Stop Sucking the Creative Energy Out of Your Design Brainstorming Sessions

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Have you ever woken up in the morning and thought, “It’s a bright new day! I’m going to go to work and suck the life out of the rest of my design team until every one of our designs is completely devoid of creativity!” I’m going with probably not.

Yet every time I go to a conference I encounter design team members who work with sarcastic jerks who disrespectfully crush their good ideas as well as their bad ideas.

I’m not saying that you should never say an idea won’t work, so you end up developing something awful. I am saying that team respect goes a long way in creating an incredibly creative, innovative work environment.

I recently wrote an article about how everyone on earth will have some great ideas and some terrible ones during their lives. The way you react to both the bad ideas and the good will make or break your team culture.

When someone tosses out an idea that won’t work, rather than rolling your eyes and publicly shooting them down and berating them (which effectively embarrasses them to the point they never want to pitch another idea), toss out something like, “That’s an interesting perspective, what if we tried XXXX instead? Or, that may not work for this particular project because of xxxx, but what if we took the idea a step further in this other direction?”

I’m not saying that you should never say no to an idea, or that you need to coddle your team. I’m saying that you should say no in a professional respectful way. Because at the end of the day, the person you just rolled your eyes at may have had an epic epiphany 2 minutes later, that you’ll never hear because you undermined his or her confidence.

Tone and attitude go a long way in design brainstorming sessions. Create a climate where designers are comfortable sharing all of their ideas without the judgement, the good and the bad, and the results of your brainstorming sessions will instantly increase in productivity.

I know this works, because I work on one of the most incredible teams on earth. We have the utmost respect for one another, we share ideas without fear of judgement, and as a result we come up with incredibly innovative ideas. And as an added bonus, every day for the last 4 years I’ve woken up excited to go to work in the morning.

At the end of the day, design team culture is the key to innovation.

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Objectified: A Cure For Your Creative Slump

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Have you ever seen a design and been so inspired that you feel like you’re going to explode if you don’t create something immediately afterward?

Take that feeling and multiply it times 1 million. That’s how I felt after watching the movie Objectified with my design team. I was designing chairs in my head all afternoon, and REALLY wanted to run around stealing bicycle handles and sticking them on things. Not to mention how much I was dying to have a brainstorming session like the ones at IDEO. And toothbrushes? I can’t even. I loved every second. (Well, except for the seconds devoted to the creepy robots. Loved that it made me question what robots are, but the chick in the maid outfit with the blank stare? Yeah.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the movie for me was the cross cultural passion the designers embodied. The passion and love for design that these folks broadcast so clearly crosses all language barriers.

If you’re feeling like you’re lacking inspiration, or you’re in a design slump, watch this movie right now. It’s older (2009) but just as inspiring now as it was 5 years ago. I heard a rumor it’s available on Netflix, but you can also rent it on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B002SOUVKU/ref=redir_mdp_mobile

Enjoy!

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Then my kiddo asked, “What is innovation?”

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Have you ever had a child ask you the meaning of a word, but really it’s more than just a word? I ran into that situation earlier this week when my daughter asked me what “innovation” is. I work in the Product Design & Innovation department at my company, and she saw it in my title.

I had to really think about my response for a while. I could have just rattled off the dictionary definition:  “a new idea, device, or method” (thanks Merriam Webster dictionary), but to me innovation is much more than that. Innovation is looking at the world around you, and constantly envisioning ways it can improve. An innovative idea doesn’t have to be something brand new that has never existed, it can just be a new way of improving an old product.

Take the Coolest cooler for example. A group of designers looked at a boring old cooler whose core design hasn’t changed much in the past 50 years and said, “Man, coolers are pretty lame. Let’s make an awesome one.” As of today their Kickstarter campaign has hit $1 MILLION dollars in funding.

Innovation doesn’t have to mean making something brand new that has never existed. It can simply mean making something that already exists, extraordinary.

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Coolest Cooler: Perfect Example of Innovative Design

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I’m officially in love with the Coolest cooler! You’ve gotta check it out on Kickstarter!

Reasons I adore this thing:

1. They took a mega boring PIA item (cooler) and turned it into something that is incredibly useful, cool (ha!), and beautifully designed!

2. It’s chock full of amazing UX! There is unexpected delight around every corner!

3. They combined features that every person needs and wants during a camping trip/picnic in a fun innovative way! (It’s got a built in blender, it charges your cell phones via usb, it has a built in light, built in bluetooth speakers, a bottle opener, the list goes on!)

