Overdesign, Overprocessing, and Overly-Complex

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 07-19-22

It’s too complicated. I don’t understand. It doesn’t work. It’s not for me. 

Whether launching a new product, or a new company initiative, these might be phrases that you’ve heard. It stems from overdesigning the solution. It shows up as the waste of over-processing, doing more than your customer requires or needs. It results in over-complexity. And it’s far easier to slip into than we believe.

I have numerous momentos in my office. Some are just for the memories, but others are reminders. One of those was from my college days as an engineering student. The large grey block is a mold for packaging of decorative lightbulbs. My engineering professor, one of the few I had to put pragmatism over-optimization, developed a grading rubric that was truly balanced. It covered the ability to protect the bulbs from a specific bulb height, the processing labor and equipment time to make the packaging, the amount of material used (both surface area and thickness), and package efficiency in terms of how many you could ship in a case. At the end of the design process, there was still a max drop test, just for fun, to see who could survive the highest. Someone else won that false prize, but that was not the grading objective or the design objective.

I keep that mold to remind me that just because something might be cool to achieve just to see if you can, or hyper-focus on a single objective, at the expense of the true objective. It is a reminder not to overdesign. 

You might think that in the spirit of self-interest we wouldn’t be so vulnerable to committing resources, time, energy, and our precious attention span. There are lots of reasons such as a simple lack of understanding of the customer’s needs. But a more elusive one is a fear of failure, a fear of not being enough, a fear of being rejected. And that drives overdesign, overprocessing, and overreaching. 

The examples can be as simple as a 3 paragraph email when a single sentence would do, to a program with 47 customized options that means to be something for everyone, but no one can understand it and can go so much further. 

One of the more challenging concerns of overdesign and overprocessing is that you’ll never see it. Sometimes customers simply can’t articulate their needs, and sometimes they’re happy to get more than they asked for, and sometimes they just assume you didn’t care enough to ask in the first place so you certainly don’t care to hear their feedback now. 

Be aware and fearful of overdesign. It can become systematized and costly.