Move slower and don’t break things

By solle on 24/05/2018 — 3 mins read

There are laws that govern, or can explain, the accelerated rate of technological advancement. But within those accelerated spaces you don’t have to ‘move fast and break things.’ That’s not an immutable law of technology. You can move slowly and with great consideration from a point of strong ethics and equanimity. It’s important not to conflate “move fast and break things” and technology itself. Craig Mod

There is nothing clever about trying to break things in an attempt to make amazing things and it is naive to think so. An enduring connection between ‘break’ and ‘amazing’ does not exist. What does exist is such a vast range of ways that people access and use things that the more ‘breaking’ we do, the more excluding we do, and the faster the breaking, the worse. Not everyone can or wants to have to keep up with innovation and creativity, they just want to be able to use something. 99.9% of the time we as designers build things for people, very occasionally we don’t. By breaking and trying to disrupt, we are approaching it wrong. Breaking shouldn’t be in the hands of individuals in the timeframes they work in.

If we were all to break and disrupt, what would we be left with. A city dominated by a private firm’s infrastructure. Communities under threat. No worker’s rights. Rampant manipulation. Models of disruption towards no models for inclusion. Obvious examples, but they make the point. Really good stand out creative disruption is a rare thing, a thing for sure, but, a rare thing.

Most of the time when we’re trying to be creative, forgetting what we should be doing, not really helping people, we’re just stirring mud in a bucket. We have the wrong focus, the wrong targets, the wrong ambition. We all become ambiguous figures on distant shorelines calling out to each other but not actually helping anyone.

We need first principles of including people, not first principles of creating for people.

Moving slowly and taking responsibility is more challenging than moving fast and breaking things. Moving fast can get narrow, you forget to look what’s around you. We need to spend more time joining things up. This takes looking up and looking around and not just ploughing ahead. It is an incredibly rare thing for a product or service to not have important and relevant relationships with other products and services (and not necessarily ones conveniently adjacent). We as designers are empowered to make these improvements and look around, understand the connections between things. Moving too fast can lead to silos, silos end up being contained by walls, and walls are difficult to break down. The result is inevitably we exclude people.

Inclusivity is currently the single biggest challenge designers face; and doing it well, doing it so work stands the test of time makes it even more difficult.

What I mean when I say inclusivity is design services which are accessible to everyone who needs them; understand how people might need to access a service before you start; when designing accessible services it’s not just a tick box exercise; as well as understanding current users of a service, consider the access needs of potential future users; all users of a service have access needs, they just aren’t always obvious; consider both the online and offline experience and everything in between (that experience is relevant too); building accessible services benefits everyone.

Most can’t seem to be bothered, either through non-awareness or preferring to duck down easy street. And this isn’t just applicable to those of us working on public services but is in fact just as relevant for those working outside public services. We can never take too much responsibility. We can never call ourselves finished or successful if someone, somewhere is still struggling. We can always help more people across the road, help more people off the bus.

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a mature and passionate design team that feels empowered to do the right thing and the right thing well. By spending time on ways of working, I’m finding that approaching design leadership, mentoring and responsibility through more coaching and listening ultimately pays dividends for a long lasting team and long lasting work. And a team of people prepared to listen, take things in, improve ways of working. Through this we infect ourselves and then hopefully infect others to focus on inclusivity and understand everything literally. We make sure we are always learning about ourselves and each other. Being a really good designer is 99% improving as a person and improving the experience for 99% of people. It’s only 1% about software.

This is the platform for moving slower and not breaking things.

Less design. More truth.

We have a moral obligation.


I am a user centred design leader working across senior design leadership teams and user centred design operations. I work across a wide range of digital services within the public, private and not for profit sectors.