Everyone knows the problem: we need to be more innovative. So how do we get together and mobilise creativity? In designing digital experiences, creativity is often relegated to a designer and the onus is on the designer to provide the creative solution. In user experience (UX) design, the practice broadly defines itself as design driven by the study of a person’s experience with a system. If UX designers base the holistic consideration of users’ experience at the core of design, who else can they call on to inform them? You don’t have to look very far. Your project team: your product owner (usually the client), project manager, business analyst, developers and testers are your new creative alliances. People who have vision, commercial awareness, technological experience and most of all commitment to making the project a success.
Becoming a collaborative UX designer starts with making sure you plan in the time you need with your stakeholders. Regularly. Whether it’s Waterfall or Agile project methodology, collaborative creative sessions allow your team to generate rough design ideas before you start building a prototype and they can be helpful when you have a stack of user stories that need to be pieced together. Along with your already accumulated user research and your user requirements, these sessions can help shape and define not only the interface but the scope and technical aspects of the system.
One method of conducting collaborative design sessions is with a rapid sketching workshop. When I first started running sketching workshops, I thought the most I could get out of it was some good design ideas and some help solving design problems. What I discovered was getting a team of experts together to talk through concepts, in a room with space to be able to illustrate, opened up an opportunity for a project team to discuss the intricate details of the design, development and the implications on the business and user. Most importantly I found at the end of these sessions, some major decisions had been made with everybody on the team feeling satisfied and excited about what we needed to do next.
Sketching workshops are low cost and in a very short space of time you can rapidly produce a large number of user flow ideas and interface designs. The focus can be on anything, as long as you have a good set of personas and user needs to guide the creative process. Once initial ideas have been generated and presented by each individual, a variety of solutions will be up for discussion and debate. There may be one or two good ideas, an obvious winner or maybe a few that are worth merging. The key is that each person has put the end user at the forefront of their imagination; ultimately propelling their interpretation of the solution.
Trying to draw a wireframe for a complex system if you are more used to writing code or project plans may seem intimidating at first. As a good facilitator it is the UX designer’s role to introduce simple easy techniques that remove any barriers to participation and instil confidence. All of a sudden idea generation and visualisation doesn’t seem so daunting when you have in mind a person for whose use the system is intended. I have found having testers, who are often left quite far down the development pipeline, contribute to the design process in the early stages a cost efficient way to debug the design way before it reaches development. Who better to identify potential pitfalls than the experts that have seen all the problems numerous times before?
Other than problem solving and creative ideation, another benefit of running these sessions is exposing your team members’ individual roles and responsibilities. The process of sketching a design concept and communicating your design ideas to a group of people naturally exposes people’s specialisms and expertise in their field which can be a wonderful way to get a product owner or client to build trust in the team.
Scheduling regular time to collaborate with your team during the project lifecycle unifies the design vision, debugs the design, distinguishes team members roles and helps streamline the design and development process. Most importantly, these sessions are fun and are a chance for everyone to be part of the creative process. Even though the design integrity remains entirely within the domain of the UX Designer, in my experience true innovation blossoms when you share experiences and work as a team.
UX Team Lead
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