When design goes bad

Following on my previous post about the value of design, it’s worth pointing out that not all designs turn out well. Sometimes they aren’t well thought. Sometimes the resources to build or sustain the design don’t exist. Sometimes the design itself isn’t robust enough to withstand the demands that will be made on it. Let’s say, for example, that I make the plan to do my 5 a.m. runs, but instead of doing them five or six days a week, I only do them two days. That frequency probably won’t be enough to build the habit (believe me, I know myself on this score) and the design will eventually peter out and fail. What these potential glitches have in common is a failure on my part to recognize the reality of the situation: reality about myself, reality about circumstances in my life that I can’t control, reality about it’s going to take to achieve what I want to achieve.

I was reminded of this a week or so ago when I heard a story on National Public Radio about women and childbearing. Not surprisingly, more women–owing to career demands and marrying later in life–are waiting later to have children. The problem is that they’re underestimating how difficult it will be for them to get pregnant and successfully carry a pregnancy to term in their late 30s and 40s.

The realities of design bring into sharp focus the fact that we have to make choices, and that these choices involve gains and losses, opportunities, and the end of other opportunities. I have the impression that, as a culture, we are particularly bad at facing this reality. I want what I want when I want it, and then I want something else later and find myself angry when I discover that I can’t have it. When I create designs that don’t take the reality of finite resources and opportunities into account,  I am left with the grief–another emotion our culture doesn’t do well. I am hoping that, having reached age 50, I am finally ready to learn that lesson. And ready, more importantly, to put what I’ve learned into practice.

What life designs have worked well for you….or not?


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