Creative then vs. now

The idea behind is, in a nutshell: collaborative, insight-driven problem framing, and an iterative human-centred cycle.

The process of creative ideation and iteration is nothing new. It’s how designers, and all creatives, were always taught to work. You gather information on a problem. Get to know your users. Develop many concepts. Whittle down ideas to the good ones. Test, iterate, and refine. It’s an old-school concept that creative professionals have followed for decades.

The difference between then and now, of course, is that we’re now much more inclusive with that process. We co-create, and invite stakeholders into our world to be part of that process.

So what are the issues?

A medium article written by Lillian Ayla Ersoy last year does an excellent job of articulating some frustrations I also hear from fellow designers. Some of these things include:

  • Too many stakeholders involved
  • Need to rationalize every single small design decision
  • Attachment to the first idea and little time given for exploration

While admittedly some of this resonated with me as well, I’m not ready to think we’re doing more harm than good. Creative work was so challenging before we got here, it really was. Especially within the context of a large enterprise.

“I think it’s fair to critique design thinking, just as it’s fair to critique any other design strategy.” — IDEO partner Micheal Hendrix in

We’ve done a really good job persuading business to adopt Design Thinking methodology. Maybe we should step back and do the same for ourselves again.

Even when it’s not done quite right, and things aren’t functioning quite like they should, it is still a better alternative. This is a this is still a hugely positive development for those working in this industry.

And you know what else? I honestly believe it can help make all of us more effective designers.

Here are 5 key reasons why Design Thinking is a positive thing for UX:

1. Problems are framed before you start.

Have you ever sat through a large meeting and thought to yourself “What is the point of this project anyway?”

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Almost everyone in UX has experienced the storm that inevitably erupts when a problem hasn’t been framed in the right way. It’s challenging, and I have struggled with this many times.

A 2017 study from the Harvard Business Review found that 85% of executives interviewed strongly agreed that their organizations were bad at problem diagnosis. Businesses by default are better are immediately finding solutions. But problem framing is where the spark of creativity happens, and that is something we’re good at.

Distributed stakeholders, distributed ideas, and broken telephone: all of these things can pull you away from the meaning and purpose of what you’re doing.

Discovery is not a word that business people understand, and that’s fine — in my view they don’t have to. But taking them through the discovery process is infinitely helpful because you will know what problem you are solving.

2. Reducing spin helps designers deliver better work.

How many people have ever had to do 65 versions of something? Or had to juggle contradicting feedback from 37 different stakeholders?

Not fun.

The first time I took a job at a large enterprise I was completely baffled by the internal spin. How was it possible that a few simple pages could circle for months? I had worked for agencies, a dot com, a start-up: environments where things were done quickly, new ideas were tested, and employees were given a lot of freedom to own their work and push products live.

It is not that simple in large enterprise. It just isn’t.

Even the most functional of large enterprises have many, many layers of management. Who owns a product, really? The answer is often a convoluted mess, and it can make life miserable for those trying to produce something that satisfies everyone.

There is an undeniable shift that happens when you bring a carefully selected group of people together with a shared purpose. Being able to lead people through the design process gives you the chance to guide that conversation in a constructive way.

3. Stakeholders feel their voices are heard, that’s good for you too.

You’ll often hear Stephen Gates say “design is a team sport” in his podcast. He’s not . Including people in the creative process makes them feel heard, valued, and invested in what you’re doing. I have personally found that considering everyone’s point of view upfront results in less “feedback for the sake of feedback” at the end. People feel less compelled to comment just for the sake of commenting.

Besides, when stakeholders believe that you respect and value their point of view that relationship often translates to the things we actually care about: more funding, more freedom to explore, and more meaningful design work.

4. You’ll get better at interpreting (sucky) feedback.

One of the things designers do best is ask questions. We ask a lot of them. And we’ve (hopefully) been taught along the way how to probe and get the information we need. One of the most useful things you will ever learn how to do as a designer is to interpret feedback and figure out what someone is really saying. To get to the insight behind the words.

Yes, I know it’s annoying to have to rationalize every single thing, but that’s always happened. If anything that happened more before we started including stakeholders in the process.

Design Thinking encourages stakeholders to feel comfortable contributing their thoughts and ideas. A lot of it will be, at face value, quite terrible.

Somewhere underneath that terrible design feedback is a reason. An insight. It’s your job to uncover that. And you will get really good at doing that!

5. You still get to do the thing you do best

You might be inviting people into the process and drawing on their areas of expertise, but you’re still the one designing the experience in the end. That part is yours no matter which way you look at it.

Isn’t that what we all want? To be set up in a way that primes you to deliver amazing work?

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