4. The advertising video is freaking adorable and hilarious! The whole project is just straight up brilliant.

I’m officially a fan, and will absolutely be ordering one of these bad boys. I heart Kickstarter so much! :)

 

 

You’ll have bad ideas and great ones. Iteration = Innovation!

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When I first started with my super amazing design team at Schoolwires, I remember being really overwhelmed by how awesome all of my coworkers were, to the point that I was afraid to say anything during meetings. After a few weeks I finally expressed this meeting room fear to my VP. His response was amazing, and it changed the trajectory of my career, in a very positive way.

He simply said something like, “You’re going to have bad ideas. You’re also going to have great ones. The trick is to toss them all out there. Everyone on this team is great at what they do, yourself included.  No one here is going to judge you for the bad ideas, we all have them. They’re part of the creative process. You may have a brilliant solution hiding behind a so, so one, but if you’re too afraid to speak up, you’ll never have the opportunity to impact the world with it. So, just let your ideas fly.”

That was definitely an epiphany moment for me, and from that point forward, I started expressing ALL of my ideas during meetings. As he predicted, sometimes they were terrible, but other times they were great.

As an added bonus, sometimes trouble shooting why our bad ideas wouldn’t work lead us down a path to a perfect alternate solution!

Now, I know that not everyone has the luxury of working in a completely amazing design environment where you and your coworkers are free to express ideas without fear of judgement. But if you’re a leader, and you REALLY want your team to be innovative and creative… cultivate that environment. You’d be amazed by what people are capable of once fear of judgement is removed from the equation.

(Huge thanks to @jcoudriet for being such an inspiring, supportive VP!)

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Stop Asking Your Users To Explain Themselves! (User Research Magic)

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“Jennifer Marie Aldrich, what were you thinking?! Explain yourself!”

This is the line I hear in my head in my mother’s ANGRY voice (she is the sweetest person ever, so usually whatever I did deserved the angry tone) every single time I see an open ended comment box on a survey with the heading “Explain.”  I’m immediately shot into a zone of feeling defensive, like I’ve done something wrong and need to defend my honor. The feeling is not warm and fuzzy, it makes me feel borderline offended. “Here I am trying to give you feedback and you’re asking me to EXPLAIN myself? Forget this.” Then I close the browser.

On the other hand, when a company does a good job rewording the “Explain” question type, I have a completely different reaction. The question, “What kind of change would you make?” makes me feel like they genuinely care about my feedback, and like they’re really listening,  which makes me more likely to give detailed in depth feedback.

Weird right? At first I thought it was just me, then I tried a little experiment. When conducting our latest Pareto Principle based remote user research study, we asked the question, “What kind of change would you make to the product area you identified?” rather than just going with “Explain.” What we were looking for was for the users to give us more detailed information so that we could uncover the specific problems they were facing with the current solution.

Any guesses on the completion rate for feedback when when I worded it the warm fuzzy way?  No? 100 freaking percent! How crazy is that!? Every SINGLE respondent gave us a big old paragraph of feedback, and several of them thanked us for asking, and for being so in tune with our users needs! I mean, I have the best users in the world, but I almost fell down when I saw the difference in completion rate!

So the moral of this story is, don’t ask your users to “explain themselves” when you’re conducting user research. Ask them how they would change things to uncover the underlying, deeper issues they’re encountering. It’s kind of magical, you’ll end up with amazing data, and happier users who feel well taken care of!

 

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User Research Doesn’t = Instant Designs, It Identifies Problems Your Designs Can Solve!

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I read the WEIRDEST article today. Some miscellaneous guy was rambling on about how he is anti user research and usability testing because of the quote that may or may not (no can can seem to verify) have been said by Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”

I got more and more irritated the longer I read the article, and by the end wanted to grab a megaphone and scream in the guy’s face, “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND USER RESEARCH!”

Let me elaborate.

When conducting user research you need to talk to your users to find out what their problem areas are. User research is an incredible way to gain insight into what your clients need, and where your product pain points are, but you have to ask the RIGHT QUESTIONS. You can’t just ask, “What do you want me to make for you next?” If that’s how you’re conducting user research, you’re doing it wrong. User Research and Usability Testing are the core of UX design, but they’re steps that lead the design process; they aren’t the entire process itself.

You need to ask what kinds of problems your users are facing, so that you can bring that information back to your design team to brainstorm ways you can help SOLVE those problems. Every design we work on, the first thing my VP says during a brainstorming meeting is, “Which user problem are we trying to solve here?” We focus on coming up with the best solution to the problem and weave it into a killer product or feature.

Could we ask, “What do you want us to make you next?” Absolutely, our clients would tell us. We could build exactly what each client asks for, but we’d end up with a bunch of similar yet slightly different features, since user needs vary greatly. By asking about the problems our clients face, we are able to identify trends in the market. “Look, 75% of the clients we interviewed are facing a similar problem, lets design a solution to address it!” Boom. Happy clients, designers with the freedom to come up with innovative solutions, and fab product results.

I’m not saying that you can’t ask clients what they want, and then make enhancements based directly on that feedback. The clients are the ones using the product day in and day out, they know when something isn’t usable. I’m saying that if you ask your clients what they want you to change, you need to follow up with a question asking WHY they want it to change, to ensure that you’re not just putting a band-aid on something that needs a complete facelift.

In my opinion, Henry Ford (?) was correct in that user research is not a process of making users design their own solutions. Getting the feedback, “I want a faster horse,” means horses aren’t fast enough for the users. The problem is speed, user research = successful. Then you design a faster, innovative solution – the Model A, later the mega popular Model N, and even later the famous Model T.

So to the miscellaneous guy who is hating on User Research and Usability Testing I just want to say: User research is the key to ensuring that you’re designing useful products that will solve problems and make your users lives easier. It also helps ensure that you’re not designing an elegant solution that no one wants or needs. User research is NOT asking your clients to design your products for you, FYI. </rant> :)

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Hollywood celebs? Meh. Famous tech industry peeps? Insta-starstuck!

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Somebody please tell me I’m not the only one who turns into a tongue tied secret picture taking star struck weirdo when famous tech industry folks are near. Lol.

I had the opportunity to attend a book signing by Karen McGrane at the 2013 Web Conference at Penn State. I definitely walked up to the table, handed her my copy of Content Strategy for Mobile, and blurted out, “I LOVE YOU!”

Karen was really cool about it, and just grinned and said, “Thanks!” while she signed the book.

This year I attended ConvergeSE in Columbia. During one of the sessions I looked up and realized Ethan Marcotte was SITTING RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!

Instead of, you know, introducing myself, I snuck my cell phone out and took a completely creeper-ish picture of him that he was definitely not aware of. My coworker thought it was hilarious and picked on me for months about it. :)

A week ago I spoke at the Web Conference at Penn State where Ethan was also a speaker. I was again, mega shy (#introvertproblems) and saw him but didn’t actually approach him. (I did not, however, take any more creepy pictures. ;) )

During Luke W’s session break, I went out to grab a cup of coffee and ran into Ethan. I was all, “You’re Ethan Marcotte!” after I recovered from the shock. He grinned and said, “Yes I am, it’s very nice to meet you!”

This time I actually shook his hand and introduced myself like a normal human. I later publicly admitted on Twitter to my ConvergeSE secret picture taking covert activity.  Ethan responded with a very kind tweet, and didn’t seem overly creeped out. lol

Please, please tell me there are others who suffer from this awkward affliction?

Seriously though, Hollywood celebs? Meh. Famous tech industry peeps? Insta-starstruck.

 

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UX Job Resources

This weekend I met quite a few people who asked for UX job search resources. I decided to compile a list here for anyone who is interested, or searching for a UX job! I hope these resources help you on your journey into the best career of all time! :)

P.S. My company is hiring a UX designer right now!
http://www.schoolwires.com/careers :)

UX Job Sites: 

http://uxjobs.org

http://uxmag.com/uxjobs

http://jobs.smashingmagazine.com/?search=ux

http://community.uxmastery.com/forum/community-center/jobs-board

http://uxjobs247.com

http://www.justuxjobs.com

http://www.uxjobsboard.com

http://www.onwardsearch.com/User-Experience-Design-Jobs

http://UXswitch.com

On Twitter:

@IA_UXJOBS

@FutureheadsUX

UX Networking:

http://linkedin.com

Join LinkedIn UX groups and network! It’s a great way to find out about career opportunities!

http://twitter.com

There is an AMAZING community of UX professionals on Twitter. Search UX and you’ll find all kinds of really spectacular professional connections! :)

Recommendations?

If you know of any other awesome UX job resources, please feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll add them to this list! :)

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