Lots of companies abuse words. “Producer” is one of them. I’ve seen that term used to describe everything from a micro-entrepreneur managing millions of dollars of assets to a glorified secretary. Another word that gets abused a lot inside of offices is “polish”.
I have a simple description for that term that I’ve shared with many companies and clients over the years:
Polish is the work that gets done after the product is complete.
Why is that important? Because as far I can tell, the ability to create something that feels genuinely thought out and crafted is one of the most fundamental elements in opening the door to success for anything that you design, whether it’s software or hardware.
A friend of mine named Harold is an amazing motion graphics designer who makes beautiful commercial video for a living. He also collects gorgeously crafted objects. His home is secretly one of the best design museums in San Francisco and when he decided to build a bicycle—welding and brazing the frame himself—he created a work of art. It’s a fast moving object that he can barely get out the door before people begin commenting on how gorgeous it is. And the more they know about making bikes, the more impressed they are by his painstaking attention to detail and craftsmanship.
Harold describes this technique as “busting out the 00000 grit sandpaper”. For him, part of making something that he wants to use is finding and buffing out the smallest imperfections that get between him and his dream. It’s an attitude that he brings to his video work as well, and it has kept clients coming back over and over again.
What he creates may be artistic and sometimes idiosyncratic, but when he says something is done, it means he’s gone over every nook and cranny trying to iron out the imperfections in his work.
That isn’t to say that he doesn’t make a few compromises. But if I’ve learned anything from Howard’s process, when you’re crunched for time, and you’re desperately trying to jam something out the door to hit a deadline, simplifying the work to allow time to focus your vision until it gleams is going to get you a lot further than a confusing assortment of rough, half-realized ideas.
A good design communicates, and if your “great” concept doesn’t resonate, it isn’t the user’s fault. Polish is an important part of that process, and “running out of time” is no excuse. Once something is out in the world, and in people’s hands, you’re quickly going to be overwhelmed by the amount of bugs, features, and content you’re going to have to deal with to make even the smallest number of users happy. Allowing the process of polish to convince you to do less, but do it better, isn’t a bad thing.
If you want to see the power of polish, check out Tiny Wings. The game was a huge hit on the iPhone, and it challenged Angry Birds for dominance in the Apple charts for months. It’s not a perfect game, in any way, but it’s as polished a product as I can imagine, and it was created by one man. He’s added a *lot* to it since the game first came out, but each piece is well realized and lovingly crafted.
If you think that you can’t afford to polish something because of time or money—if you aren’t willing to make the hard choices that it takes to limit your vision to something you *can* polish, you have a good chance of making something that only you really wants to use.