Dave wrote about what he calls The Feature Work → Maintenance Work Loop: he often finds himself working in cycles of Feature Work and Maintenance Work, “balancing the growth and health of a product with a cycle of building and repairing”.
I’ve noticed the same both in design and development work. There are phases in all creative work where we go broad, where we explore new ideas, concepts, or features, where we create lots of layout variations or build prototypes. This work is about the broad strokes, about expansion, discovery, and play. It is is then often followed by a phase of refinement, of fine-tuning the details, selecting the pieces we want to continue with and throwing out the superfluous. But it can also be about maintenance, taking care of a design system or a code base and improving what’s there to be able to move efficiently again.
Rick Rubin talks about very similar phases in his latest book The Creative Act. In the experimentation phase it is all about growth, about generating possibilities, and discovering which creative seeds have the most potential.
In the crafting phase that follows, we start with the labor of building out what has revealed itself as the best way forward. You might feel less excited about this phase because it can be daunting and is often less glamorous. But, as Rubin notes:
So if you feel like this crafting phase is less enthralling, remember that it is equally important as the exploration phase for the final result. It might, as Rubin writes, help to think of it as another opportunity to play. Just that this time, you’re playing at a much more fine-grained, more intricate level. You’re now in control over the details. If you put love and care into this phase, it can be clearly recognized in the final work. Or, in the words of Charles Eames: