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The horizon and the next steps

In a design process there are two immediate things that matter*:

  • The horizon (immediate goal).
  • The next steps (immediate steps towards that goal).

The key questions are:

  • Where do you want to be? 
  • And, what’s the next step you intend to take to get there?

The horizon is where you’re going. 

It should always be a significant point in the distance. The big idea, or your sticks in the ground. It’s something that you will have taken the time to think about and imagine. It’s a big enough target to aim for and the story you tell about what’s there can change. It’s never a definitive end point, and your perspective will start to change as you get closer to it.

The next steps are simply. What. Happens. Next.

There’s always a tension between taking the next step, and thinking too much about the next step after that. The next step is an idea, a single action, or simply the act of doing.

Most of design is not fully knowing what is going to happen next. So the most important step is always the next step.  It’s the next thing we can imagine, make, test and learn from. Done with an open mind, it can start to change the shape of the path we’re navigating, and the context of the steps we’re taking towards our goal. 

A focus on the horizon and the next steps means that we stay fixed on what’s in the immediate distance, but also the immediate things that are right in front of us. 

*Your immediate goal(s) and tasks will always be part of a larger and sometimes more significant context. But be careful not to lose the immediate focus needed to make progress.

Ben Holliday is an experienced design leader, writer and speaker. This is his blog (started in 2005). You can follow all of Ben's blog posts by subscribing to the RSS feed, or follow him on Twitter for more regular updates.