Only Those 6-7 Seconds

Those 6-7 Seconds

Jacob Jensen - perhaps known to most Americans as the man behind the incredible Bang & Olufsen stereo designs - passed away last week at the age of 89.

I've always been amazed at Mr. Jensen's work: The simplicity, the perfection, the timelessness. How does a designer manage to create something so elegant when hundreds of nearly identically-performing products are annoyingly adorned with countless distracting buttons and knobs?

Designers of software architecture are surely faced with the same problems that must have faced Mr. Jensen his entire life: Groups of users and other stakeholders each insisting on "one more button" to control "one more feature"... The business-driven need to control numerous attributes and options slowly adding ugly complexity to a beautifully simple design... The relentless pressure to "finish" your product so that it can be Released To Manufacturing... None of these pressures were unknown to Mr. Jensen.

Yet, somehow, Jacob Jensen continued to produce beautiful products with stark and timeless designs. Luckily, Mr. Jensen articulated his method, and anyone involved in the design and implementation of complex systems can learn much:

In my view, constructing a fountain pen, writing a poem, producing a play or designing a locomotive, all demand the same components, the same ingredients: perspective, creativity, new ideas, understanding and first and foremost, the ability to rework, almost infinitely, over and over.

Mr. Jensen went on to describe 'rework over and over' as, for him, "the cruelest torture": When do you find the right one? "My method is, when I have reached a point where I think, O.K., that's it, there it is, I put the model on a table in the living room, illuminate it, and otherwise spend the evening as usual." He continues: "The next morning I go in and look at it, knowing with 100 percent certainty that I have 6-7 seconds to see and decide whether it's right or wrong. If I look at it longer, I automatically compensate. 'Oh it's not too high', and 'It's not so bad' There are only those 6-7 seconds".

All of us who create something in our daily lives can learn many great lessons from Mr. Jensen: Strive for perfection. Iterate over and over until it hurts. Take breaks and step away. Finally: Don't stop until you know almost instantly that this version of what you have created is "The Right One".

@ 30,000 FEET Explained

@ 30,000 FEET is a series of high-level short summaries meant to give technology executives and managers a rapid introduction to a technology or concept. Usually technical in nature, but occasionally more focused on management and "life in technology"