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Executing Our Ideas: It’s In the Details

By Joel Eby

When designing for the Web, how important is it to begin with a brilliant idea for a web-site? Can a quality site be built if the underlying concept is weak? And what happens to a brilliant idea if its execution is less-than amazing?

Many hold that execution is a secondory factor to the concept. I believe the opposite argument can be made – it’s not a great idea that counts most, but great execution.

Now don’t get me wrong – there has to be an idea in there somewhere. As designers we can’t go about designing without a plan. It is vital to have a concept to rally around as we craft our designs. But the notion that great work requires a completely unique, brilliant concept every time is, I believe, misguided.

Ideas should be solid – even if they’re simple. They should be focused on giving our execution a goal. Developing an idea is important, but the bulk of our energy ought to be aimed at execution. If a designer takes care to make sure to execute on the basics – typography, composition, hierarchy, communication – and aims for a clear but simple goal, great work will result.

About the author Link

Joel Eby serves as Art Director at POP1, an interactive design agency in Seattle. His work includes microsites for clients such as Nintendo and Ubisoft, and motion graphics work for

Editor’s note Link

This post is one of the finalists of our guest author contest2. Over three weeks selected top-10-lists and discussion articles will be published. To rate the articles we’ll analyze their popularity, users activity, quality of backlinks, traffic and further data.

Footnotes Link

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  1. 1

    Good idea, but it turned out average!
    And I think it turned out that way because of the guidelines mentioned for the contest. Too bad… good ideas turn to crap because of a couple of silly guidelines.

  2. 2

    Good idea, but really needs more explanation and examples.


  3. 3

    Absolutely! more examples…

  4. 4

    I agree with you completely. Execution is so important. Many good ideas have been good for nothing, and many average or simple ideas have turned out amazing all from the execution. Execution, however, must be done well in both the areas of design and programming. If the design is there and the functionality isn’t, the site will still not do well. Looks do not compensate for the lack of usability and functionality. I’ve recently been looking at websites that are used for locating/rating restaurants. There are many of them, and most of them are absolutely terrible. Probably one of the few that has the right formula is Yelp, which is why it is one of the more popular ones.

  5. 5

    This seems rhetorical. A great idea is only as great as it executed. No kidding?

    I don’t mean to come off with an attitude but what are you proposing that people spend less of their focus on their brilliant idea and more of their focus on the production of a website or multimedia system? If you want that you got plenty of production houses that do that, imo design lives where the idea is still relevant. And the goal is to carry that relevance right to the consumer. I am not going to claim that all ideas are even worth executing but whats the point if you don’t make sure you have a great idea. Execution doesn’t need to be that complex if you have a great idea I would argue.


  6. 6

    theres been quite a few blog style articles here lately, you guys ever thought about making a seperate section for these short articles and keeping the home page for the big articles and showcases?

  7. 7

    Execution is definitely important, but no matter how beautifully executed a project is, it can still fail if the idea, or function, is flawed.

    Interesting thoughts, thanks.

  8. 8

    Cmon guys, he’s an “Art Director”. He shouldn’t be expected to actually execute anything successfully… he’s an “idea guy”

  9. 9

    It’s not that simple, far from.

    You get an idea, explore it, then get another idea, then explore them together and so on, until finally reaching the result you’re satisfied with — only to find out that it’s not really the “original” concept. But that’s okay, because you’re satisfied with it.

    So I disagree with the article, ideas don’t have to be solid, they have to what they are: ideas! then you explore them, add on, etc.

  10. 10

    I agree with James, not everything is a Eureka moment. In fact, most great sites comes after many rounds of design iterations.

  11. 11

    I’ve seen it go both ways. Often a brilliant concept is muddled up by too many cooks in the kitchen or a client unwilling to be daring. Conversely, I’ve watched what looked to be pathetic site ideas evolve into something nice, either through the vision of one person or many… though usually it take time and some outside influence to push it to greatness.

  12. 12

    Execution is paramount and also a defining characteristic of a well-seasoned designer. The proper execution can propel a good idea into great-idea territory. I agree, though, that without at least a solid focus around which a design team can rally the project or site can come crashing down.

    In regard to the length of the article, other commenters, please note that these contest submissions are under a length constraint of 1200 characters (without spaces). This one clocks in around 900. The authors did a fine job of conveying an idea and spurring a discussion for the rest of us. I’d love to see more on these topics and hopefully our wishes will be fulfilled with some feature-length pieces.

  13. 13


    The only reason being that it was a play on the “Do ordinary things in an extraordinary way” quote by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

  14. 14

    I remember being told by my first-semester design instructor that a successful design needs to have at least one of the two – great concept, or great execution – preferably both. I think he was right.

    Hesitant as we are to admit it, not every project calls for a mind-blowing, original concept. I spent two years designing newspaper ads. If I had tried to make every ad for brake repair a stunning conceptual masterpiece, I would’ve wasted a lot of time, and my work would’ve become annoying to look at pretty quick. Execution counts for a lot in an environment like that.

    On the subject of length, I applaud the author for not taking up three screens to communicate three paragraphs worth of ideas. That’s good execution.

  15. 15

    This article was a good idea with bad execution!
    Point taken.
    Why all these boring shortstories that does not say anything? Has to be longer in the first place if its going to add anything. I think. Bit of a failed experiment in my favourite online reading.

  16. 16

    Jordan McNamara

    August 15, 2008 3:39 pm

    I 100% agree. To believe that every well respected great website out there started with a stroke of genius is a tad far fetched. It always, in my opinion, comes down to how well the site is designed in terms of aesthetics and functionality. I really would have enjoyed a little more thorough approach in your post though, as it would have been pretty interesting to explore the idea thoroughly. I think most good designers understand that they can’t just ignore the conventions of design just because they have a good idea…

  17. 17

    Good idea marred again by the rules for the competition. I place the blame squarely on Smashing mag for setting the limit for the guest post competition at “between 450 and 1200 characters”.

  18. 18

    I agree with you completely here; ideas are just a small component of success. Many people come up with an idea and then head underground with it, where they spend months planning out every aspect and imagining how incredibly successful they’ll be. Then they come out and find that someone else has beat them to it by actually acting on the idea rather than over-thinking it. A so-so idea with some action behind it is far better than the most terrific idea that’s left floating around inside your head.

  19. 19

    This article is somewhat redundant. Idea and execution are equally important, it does not make sense to discuss about the first place. If the idea is shit, no execution is going to rescue it.

  20. 20

    If the idea is shit, no execution is going to rescue it.

    Clearly, shitty ideas don’t cut it. But respectfully, the author isn’t talking about shitty ideas, merely unremarkable ones. He even says “Ideas should be solid – even if they’re simple.”

    Shitty Idea: “Let’s add this photograph of my poodle in the logo for my car dealership!”

    Unremarkable Idea: “Let’s use a picture of a car in the logo for my car dealership.”

    One stands a much better chance of rescue through killer execution than the other.


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