Sinclair Spectrum. This means that when someone says “It’s only a button” I instinctively cringe. I may not know the details but I’ve seen enough “simple” buttons with days worth of work behind them that I’ve learned to be cautious.

Of course, not only technical skills are required for most modern applications. Even a relatively small iPhone utility, such as Yummy, needed some time in front of Adobe Illustrator for the icon. Needless to say, that time wasn’t mine.

I am a keen photographer and I have read The Non-Designer’s Design Book but when it comes to art and design I leave the implementation to other people.

Naturally I have opinions. I may, as a “customer,” have constraints. It has to be a particular size or colour, the shape must evoke a certain feeling or imagery. I probably even have a budget. I instinctively like or dislike designs.

But what I don’t profess to know is the design process or how long it should take, and that’s the problem with the “how hard can it be” quote from above.

“W” was from another discipline, couldn’t imagine what might be hard technically and made a commitment to the client based on that hunch. Unfortunately while their part would only take a few hours, it turned out that there were several weeks of technical work to make that button operate.

Of course I don’t want to come down too hard on “W,” as this is both a fairly extreme case and something that we all do to some extent. Things that we don’t understand almost always seem easier than they are in reality. The trick, insofar as there is one, is acknowledge that it does happen and consult with someone who does understand it before making commitments.

  1. In fact I had a number of choices, and that’s the point. However this, as you’ll see, is an extreme case and is the first I remember. []