Design for now or for later?

“If you need people to enjoy it right away, that might mean you’re not going to probe very deep”
– Edward Norton

Of course Mr. Norton was talking about art, not products, but his point raises questions for all makers. If you spend too much time trying to get immediate attention, you’re likely to ensure little long term effect. Think of movies or novels that are most memorable: was it the first five minutes that caused that effect? I doubt it. But if you spend too much energy thinking about the final payoff, few people will make it that far into your design.

In software one of the most neglected parts is the first experience people have. Sometimes called OOBE (out of box experience), installing and setting up most products in the world is an afterthought. IKEA furniture is a cascading failure of OOBE, as it gets worse and worse as you examine each and every one of the stupid little pieces, described in microscopic hieroglyphics the author himself didn’t understand.

Thinking like a writer, the burden is on each unit of experience to be worthy of interest. Each word should lead the reader’s mind to the next. Each sentence to the next sentence. And on it goes. The last page might be awesome, but what’s the point if no one gets that far?

In whatever you make, how do you balance designing for immediate rewards vs. long term rewards?

4 Responses to “Design for now or for later?”

  1. Chris Mahan

    I’m mulching a novel in my head. It’s been brewing for 6 months or so and when it’s ready I’ll write it out.

    But I already wrote the first page, and I’ll keep writing it until it delivers such a punch that people will want to read the rest of the book and pay the money.

    Because it has to grab them. If the first page doesn’t grab their throat like a poisonous snake, they’ll just move on to the next one in the rack.

    Makes sense?

  2. Kevin Morrill

    I think this is a fantastic question. Honestly, I think I focus too much on initial impact, and not enough on long term digestion value. I’d love to see you write more on this topic and explore what it really means to be successful at balancing this, especially the longer term part.

  3. Scott Berkun


    It depends on what kind of reader you have. There are plenty of very famous novels that don’t punch you in the face in the first few pages. Seduction doesn’t require grabbing someone immediately – it can work by being just interesting enough to get some forward momentum, which picks up speed in each page (or screen).



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