Necessary yet sufficient

Following on from “no perfect design”, here’s aother tenet I ascribe to, borrowed from Herb Simon, father of artificial intelligence and Nobel Laureate in economics, as well as former professor at CMU. Simon made a significant contribution to design theory as well, with his profound work, The Sciences of the Artitifical, which emphasizes the centrality of decision-making and cognitive processing of information, as a means of transforming existing situations into preferred situations. (there’s that word, situation, again…more on this later) According to Simon, anyone who takes courses of action aimed at the preferred state, whether a surgeon or an engineer, is in Simon’s perspective a “designer”.

For now, let’s focus on this tenet, which suggests that there is a certain threshold of acceptability of performance and achievement, due to cognitive loads and stresses. (the amount of info for effective/efficient mental processing of data)

One can strive for perfection, or one can do what’s the necessary yet sufficient amount for accomplishing the task/goals. This is what Simon referred to as “satisficing”: satisfy + suffice. As opposed to 100% optimization or perfection of achievement. Being a designer dealing with multiple projects, tight deadlines, tighter resourcing and complex issues from various folks vying for supremacy and credit in the final solution, targeting that which is sufficient is very welcome concept indeed!

Also this concept pertains to domain expertise, deep-diving into competitive analysis, market analysis, and of course understanding the target user population. One could spend inordinate amounts of time luxuriously lapping up all that volumes of data but to what end? Sure you’ve got thousands of sticky notes, 100’s of hours of tape, and 100’s of users as data points to help shape a persona or scenario.

But with the reality of constraints, taking a more practical view of getting what is deemed to be a sufficient yet the necessary baseline level is just as good and effective. At some point you reach that cognitive threshold and all that data just doesn’t matter anymore. You’re hitting a wall cognitively, as the mind becomes saturated and thus a loss of marginal or incremental comprehension ensues. Everyone knows a meeting loses effectiveness after the first hour; same for volumes of data. You’ve reached that threshold of acceptable limits. And then as a designer you have to move on to the next phase as needed…

Do what’s necessary. Do what’s sufficient. Keep progress moving forward!

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