Iteration Is Not Design
Google: the grand experiment in design Darwinism
Google has famously rolled out dozens of “beta” releases, apparently hoping that iteration would turn them into great products. This massive, expensive, and ongoing experiment with the engineer-and-iterate approach to product development has not led to a portfolio of great products, but to a graveyard of failed ones. Remember these?
I believe these products failed because Google thinks great design can be achieved through iteration. Google (now Alphabet) could be regarded as the world’s greatest laboratory for design Darwinism with its tremendous resources and its engineering-led product management processes. But can you name any great, innovative product that has emerged from its iterative processes?
2. Iteration can find usability problems, but it can’t solve them
The use of iteration and user feedback is especially good at identifying usability problems. Jakob Nielsen wrote a classic article on this subject. But the kind of feedback obtained in this kind of iteration cycle mainly helps to discover problems with a current design. It does not tell you how to solve those problems. Users are very good at letting you know by their actual behavior if they do not know how to use a feature of your product. But they are notoriously bad at being able to tell you how to fix your product. That is why some good folks spend their careers learning interaction design in depth and becoming experts at solving usability problems and creating products that feel simple and intuitive.
Iteration with user feedback is great for identifying problems with your design. It doesn’t do a thing to tell you how to fix those problems.