Fast Iterations vs. Big Bang Design

One question that comes to mind as I read the excellent UIE article The Freedom of Fast Iterations: How Netflix Designs a Winning Web Site the question comes to mind, what would have Netflix looked like if a big interactive agency had been involved? I Imagine it would have become an expensive, glossy, marketing web site selling people on the benefits of getting dvd’s in the mail. I think the reason this is a likely scenario is because the way agencies are compensated and judged it pays for them to create something glossy and expensive. Agencies are judged on the “deliverable”, the artifact they hand over, not how that site grows and flourishes over the course of years. People spending hundreds of thousands of dollars with an interactive agency want something delivered on day 1 that looks like it’s worth that money. Take for example The Coke Show, a very polished youtube-like contest that ran on the front page of Coke for a a month or two and got about a dozen entries.

Another question, are there any “fast iteration” agencies out there? The equivalent of IDEO for the web?

On a related note Peter Merholtz of Adaptive Path (who I had the pleasure of meeting for drinks the other night) wrote an interesting article that is somewhat related called Embrace the chaos – designers and systems with emergent behavior.

UPDATE: Don’t miss the great conversation that is going on at the UIE Brainsparks blog, great stuff

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  1. Posted November 15, 2006 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    this post really maked a good point.
    everytime I visit I always ask myself: “what the website would look like if it was developed by a web agency?”.
    I think website has a flair that entirely comes from being “not too designed”, and its casual (maybe not so casual) look&feel IMHO is a way for letting user feel more at home, giving them the same experience you get when you walk into a “come as you are” shop, where you feel the urge to wander, look, touch and, eventually, buy.
    rather the opposite of posh shops where you are “welcomed” by icecold cool sales reps that make you feel inadequate for the place (at least this happens to me) abd where the merchandise is disguised as work of art…

  2. karl long
    Posted November 15, 2006 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    Amazon is another good example, as are sites like myspace, youtube, flickr, as well. There is something to be said for sites that flourish with user generated content tend to not seem too polished or as you put it intimidating :-)

  3. Posted November 16, 2006 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    I liked this post a lot, and the article you referenced as well. One thing about the “fast iteration” sites–they need to be very easy to use, because if they required users to “learn” them intensively (like, say Outlook), any change, even a good one, would cause lots of user disruption.

    This is the revolution that Google wrought. Their initial design was so simple to use that they could add/adjust/etc. without disorienting their users. So the users needed no advance notice or preparation to welcome new features/changes.

  4. Posted November 16, 2006 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    it is not just the sites but the advertising too. advertising beta is a required approach. it also connects to ugc.

    agencies happily talk about harnessing user generated content as if users will be pliantly go along with agencies suggestions and brands desires.

    meanwhile consumers are just getting on with it. The C doesn’t stand for Content, it stands for Communications and actually agencies are ultimately cultivating their replacements, not a bad thing….more here.

  5. Posted November 16, 2006 at 11:16 am | Permalink


    I totally hear what you are saying here. Many agencies are certainly guilty of the big bang. But not all or at least, not all the time.

    When I worked at, I spent a significant part of 3 years working on a highly transactional site that had much of the functionality you would see on Amazon, Netflicks etc.

    We rapidly iterated, prototyped, did user testing, prototyped more, evolved, concepted, personafied. You name it. All the things you read about in books written by the IDEO/Adaptive crowd.

    Yes, big bang is an issue for agencies, but not all (and not all of the time).

  6. Posted November 16, 2006 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Netflix will be talking about their UI design process at BayCHI next month.

  7. karl long
    Posted November 16, 2006 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Good points David, and you are correct of course, this doesn’t happen all the by all the agencies. I don’t have the data as to how much it happens, but I would generally say spectacular failures of the big bang tend to go under the radar mostly. And again, it comes down to what we measure and what we reward, the design industry gives awards to big bang designs, even if that design sucks in the long run.

    Thanks for pointing out the baychi thing Steve, I’ll try to make that for sure.


  8. Posted November 18, 2006 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    I think the key question here for interactive agencies is:

    “How do we create a stable business model around the iterative design approach–one that can ensure a promised outcome in a fixed period of time?”

    From a business standpoint, this is a challenge. The allure of the big-bang model is that it promises predictable growth for the agency, and an air-tight contract for the customer.

    Walter Stevenson

  9. Posted November 19, 2006 at 2:39 am | Permalink


    You are so right. Here in Israel we try to make it happen. We try to position ourselves as a fast iteration company (IDEO style), as we really believe in it. However, the clients here seem to need those glossy sites.

    Uzi Shmilovici.

  10. karl long
    Posted November 22, 2006 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Great way to state the question Walter, that’s a much more succinct way to put it.

    And yes Uzi, I know a lot of clients that want the glossy sites, in the end they are rewarded for what is delivered at the end of the engagement as well. In other words they want something that shows well. Just as fishing lures are built to attract fishermen and not fish, web sites are often designed for the sensibilities of marketing execs and not the long term value of the users.

  11. Posted October 18, 2007 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    This is exactly what I expected to find out after reading the title Iterations vs. Big Bang Design at ExperienceCurve. Thanks for informative article

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