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.

Open Your Mind & Build Better Products: Persona Centered Design Brainstorming

The company I work for is incredible. I have an amazingly talented manager and an incredibly innovative, creative Vice President. Both are huge advocates for UX, usability testing and cutting edge user research methods. Another area in which they are very supportive, is the area of persona research. We have spent a good amount of time on our persona research, and it’s proven to be worth its weight in gold. We have been able to leverage the persona research in some really cool ways. I wanted to share with you a persona centered brainstorming method that has been particularly effective.

Our company’s flagship product is a CMS that allows school districts to maintain web properties with ease. Recently we created an end user layer called MyView, which functions as a dashboard for parents, students, staff members and community members. It’s an extremely powerful feature, and that is in large part due to our initial persona centered design brainstorming session. I’m going to outline the process we followed in hopes that it can aid some other organizations in the future.

Step 1: Get out of the office.
We met offsite. This may not sound like a big deal, but it’s huge. In office meetings are great, but when you want to get the creative juices flowing being in a remote area with no “pop in” distractions can really aid in focusing on the task at hand.

Step 2: Respect one another.
We have a team dynamic in which every team member is free to share ideas without fear of judgment. Every member of our team has respect for one another and feels comfortable sharing ideas.

Step 3: Integrate user personas in your design brainstorming.
We did a really cool exercise in which each member of our team adopted a key user persona, complete with name tag. Each of us then looked at the design from our adopted persona’s point of view. You wouldn’t believe how different your mental design process ends up when you’re looking at a concept from a specific persona point of view, rather than your own.

Step 4: Draw Pictures.
I have less than zero talent when it comes to drawing. Seriously, even my stick figures are pitiful. Asking every member of the team (Architects, Content Strategists, UX Designers, Vice Presidents I’m talking EVERY member) to draw what they envision the product to look like, and asking them to integrate the features they feel would be most important to their adopted user persona, is a really cool way to come up with innovative user centered ideas. Break out grid paper and sharpies for those who, like me, can’t even draw a straight line, and have at it.

Step 5. Create your V1 mockups on the spot.
How many times have you had a fantastic productive brainstorming meeting, gone home, come back the next day and you can’t figure out what in the world your notes mean? Create your V1 mockups before you leave while the ideas are still fresh in your mind.

We wound up with a completely killer design, and later an equally killer product enhancement using this method. I hope your company can benefit from it as well! May your products live long and prosper… with a little help from persona centered design brainstorming sessions. 🙂