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A blank problem space

Friday morning was an exciting time for the design team. After a few weeks of exploring requirements and determining scope, we were ready to begin our first ideation session.

Structured Freedom

We had a specific goal in mind: we needed to discover a design element that would satisfy system visibility and signal system status to the user, letting them know where they are in a data-rich environment. We phrased this as a friendlier question and wrote it up front and center on the conference room’s whiteboard. We also listed the problem constraints and the “roadmap” of the data organization, since we needed to communicate to the user where they are in those terms. Finding a solution to this problem was our final destination.

To get there, we started by playing “Heads Up!”, which is a guessing game that involves holding a phone to your head. This helped relax the mood and warm up the design team, but confused the developer we invited: how was something so impractical considered work? We were just playing a game! It wasn’t until the end of the session that it became clear to him what purpose the game had served.

The next step was individual sketching. We made sure to have plenty of tools on hand. We set a timer for 15 minutes and sketched as many ideas as we could come up with, ranging from a list view with highlights to a video-game inspired mini-map. The focus was quantity over quality; as much as possible, we tried to avoid eliminating any ideas. Evaluation and discussion could come later; this was about exploration and creativity.

Bringing It Back

Each of us individually had hit on two different models of representing the system: a tree and a grid. First, we discussed the tree models. Each team member taped their sketch to the whiteboard and briefly discussed the idea. The remaining team members gave feedback and wrote notes on sticky notes that were attached to the sketch.

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This helped us analyze the strengths and drawbacks for each idea. In the end, we converged on two of the ideas.

Our developer could now see how playing that game had shifted the mindset and how the divergent, creative thinking was a necessary first step to converge towards potential solutions. We had demonstrated how creativity precedes analysis, how design marries both creativity and logic. We have a direction to take for the next step of our process, and we have the confidence to know that we’ve explored the other paths and that this one is the most promising when compared.

Bring on the prototyping!

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UX Designer | Empowering humans through technology

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