Oh dear, fail fast now!

Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Don’t wait until it’s too late – trust your gut and embrace failure at the sight of intuition.

Back in 2007, I was the co-owner of a small design firm. We made great art for corporations, non-profits, and individuals large and small. As young, twenty-something entrepreneurs we dabbled in everything from Android games to rock & roll cigar tours. Looking over my shoulder now with flushed cheeks, I recognize that buckshot approach as an early fail fast lesson. We favored one from every column rather than focusing on a single vertical or two, and when something stuck, we kept throwing it at the wall until it limped off, sometimes taking the paint with it. Every industry, client, and project had a life cycle, and when the silence bellowed from inboxes and bank accounts, I knew it was time for an exit strategy.

No need for an obituary however — the design firm still exists in a small capacity. Freelance work emerges every so often, yet it falls prey to the priority of a new day job in a new city.

A few months back, my old business partner asked if I would be interested in designing the face of his latest prototype for an iPhone game. With customer acquisition steering the ship of intention, he felt that the release of the iPhone 6 would provide a path to new clients, who would play this game and then discover who created it, and then with any luck, make contact with a check in hand. Immediately swimming in a sea of “assuming makes an ass out of U and ME,” I refused to question this strategy aloud, and selfishly embraced my love of creating illustrative graphics, thereby placing my doubts below deck to drown out their ruining of my fun.

Genuinely developing a series of three different designs, I made sure we could take his favorite concept and test it in the next live prototype. (Seeing the assets move in their actual environment may show success or failure.) My subconscious was not phased by this crafty move, however. Yes, a batch of designs were delivered with a guarantee that one or all may fail, but this was purely at the visual level. My doubts regarding strategy were still muffled by the sheer delight of making art.

The lack of strategy began to scream louder after implementing the winning design choice into the prototype. It looked better than I anticipated, but who would actually spend time playing this thing? Would anyone really care? Hell, would the app store even let it in? We ran into issues back in 2011 when our Stew Leonard’s sound board app was refused due to “not enough app utility.”

The flavor of disappointment lingered in my mouth as time went by. I was asked to send over retina-ready assets for the game, while we talked about this becoming a holiday promo, pitched as a way to find sanity when begrudgingly spending too much time with family. I couldn’t respond. I had the time to execute, and then I didn’t. When evenings availed themselves, I made excuses that zeroed themselves out to no one other than myself.

After nearly a month, I succumbed to my screeching reservations and sent an email explaining the reasons behind my lengthy tour of missing-in-action.

The game has been keeping me up at night thinking about why I have this gut feeling it’s going to flop. The more I spoke with people up here the less and less I hear about games. It won’t flop because it’s a bad game. It will fail because it has no longevity in productivity. The trends I’ve seen up here in Boston are nonstop organization apps, to do list keepers with built in reminders, all very simple but also beautifully designed. If your customers don’t need a game, what DO they need? This question should help you discover what to make that will not only matter to potential customers but also be able to bring in revenue. Either way, I apologize for not delivering those final assets but at the end of the day, I don’t think you should build another game without your customer in mind — especially if this is a self promo that ISN’T destined to be a throw away.

We chatted online the next day about the current game landscape and that if you aren’t making Angry Birds or the next Candy Crush, put your mouse down and walk away. The bar has been raised too damn high!

On the flipside, the simplicity of utility apps help us get through our lives in personal or professional capacity, and often aid in seeing where the two blend together. Yes, we need to escape every case of the Mondays we can, but if a to-do list app improves our ability to stay sane and somewhat organized, the value becomes Long Term Value, and, if you can bring a fresh approach to an understated task, the money will follow.

In the end, I walked my old business partner through the process of Lean UX and performing pre-mortems. These ideas embody a methodology that may feel difficult to employ in your life, your department, or with your team, but trust your gut and give your doubts a voice early and often. No one likes a wet blanket, but furthermore, no one enjoys receiving an “I told you so.”

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