Build It Fast

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One of psychology's well-established principles is known as the speed-accuracy trade-off: the faster a task is performed, the less accurate it becomes. Intuitively, this makes sense. We think that haste makes waste and we regularly tell others to take their time.

Seattle skyline by Reagan Ray
Seattle skyline illustration by Reagan Ray.

As Gerd Gigerenzer writes in his book, Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, the speed-accuracy trade-off applies only to novices. All bets are off if you're experienced. In fact, focusing consciously and "taking your time" will actually hurt your performance if you're someone with much experience in the field at hand.

How can we account for this apparent paradox? Expert skills are executed by unconscious parts of our brains, and conscious thinking about the sequence of behaviors interferes and becomes detrimental to performance. Setting a time limit is one method to make thinking difficult; providing a distracting task is another.

24

I recently invited the intensely talented Paravel trio to help me design a site to help sell out Microsoft's Build conference. Our timeframe was roughly 10 days to deliver the markup. I pitched the project to Trent and team on July 23rd, 2012. We kicked the project off the next day, the 24th, with an end date of August 2nd to hand the markup off to our back-end developers.

This meant that to stay on schedule, we'd have 24 hours to sign off on the basic design: a wireframe and close-to-final copy for the site. Yes, that's 24 hours.

As the only member of the design team who was also a Microsoft employee with the most knowledge about Build, we decided that I would take the first stab. Reagan and Trent stood by ready to rebound the design as soon as it landed on their side of the net.

I'll spare you the details because the image below speaks a thousand words. On the left was what I delivered to the Paravel crew (around 6pm on the 24th). On the right is the result of Reagan & Trent applying their magic, all within 24 hours. Now, compare it with the site we launched on August 8th.

Build in 24 hours
left: The initial wireframe I delivered at the 6h mark; right: The color comp delivered in 24h after a couple of volleys with Paravel

Love at first site

On the Build project, most of our decisions were guided by spontaneous gut feelings because that's all our schedule allowed. But as luck (and some good ol' psychology) would have it, that didn't seem to prove detrimental to the quality of the site. In fact, quite to the contrary, it seemed to drastically improve its overall quality, and as Trent writes in his post, even the decisions we made along the way. Food for thought? I think so.

Not to mention, the event sold out in a record 53 minutes.

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