Iteration is not design

Product managers beware!

In some reaches of the product development world there is a fascination with the idea that products can nearly design themselves through an iterative process of development, testing, and incremental improvement. This is what I call “design Darwinism.” Design Darwinism often enters the product development conversation as an extension of a Lean, Agile, data-driven, or A/B testing framework.

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The prospect of great products arising out of a primordial soup of nebulous product ideas and gradually evolving into great products without the need of designers is a stirring notion for some. The problem is, it doesn’t work. You can’t design by iteration and incremental improvement. There is no such thing as design Darwinism in the real world (except that which brings about the extinction of poorly-designed products).

Google: the grand experiment in design Darwinism

Google has famously rolled out dozens of “beta” releases, apparently hoping that iteration would turn them into great products. This massive, expensive, and ongoing experiment with the engineer-and-iterate approach to product development has not led to a portfolio of great products, but to a graveyard of failed ones. Remember these?

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