By Micah Bowers

By Micah Bowers

Imperfection is beauty, and all that. That said, certain key mistakes in the design process can derail a product, roadblock creative progress, or even spell professional disaster.

Julie Zhou, Director of Product Design at Facebook, offers her take over on FastCoDesign on what the five most common design mistakes are, and how to avoid them. A few choice highlights:


This is a classic design mistake: you start off exploring a big, ambiguous problem. You have a cool concept in your head. You sketch it out. Looks sweet! Excitement builds! You start working on a high-fidelity mock or prototype. So sick! The design questions start piling up. Should you go with black or white as the background? Maybe the buttons should be round. Before you know it, 80% of the design time has been on refining one idea instead of exploring multiple ideas….

You’re better off not falling in love with your first idea and instead doing broader explorations on a number of different systems, models, and approaches when you’re in the exploration stage.


Scenario: a talented designer comes in with a polished prototype of beautifully laid out content containing professional photography of smiling, attractive people and super interesting content. There’s a tight and compelling narrative about how someone will use this product. Everyone is so wowed by the stunning nature of the presentation that not a lot of questions are asked. When something looks good, you sometimes trust that it is good. Alas, a good design execution isn’t the full picture, and will generally leave out a lot of the necessary ingredients required for the product to actually work well….

A good execution shouldn’t sell a design in [and] of itself—there also needs to be deep discussion and understanding of the technical considerations, the content, and other constraints that might get in the way of the idea working in an idealized way.

Push yourself to optimize your design process and avoid mistakes like the ones Zhou pinpoints. Take it from the woman whose team was behind Facebook’s Paper — “if you build it, they will come” is not a reliable barometer for design in the 21st century.


  • Ian Peters

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts especially your second point.

    I have seen some awesome presentaions over the years, on what was thought to be great ideas at the time, only to see them fall apart when being implemented. Mostly because of all the oohs and ahhhs in the room. Those of us that could see the problems, did not speak up, through the fear of not wanting to be seen as “stick in the muds” or “going against the flow.”

    We should never be afraid to ask questions like… “What are the alternatives?” or “Has it been tested thouroughly?” Simple questions like these, can and often will save time and money. A team can be so absorbed in their project, or they are in that much of a hurry to see their idea up and running, that they overlook the little things. Unfortunately, a lot of the time. it is the little things we miss that trip us up at launch.

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