2. Use constraints to boost your creativity

Constraints are usually simplified or trimmed in school projects so that you can apply and practice the frameworks/models/skills you learned from your program in an ideal context. In reality, constraints are everywhere in the work environment and you will probably be faced with things like:

You might often be told you wouldn’t have the“luxury” to conduct user research;

You may not have adequate data and background information to understand the business needs;

You may have to keep tweaking your design due to the technical challenges your development team are facing;

What may be even more frustrating is you may find out that some of the validated user needs got would never be addressed unless the internal process is adjusted, which beyond your scope;

And so on …

Trust me. It doesn’t matter where you work: big company, small company, “cool” company or “ old-school” company, you will always come across various constraints as those mentioned above. Instead of resisting or just reacting to the constraints, you should look at them with your design thinking. You can use those constraints to boost your creativity. For example, in the analytics project (mentioned earlier), we had a couple of constraints when it comes to the design research:

The design and development timeline were very tight (always tight);

The product team had different opinions about the scope of the design research;

Both the internal and external users were located across different time zones;

The research might need to involve multiple departments in the company which can be a considerable effort to coordinate.

Trust me. It doesn’t matter where you work: big company, small company, “cool” company or “ old-school” company, you will always come across various constraints.

All of these constraints posed two challenges to me: first, how can I convince my team that we need to do the design research for this project in spite of those constraints? Second, how to design the design research that works well with the constraints while achieving all the research goals?

To answer why we must do the design research for this project, I worked with our design manager to aggregate all the critical questions the product team should be able to answer with confidence before we do any “real” design. For example:

“What do the users exactly mean when they say “the design is not user-friendly?”

“Why do some users say they don’t have the need to use this application regardless if the design is good or not?”

Then we talked about how much we knew about these questions. Was what we thought we knew based on evidence/data/facts, or mere assumptions? If we dive into the design without knowing much about the answers to those questions, how much it would affect the success of the product? These objective discussions helped the product team realize what we didn’t know, and we eventually achieved the agreement that we should conduct the extensive design research to inform our design.

We also had big concerns about the time, resources, and cost of the research. To address these concerns we utilized a few smart tools to create an innovative design research experience for everyone involved in the research. We primarily used Mural, to conduct 90% user interviews and workshops. Integrating Mural into our design research was such an inspiring experience. More than screen sharing or audio/video conversation, Mural creates a more intuitive online environment that facilitates the real-time interactions for remote participants. We designed the scenario-based interactive activities for the participants to visualize their thinking process. By using Mural, we gained much more profound insights from observing how the users actually “did“ the activities not just from what they said. All of our participants enjoyed using Mural and shared with us that the experience was “creative and efficient. By integrating the advanced technologies, we were able to conduct twenty-eight one-on-one, 45-minute user interviews, one 10-person, 2-hour long design workshop and one online survey within ten days.

The Mural canvas we designed for our design research.



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