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PRODUCT.|PHILOSOPHY.|LIFE.

Always leave yourself an out


I have been playing a bit of Chess and Poker of late. Both are games of probability, anticipating moves of others, and sometimes forcing the opponents to make a move in the direction that you want them to, even though it isn't the best move for them.

But the important thing that I ask myself before every move is - 'What are my outs?'

Just that simple question forces me to outline what my possible moves are and as a consequence, evaluate their probabilities. Hence, I end up making a better decision than I would otherwise. This doesn't mean that I win every game of Chess or every hand of Poker. But it does mean that I make a conscious decision about my next move and don't end up making an emotional decision or one that isn't thought through.

But I'm not always rational. Nor do I ask myself what my outs are every time I'm about to do something.

Most people don't.

Which is why, as good product designers, we need to bake these outs into our design.

Users forget their passwords, lose their credit cards, have their email credentials compromised, have a flat tyre in the middle of the highway. And so much more.

And when they don't, wear and tear happens over the course of usage. The F key on the keyboard stops working. The airconditioner loses its charge over time, leading to icing. The chain on the bike begins to rust.

As product designers, it is easy to hold up our hands and say, "Hey, there's nothing we could have done about it."

When we push for shipping more quicker, when we try to make our production costs ever cheaper, we do find ourselves in a position where there's nothing we could have done about it. Because we de-prioritize the things that we could have done about it.

In my experience consuming products and building products, consumers like to win. Users like to win. When something goes wrong, they hate to be on the losing end. When they find themselves there, they never come back. They go somewhere else where they can win.

So, while designing, we ought to leave users an out. We ought to give them the chance to win. Even when weird stuff happens, we ought to ensure there is no unexpected harm to the user. We have to ensure they win.

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