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An Ode to Compromise

There’s a certain iconoclastic bravado with being uncompromising—unwavering, unshakable, unyielding. Never compromise! Really, the word actually has a pretty bad reputation. Compromise my principles. Morally compromised. Ethically compromised. Compromising position! Compromise needs a better agent, or maybe just better lighting.

Business relations, political relations, personal relations—there is a constant striving to find where interests best align. Generally, the parties to a deal offer and accept concessions and, if acceptable to all parties, a pact is made. Circumstances change. Interests change. The compromises you offer or accept today might not be agreeable tomorrow. And if you’re good at predicting the future, the compromises you offer or accept today might turn in your favor tomorrow. What I do for a living is nothing but compromises.

As a design engineer, I think of my job as making compromises of all the factors that go into developing a technology or designing a product. Development cost and duration, product cost, risk, usefulness, usability, aesthetics, regulatory requirements, weight, safety, durability, manufacturability, legality, ergonomics, business viability, marketability, service and maintainability—once you get above the floor defined by the immutable constraints of physical sciences and mathematics, compromises have to be made—intelligent compromises, insightful compromises. In other words, we need to design.

Design is compromise. Great design is insightful compromise.

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