Work smart, not clever

As a general rule, designers and developers should avoid trying to be clever, and should concentrate on working smart.

Using your time wisely

Working smart means choosing the most efficient use of your time and energy before you act. It is always a good thing. (See also "Think-then-do".)

Being clever means achieving something new or ground-breaking, overcoming some difficult obstacle, or finding a way to improve something. It is not always a good thing.

The 90/90 rule

For example, I like to remember the 90/90 rule when creating almost anything. The principle is: To make something 90% perfect takes 90% of the time; To do the last 10% takes the other 90% of the time!!!

"The perfect is the enemy of the good"

Sometimes trying to get something perfect can be detrimental to your project, and you can risk not even ending up with a good result.

K.I.S.S. - Keep it simple, stupid

In web design, there are always opportunities to do something a bit nicer, a bit cuter, a bit flashier, a bit more impressive, a bit more robust, a bit quicker to download, or a bit more compliant.

Very often, these things can take you into "being clever" territory, and falling into the 90/90 rule, where that little bit of extra work takes just as long as it took to build the basic site to begin with.

The material point is that you almost always won't get 90% more benefit (for your client or yourself) by going the extra mile.

Being clever usually introduces complexity, which in turn introduces risk. The more fiddly and complex your visual design, the harder it will be to produce, the more files will be created, the longer it will take to download, and the most costly it will be to maintain. Working smart means honestly justifying any additional complexity before you plough on and do it. (See also the discipline of Simplicity.)

Sometimes, sure, it's worth it. If it's really important to you that your site should validate to a certain HTML standard, or if you've committed to keep the homepage size under 70KB, or if you promised the client that some client-side script will work in a certain way, then maybe you have to do it.

My advice is to think carefully before you act, and consider whether the benefit is worth the cost.

For example:

  • Are there any prizes for getting a page size down by 10% if it takes you a whole day's work, and the page is fit-for-purpose at the slightly heavier weight?
  • Do you really have to re-code your scripts to be object-oriented, extensible or reusable if they're only destined for this particular application?
  • What do you really get out of churning out 5 example designs to show your client, when the first one you did was great? (Just give them the good one, and rave about it!)

Smart Resources

Image libraries
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