Why quality is impossible at scale

Do you like excellent design? I do. That’s why it’s important to know that interaction and visual design get harder as software grows. Eventually, excellent design is impossible. Here’s why.

More elements = more relationships

Excellent design requires coherent relationships between all elements. That’s impossible past a certain number of relationships. If you design something big from scratch, you will find it is impossible to design well because of this.

You must consider the old things for every new thing

If you add a new element, excellent design requires that you check all of the existing elements. For example, to check that the new element is consistent. Past a certain size, the overhead attached to each new addition takes longer than the addition.

It doesn’t fit in your brain any more

Your brain can’t consider a network of relationships past a certain size. You’ll add a new element then forget to check some of the elements it affects.

Intention is lost in translation between people

As software grows, companies hire more people. But when these people work together, best intentions are lost in translation. Different teams have different ideas about how to design features. One of them will be worse than the other. You can work hard to lose less in translation, but this is overhead. Past a certain size you’ll spend more time on process than on changes.

Some types of growth aren’t aligned with excellent design

Companies that want to quickly increase business numbers use methods that work against excellent design. They show more adverts. Or gamify features. Or use deceptive patterns.