What is the explore vs exploit trade off? And how are we using it to our advantage?

Forget China vs USA, BSU have their very own TRADE war.

Being a relatively new Dad to a now 9-month-old means a few things, a newfound sense of responsibility, the constant process of tidying up and the inevitable lack of sleep.

But eventually it does have some life lessons to teach you, being well organised, the ability to prioritise and most importantly to multitask. A skill that comes after just a few attempts of trying to fasten a squirming baby into a pram that has a formula one style 15 point belt buckle system whilst packing a bag of ‘essentials’, checking the weather forecast and then having to pick up an umbrella as well as factor 50 suncream “just in case”.

All this just as the subject decides to go into meltdown before you even manage to leave the house.

So, the art of balance is a convenient life tool to learn as a joint partner in a web/design agency. A typical working week is spent wearing a multitude of hats, flitting between the business-like trilby of a designer, to the more regimental flat cap of a project manager, to the thinking cap of an accountant as well as the hard hat of a debt collector. Each guise can bring its own set of challenges so to develop innovative working methods and introduce new processes can sometimes be worth pursuing on our journey to becoming a market leading agency.

This is where Buttasideup have drawn from the explore vs exploit trade off paradigm which has been long discussed in the world of computer science and our very own internal trade war comes in to play. The explore vs exploit trade off pitches elements of risk-taking and impulsivity (explore) against the use of gained knowledge that already works for your customer (exploit) in the attempt of reaching that holy grail of inspiring and successful design.

For example, in designing an identity for a new payment app, do we exploit the knowledge that the colour blue is perceived as a secure and trustworthy colour to use for such a project (e.g. Paypal, Amex, Facebook or Skype)? Or in an attempt to attract a new demographic scanning through the app store do we attempt to explore something new and use a colour shown to engage with a younger audience such as the colour red as in YouTube or Red Bull?

Ultimately, it’s a discussion point that we have with our clients to understand where on the scale they feel most comfortable with and how we can balance the value of the new information they could possibly gain in exploring something new vs exploiting something tried and tested. It often comes down to the client’s specific requirements and what they hope to gain from the project as well as other factors such as budget restrictions which may not allow us to explore a new idea but instead exploit already gained information to produce a successful outcome.

Simply put, the explore vs exploit trade-off is a dilemma we all face in making decisions. But in our aim to become better designers do we make these decisions based off already existing knowledge in terms of what will attract your base (exploit). Or do we aim to break boundaries and attempt to engage with a new customer base building on your already existing clientele?

Get in touch with us if you want to learn more about how we can use the exploit vs exploit trade off to accelerate your business.

Tom Etherington
Partner Buttasideup LLP