Stop Sucking the Creative Energy Out of Your Design Brainstorming Sessions


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.

Creating a Killer In-house Design & Innovation Team

While conversing with some of my UX pro peers, I’ve discovered that design teams at software companies are extremely varied in make up. Some places have great team dynamics and others really really don’t. At my company Schoolwires, we have a completely awesome Design & Innovation team with members that work incredibly well together, not only from a personality stance, but from a combined powerhouse of skills stance. So today, I’m going to focus on answering  the question:

What does it take to create a killer in-house Design and Innovation team?

1.      An Incredibly Innovative Vice President

At my company we have a VP of Product Design and Innovation who is one of the most contagiously creative, innovative people I have ever met. You go into what should be a mundane meeting with him, and come out feeling inspired every single time. He also has a vision of the future of technology that reaches out decades. He’s always thinking about the next next, with his finger on the pulse of the latest and greatest apps and software and technology trends. (Don’t even THINK about trying to headhunt Jay… He’s ours!!!) 🙂

2.      A UX Manager Who Thinks in Wireframes and Dreams Code

Our Manager of User Experience literally thinks in wireframes and dreams code. I’m not even kidding. We recently had a discussion about it. She hears a concept and pictures the wireframes in her mind. She is incredibly talented, and has a background in code, so she not only pictures design in her mind, she knows how to MAKE the things she envisions. Cap that off with being a phenomenal, supportive manager and you’ve got Sara!

3.     Two Creative UX Architects Who Love to Design

We have two awesome architects who really enjoy designing! Our architects do the data layer/api/business layer work for all of our projects, but they also lead designs and create wireframes at times! I’ve talked to folks who do not have architects on their design teams, and I can’t imagine designing without them! They are able to tell us at a glance if what we hope can happen is actually feasible. If we had to wait until our designs were passed off to development to find that stuff out, we’d end up with hours and hours of additional rework time. They are key to keeping us agile! Craig and Heather are incredibly talented!

4.      An Extremely Talented UX Designer With a Graphic Design Background

Our UX designer is absolutely fantastic! She can make a CMS interface look like a work of art, and can kick out gorgeous high res mockups on a dime! She too is constantly looking for the latest and greatest design tricks and tips, and brings fresh ideas and concepts to our products! Danelle is fabulous!

5.      A UX Editor/Content Strategist With a Background in Psychology

Our UX Editor/Content Strategist is completely obsessed with writing, statistics and discovering how we can make our clients lives easier through design. She is also a tech-blog-aholic and has an insatiable thirst for all knowledge related to UX, Usability and Content Strategy. She loves design brainstorming and working in wireframes more than most things in life!

The 6 of us work together exceptionally well because we work in an environment that supports open sharing of ideas. We all have the utmost respect for one another, and our leadership team has made it clear that every member of the team is valued, as are their opinions. It’s also accepted team wide that no one is perfect, nor are they expected to be. Sometimes we’re right, and sometimes we’re wrong but the safe environment for sharing both the good ideas and the bad leads to incredible collaboration and ultimately stronger, more innovative, user friendly products.

To cap it off, there is a level of completely contagious excitement that spreads throughout the team while we work on new design concepts. You can almost feel the wave of excitement crashing around you while the team is brainstorming and tweaking and perfecting. It is the most amazing work environment I’ve ever experienced.

As proof, our current design project is incredible. I can’t wait for it to hit the market! I’m like a kid on Christmas morning, it’s so exciting! 🙂

In summary, I hope that this article helps you to envision your dream in-house design and innovation team. I’ve found mine, now it’s time for you to create yours! And remember, you don’t have to go freelance to love your job! Our team is living proof that in-house design team utopia does exist! 🙂