What on earth does fantasy baseball have to do
with design?

The best day of the year is not Christmas. It’s sometime in late March, when my annual fantasy baseball draft is held.

I will typically spend several months in preparation for the draft: listening to baseball podcasts, reading articles, looking over depth charts, and compiling a set of spreadsheets that act as various contingency plans. The idea of the contingency may just be the crux of fantasy baseball and the draft itself. Since one has a fixed number of players on which to spend a fixed dollar amount, every price paid—every pick—directly affects all the subsequent choices to come.

All sorts of strategies have developed around this closed system: spreading your bets fairly evenly by not going after top-rated and therefore expensive players; stars ’n’ scrubs—hoarding as many expensive players as possible, then buying a bunch of cheap/high-risk/high-reward players late in the draft; overweighting offense vs pitching and of course vice versa. And so on. Just to get ridiculously into the weeds, there must be contingency plans in place if other players have adopted one’s own strategy. Since the ultimate goal is to find value and turn an eventual ‘profit,’ if everyone adopted the same strategy, values would become distorted, and one would have to quickly pivot to a back-up plan to capitalize on the market’s blindspot.

One can draw obvious parallels between the draft and the stock market, which I’m also fascinated by. For one, there’s no such thing as an efficient market. Human beings are emotional and irrational at unpredictable times.

Ok, but can one draw any parallels between the draft and design? Why is this essay in a design blog? I think the draft appeals to me so much because in the heat of the moment, one has to rely on a mix of logic and intuition. Great design does the same. Great branding projects, for example, likely have strong strategic and conceptual underpinnings that inform later stylistic decisions, but creative intuition has to be relied upon to produce a workable, engaging, and flexible system. Across applications, a good brand will appear consistent, but not so consistent as to be boring.

I also think contingencies are everywhere in design. Anything is possible and nothing can be predicted with certainty. The client could hate it. The client could love it but it might not resonate with the consumer. Tastes and the competition—the market—are always in flux. So, a successful designer will likely accept and embrace this uncertainty, always have options, and be agile and not too emotionally invested. Don’t go into the draft expecting to get Max Scherzer, because you probably won’t get him. So be flexible. But not too flexible, because then you’ll end up with 8 closers and one starting pitcher. That’s not a good staff.

In 2019, as in every year, I will care deeply about nailing my draft, crushing the competition, and getting it right in design.