Motto: “Do one thing and do it well.”

Type: A pattern of dynamics between Design Situations and Design Resources

Definition: Design situations are selected based on how easily designers can approach these situations with preferred or available resources. Other situations are avoided.

Topics: focusing usage of resources, work efficiency, minimizing risks

Alternative names: Low-Hanging Fruits, Selective Design.

Desirable: In new domains where there are plenty of opportunities or little competition, or when an organization needs to focus usage of scarce resources.

Undesirable: In complex real-world situations as it may stimulate solving easy instead of important problems.


In domains where designers can choose situations to work on, they may decide to select only those situations where they can use their preferred resources (e.g. Stolterman and Pierce 2012). Designers may choose to specialize and avoid involving in unfamiliar situations where they may not be able to use familiar resources.

Cherry picking may have a positive effect on operations and success of designers and their organizations. Ries and Ries (2002), for instance, claimed that companies are likely to be more successful if they focus their energies on one specific skill instead of trying to master many different ones (page 8).

Limitation in resources may also stimulate designers to select situations where they expect more benefits or have less risk of failure. In the business context “cherry-picking” is used as a practice to identify and target the most profitable customers in a market, rather than serving them all. Cherry-picking the most attractive customers is a common approach for startups since they can focus their limited resources and not disperse them over the whole segment. In the financial world, “cherry picking” is also used as a strategy by investors to choose investments that have performed well within another portfolio in anticipation that the trend will continue. Here, cherry-picking reduces the amount of time required for researching stocks because the pool of securities in which investors pick from is narrowed.

Cherry-picking also may have negative effects. One problem is that by cherry-picking designers may be solving issues that are less relevant to the client. This problem is especially visible in domains where a rigor in applying a specific method is valued more than the practical value of a design outcome, such as in academic environments. Greenberg and Buxton 2008, for example, argued that the ACM CHI conference has a methodology bias, where certain kinds of methods are considered more ‘correct’ and thus acceptable than others. The consequence is that people now likely generate ‘research questions’ and ‘designs’ that are amenable to a chosen method, rather than the other way around: “That is, they choose a method perceived as ‘favored’ by review committees, and then find or fit a problem to match it. … That is, researchers first choose the method (e.g., controlled study) and then concoct a problem that fits that method.” In this case, the selection of situations is more influenced by the tools and techniques that researchers like than by the importance of the problems.

The cherry picking pattern is related to the commitment pattern, because a designer may choose situations in which resources he committed to may be more readily applied. The cherry picking pattern is also related to the conformity pattern. A wish to avoid risks may lead design organizations to work only in situations where proven resources with established best practices can be applied.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • On what types of design situations you work on usually?
  • Do you specialize in any way?
  • Do you say no to design opportunities outside your specialization?
  • How do you make sure not to overspecialize and became irrelevant once your specialization is not anymore needed?

Cover Art

Cherry picking. Designers may choose problems based on their specialization or due to resource limitations. Credit: Charles Nadeau / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-2.0.