What does “balance” really mean?

This came up recently on the ixda discussion list regarding (yet again) in an argument about UCD/design issues…sigh. One thing that caught my eye, however: a respondent asked about the notion of “balance” and what it really means in the context of designing, how there’s multiple viewpoints on the concept.

I totally agree, “balance” is that ultimate challenge for a designer (and indeed partly why I got into this field–the irresistible conundrum of triangulating so many varied/diverse/extreme constraints and priorities and concerns into something coherent, daring, yet feasible), something we aspire towards, often fraught with frustration and conflict.

But in my view it’s not like “work/life” balance or “zen balance” of pure harmon or “cosmic balance” of matter-energy. Instead I think of “design balance” as a kind of negotiated compromise, a state of dynamic conversational engagement whereby issues/problems/perspectives are identified and debated and (through the force of either sheer personality, or hard constraints or pragmatic contingencies like budgets/schedules/customer demands–often a combination of all this!) some solution(s) are identified and evolved that acknowledges a range of needs (from engineering, from business, from design, etc.) at varying levels. In addition, there’s a taking the long view of the entire product-service-interface ecosystem, balancing features with strategic roadmaps and lifecycles. And of course, some playfulness, aesthetic quality, and imagination too. Indeed, this kind of balance is simply a dialectic, a rhetorical art even, not just quick-fire reacting to whatever the market or the user or the engineer said at a given moment.

It’s important to note that such “negotiated compromise” should be governed by a set of core principles (an “architectonic framework”, if you will) that define the original aims, company values, overall value prop to customers. Without these core principles, the compromised balance is in danger of being just whatever is lazily feasible or imposed by some random personality, or an erratic fiat that changes the next time…thus resulting in a lack of coherence across a strategy or roadmap or product/service ecosystem. Then it truly is lacking “balance”.

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