Design is compromise

December 2018 · 1 minute read

When did the word “compromise” become vilified?

Compromise is neither good nor bad, it’s something we do every day. It’s decision making. Prioritizing. Deciding that one feature is more important than another. It’s finding the right balance between two competing desires. Which compromises you make   — that's what matters. Choosing the right compromises is what defines good design.

Companies like to tout products as "uncompromising" or having "no compromises". That's impossible. Once you decide on an approach, you inherently decide against other options.

I prefer thinking of compromises as tradeoffs. "Tradeoff" better conveys the relationship between strengths and weaknesses. You are trading a weakness for a strength.

Having an opinionated set of tradeoffs exposes your approach to a set of weaknesses. The more you tip the scale on one side, the weaker something else will be. But that's okay! Making those difficult choices is what people pay you for. You should be proud of your compromises.

My favorite products are opinionated. They make a clear statement about what they are not good at, in favor of being much better at something else.

Appealing to everyone is impossible. If you make something that aims to be good across a broad range of capabilities, you are choosing not to be exceptional at anything in particular. That might be the right compromise for a given market, but it's definitely a compromise.

Good design is opinionated. Designing something great is choosing the best tradeoffs for your audience.

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