When is it "good enough"? When is it "done"?

When is your design “good enough”? How do you know when to say “stop”?

This is a question I frequently run into, when I’m in the final stages of a product, and typically coming up on a hard deadline for delivering a CAD database.

Given unlimited time and resources the tweakability of certain products can be infinite. I really felt this way when I was doing design work for composite bikes …nudging splines .5mm in either direction, for hours, into the night.

I imagine the answer is something like: prioritize what you need the design to do; ensure its still meeting all of the hard requirements; work until you can’t really see well enough to drive the computer; its done when the client says its done.

Also there’s this old homily: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

A point must be reached in every gestation that the improvements become incremental to a degree only visible to one person, like the geometric exercise of bisecting a line again, and again, and again…

I’m curious to know if other designers get into this “state of mind” and what you do about it.

Its done when you, your client or your customer say its done. At some point in a successful project there is a transition from struggling to find a beautiful form to enjoying the beauty of the design. I have personally succeeded when I cant stop looking at the end-result inside and out, and take pleasure in looking at the project.

Constraints are very helpful in this regard- project timelines usually decide when enough is enough for me.

When I hit the completion date on the timeline.

In hind sight, there are always improvements but 98% of the time, they are insignificant. Any delays in the timeline delays launch. Launch = Revenue. Revenue = Department funding. Department funding = Job.

When I’ve exceeded the number of hours allocated for the task. The client only gets what the client pays for.

I have personally succeeded when I cant stop looking at the end-result inside and out, and take pleasure in looking at the project.


For me the project is “finished” when I take pride in the result.

It is hard to achieve that point within corporate structures where every
contribution gets watered down, or filtered. Thus I strieve to come to the
top of the pyramide: further up = less watering down of Ideas.



It’s never done, it just get released. Wait, I totally just stole that from Brad Bird. :slight_smile: (who also happens to be doing the next Mission Impossible movie.)

I don’t know of any project I’ve ever worked on that I didn’t want to clean up “just a few things” on. It’s done when the time is done.

That describes me as well. Its also hard to know when to call it quits, when working off a CAD file, and not being able to build unlimited full-scale models to know what exactly needs more tweaking.

The “artiste” is allowed to keep working the piece until they think its done. The business side says spend your time wisely, and when times up, you’re done.

And your answer lies somewhere in between the two.

How’s that for fence sitting?

Producers might measure the conformance quality, or degree to which the product/service was produced correctly.

from Wikipedia: Quality (business)

Some things are never “done”, you just have to step back and hand it over. Sure there are things you wish you could’ve done, but I think as a designer you should never be satisfied.

My co-worker cracked up when I showed him the title of this thread because ‘good enough’ is my motto most of the time. I think he saw it as negative at first but it’s just about time management. We’ve got a list of ten projects in our cue right now. Most of the time we can hand off a 75% done project to our engineers and modelers and then finish up the last 25% along the way.
Every once in a while it’ll bite us in the ass though.

Do what the fruity computer company does- release it slightly fatter, slower and with not-quite-as-good-enough battery life, so you have a whole year to make it thinner, faster and put in better batteries.

Its never done in that everything you do always relates to the next thing. There is not a single project in my portfolio that I would not scrap and do completely differently if I had the opportunity… and there each new client project is that opportunity to apply what I’ve learned. It is all one big project, it just happens to have multiple release dates.

yo: I see where you’re coming from - so the Zoom Street Milers have something to do with whatever you are working on at the moment - but I’ll put it to you in a different way, given your current role: when do you tell other designers that its done? Whenever they get to the due date? Whenever they complete a bulleted list of things that the CD says to change? Whenever the individual designer feels like it?

The whole design process is about decision making. If you’re unable to define the targets of your work, how would you be able solve real problems? Tinkering around on minor stuff all day/night long sounds like you’re granting yourself an extra learning cycle or you’re procrastinating… to get around decision making :sunglasses:

Its about the details. Eames said, “the details are not ‘the details’; the details are the design”. A “target of the work” is to make all the details work, to make sure that the design intent is fully realized. There isn’t a way that I know of to ‘define’ these kinds of targets, other than “you’ll know it when you see it”. Nor do most designers build a CAD model once, perfectly, the first time. So the tinkering is unavoidable.

But…I don’t consider the final CAD surface database of $2MM in injection molded tooling to be “minor stuff”.

On the other hand, your post has some truth in it - tweaking splines all day could be considered “poor decision making” in the grand scheme of things, and I should get around to solving “real problems”. :unamused:

I agree with its really down to the details - how far you get down. Thats where constraints really help rather than hurt.

I’d like to think something’s done when its between ‘Hey, I’m onto something…’ to "now I’m just wasting time’. Usually I’ve saved the same thing about 14 times without any changes.

Now we come closer to the point :slight_smile:

I think this is the “target”: Respecting the constraints, in an innovative, creative way without getting tempted by perfection.
Each design aspect comes with a bunch of “demands”, “rules” or “best practises”, derivated from product lifecycle, styling, ergonomics, safety, costs… And, of course, you’re learning from the past, developing your own best practises and your own designing style or “language”:

I think yo’s approach is far better than trying to reach perfection first time, in a single product.

When I’m proud to show it to my mom… mom test. Very empirical. It is not about a checklist, it is about a feeling, and intangible. When that is manifest I can feel good about sending it to the client.