Starting a run with a tailwind only means that you return tired into a headwind. Design so you finish with a tailwind at deadline.
– March 11, 2015
This apparently enigmatic tweet raised a few eyebrows when originally posted, but runners should have understood what I meant. There is nothing worse than going on an out and back training run or race where you turn around at the halfway point and have to finish by running into the wind. Just as you're starting to tire, you have to fight even harder to get back home. When my workout calls for an out and back, I try to make sure that I run into the wind starting out so that it can be at my back when I am most needing it.
Running against the wind exacts a toll both physically and emotionally. Bob Seger even wrote a song about it: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=R8x9oNZ7CcI
The design process can be a lot like running. Some days the terrain is flat and the going is relatively easy. Other days it's cold, rainy, windy, and you just don't feel like getting out.
When a design project is more like a day with crappy weather, the temptation is to do the least offensive parts of the project first. Maybe you need to develop some concepts through thumbnails, but you're suffering from designers block. So instead, you decide to spend the next hour researching headline fonts …
There are hundreds of situations where we pick the low hanging fruit first because – for whatever reason – we don't feel the passion for a particular project at a particular time. We justify our actions By rationalizing that it has to be done sometime, why not now, when in truth it really is a low priority task.
The next thing you know you’re halfway to the deadline, and you’re still faced with two thirds or more of the project yet to go. What’s worse, it’s the hardest work of the job, and now you have less than an adequate amount of time in which to get it done. You have to run the second half of this design race against the wind.
You are now faced with the unenviable situation of having to compromise something in order to make deadline. It may be your sleep, it may be your personal relationships. It also means that you will probably cut corners on some creative details. At best you bring the job in on time, but you know that it is not your best work. At worst you miss the deadline and screw over your client.
Look, if you've been in this business long enough, you’ve been there. We’ve all been there.
Begin your project by running into the wind. It's not easy, it takes discipline, and it is not at all what you want to do on those days when you're just not feeling it. But in running against the wind, you are likely tackling some of the most critical tasks of the design process. If corners need to be cut, compromises made, later in the project, you’re important foundational design decisions will have been made and cemented into place.
But there is another reason as well. In finishing with a tailwind, you feel as if you have more energy. There is a psychological benefit: Because you feel better, and the remaining tasks in front of you easier, you will be more likely to give the extra effort required to get the project done right.
With all due respect to Bob Seger, designing with the wind instead of against it may not provide fodder for a hit record, but it should make your design life a little more satisfying.