You need to build real, physical objects.

A few years ago, while working at Organic, I was asked to help manage a quarterly creative meeting. Each office would get together and have a few minutes to speak. The New York office, leading that particular meeting was expected to provide the bulk of the content.

One of my presentations was “what if there was no beta?”

As digital designers, we’ve gotten into the habit of saying a site/product is “always in beta.” I think that’s dangerous. Of course, we can always work to improve our products, but we also excuse incomplete content, missing features, and questionable decisions. Even in the print design world, people have gotten careless as digital printing has taken over (but you’ll still loathe having to explain that the business cards you labored over need to be reprinted because someone forgot to double-check the phone number.

None of that compares to building a physical structure, though.

A few years ago, my wife and I undertook a project to gut and refinish the second floor of our home. One half was unfinished, bare attic. The other half was finished, but with wood panelling and olive green carpet. Two years later, we had built up the unfinished half into a new bedroom/office space complete with brand-new electrical and build in networking jacks. The existing half ended up being completely re-wired, re-insulated, and needed a new closet and ceiling framing to boot.

We learned a few things in the process:

  • Sheetrock is heavy.
  • Finishing sheetrock is a terrible, tedious process.
  • Installing an entire room worth of sheetrock, in a single day, by yourself, with the wrong driver, is just asking for crippling tendonitis.
  • Closets are never too big.
  • If you already have the room down to bare studs, just make your changes then and there.
  • Your work can never be too flat, too level, or too square.

The one thing I took away from this was a sense of accomplishment – at the end of the process, I had build something that will last for decades, barring natural disaster or a complete demolition. It could conceivably outlast me! When is the last time you could say that for a website, banner ad, facebook page or app? You might be lucky to get a year out of it.

That led to the subject of my talk: What if there was no beta? How would we design and create if, once we hit the publish button, we couldn’t edit a blog entry when we see a stupid typo? What if we couldn’t fix that one bug that eluded us? What if any change was paid for in actual blood, sweat, and tears? What if, once you committed a code change or laid down a pixel, you couldn’t undo it? From a design perspective at least, it would make it an interesting experience to never be able to delete, move or tweak an existing layer.

Excuse the digression, please. It’s an idle thought.

But really, what if there was no such thing as beta? I bet we’d work much more thoughtfully.