Rigid UCD methodology fails?

I received an e-mail from someone at the 2008 IA Summit about Jared Spool’s declaration that UCD is dead:

——Forwarded message——
From: P
Date: Sun 13/04/2008, 2:54 PM

Hi Jerome,

I’m at the iA Summit in Miami right now, and hearing about all of the things that are going on makes me think of you. One of the interesting sessions was Jared Spool’s keynote speech. He conducted research into what makes certain companies better able to produce effective designs. He used this model to talk about the various approaches departments do to facilitate design:

Things that facilitate design

He said all design involves a process, whether it’s been formalized or not. Interesting, though not surprising: companies that have dogmatic UCD leadership or use a rigid UCD methodology are unlikely to create anything innovative. To innovate, you want to apply techniques in sometimes surprising ways to solve problems that they were not intended for (those are the “tricks”.)

OK, I’m going back out in the warm (hot!) weather.

– P

Of course, the lack of process doesn’t guarantee innovation, either, nor does it guarantee you’ll be able to repeat your (accidental) successes. I believe a successful design process must involve some form of generative design—as Five Sketches™ does—that’s based on knowledge of user condition. I also beleive that, once you’ve internalised those two things, you can use almost any form of facilitation to design good products.

A sketch must be disposible

The strength of sketching is that it’s a fast way to capture ideas.

Since a low-fidelity sketch is fast—pen on paper, as shown—it’s also low cost. And low cost means it’s relatively disposable if it turns out you can’t use that idea.

If you don’t like my first 5 ideas, that’s OK. I can have more ideas, easily and at low cost. And so can you.

A variation on this theme: iteration is also painless. With relatively little invested in a sketch, modifying an idea costs marginally more.

The payoff is that you can quickly saturate the problem space with ideas, before you analyse them. This is a key part of why Five Sketches™ works so well for development teams who are in a hurry to start programming.

It’s important to keep sketches cheap. Here’s a video of a cool sketching tool that, if used as a design aid, would greatly increase the project risk. That’s because this cool tool is expensive to install, expensive to learn (it requires training) and expensive to use (it allows only 1 user at a time). All this will reduce the number of sketches in the problem space—and it’s risky to design without considering all options.

Thanks to Karen for finding and sharing this cool video.

Design Studio vs. Five Sketches™

I came across a software-design approach similar to Five Sketches™. It’s called Design Studio, and was developed in the USA. I was intrigued to learn about Design Studio. When separate teams develop a similar response to the same challenge, it validates both solutions. In this case, the challenge is to support software developers as they design the mental models, interaction, and GUI for their products.

Video no longer availableDesign Studio was presented at a 2007 conference, and you can watch it on video: but the BrightCove video is no longer available to watch.

If you have information about Design Studio, please comment, below. Found it! Jeff White and Jim Ungar presented their Design Studio method at the IxDA 2008 conference, in a presentation titled User Interface Design in an Agile Environment: Enter the Design Studio.

Creativity hacks vs. Five Sketches™

My Vancouver colleagues and I had the chance to hear Scott Berkun speak, last week, at an event hosted by Vancouver User Experience. I sat in the front row with Sharon and Sam. Colin and Ken sat in the back.

Berkun shared his “creativity hacks”—a term he uses to describe the tips or advice that you can follow to foster your creativity.

I listened carefully for new ideas, and found that many of Berkun’s tips are already present—in some form—in the Five-Sketches™. There’s a lot of resonance between the various ways to cultivate creativity.

Creativity hacks

Five Sketches™

Document your ideas whenever you have an idea, in any medium.Try journaling to recognise how creative you are. You can be as creative as you want in your personal journal. It’s a “safe space” that is yours alone. We keep all sketches, but they are not private. Instead, they become documentation for your Canadian SR&ED tax-credit program. A portion of the design work may be eligible for a tax credit from Canada Revenue Agency. Journaling is a good habit, but not required by Five Sketches™.
Escape to give yourself the opportunity to hear your ideas. Escape while running, doing housework, driving, showering, suntanning—any rote or mindless activity. A problem-solving brain goes through three phases: understanding, incubation, elaboration. Escape promotes incubation. Design participants do the initial round of sketching alone, in advance, which means you can do it outside your usual workplace.
Invert the problem. Solve the opposite problem. For example, if you have to design a shopping-mall directory, ask: “What’s the worst that a mall directory could be?”

  • It lies.
  • It moves (changes location).
  • It smells or stinks.
  • It’s hidden.

Later, invert each of those ideas to find the desired attributes.

Inverting the problem is a “game” that leads to productive solutions by imposing an unusual constraint on the problem.

Five Sketches™ changes your usual work setting by using music, food, sketching, and short story-telling to draw people out of their day-to-day routine.
Partner. Pairings force more new ideas to surface than on your own. Partner with people who have divergent skill sets. If you cannot find a partner, find a rival to compete with, as Michaelangelo did with Leonardo da Vinci. For great creative work to happen, seek out creative abrasion: some sort of tension between management and the team, or within the team, to encourage some interplay or competition. Five Sketches™ partners three or four people on a team.
Fail. Commit to taking risks to such an extent that you fail some of the time. If you’re not failing, you’re not doing anything sufficiently difficult. Fail in prototypes, in your journal (which is a “safe space” to fail), and so on. According to Berkun, Ernest Hemingway said: “The first draft of anything is shit.” Not every ideation-design project is an immediate, stellar success. Some design meetings uncover additional problem statements or the need for additional information that was overlooked during the pre-sketch preparation.
Plan for roadblocks. Politics are incredibly frustrating to creative people. Ask yourself why your last three ideas failed. Berkun listed the common reasons: You couldn’t convince the right people. You lost motivation. You ran out of time. Your team lead is an idiot. You gave up. Someone stole your idea. Commit to overcoming obstacles. If you are a manager, make these delegatable tasks. Recommendation: find out what people want, then try to give it to them. Take responsibility for your idea and how it will be perceived. Our ordered approach keeps Five Sketches™ organised. A flow chart helps the team decide when to use Five Sketches™, and who influences the product at which stage. The team conducts retrospectives, talk about the roadblocks, and continue to find ways to make the Five-Sketches™ method better for the individual team.
Switch modes. Ideas can best be discovered:

  • Visually.
  • Verbally.
  • Audibly.
  • Physically.

If you are stuck, find a new way to represent the problem, using a different mode of communication.

Sketching, with markers, on paper. For really complex problems: Lichert-scale ratings of different solutions. Affinity diagrams help with the nonlinear representation of ideas. Card sorting helps us physically move ideas around the space. Skits and short story-telling helps to clarify a scenario. Customers or user personas, and photos of their workplaces, bring users into the design process.
Do something new/different/unusual. Go to a conference in a field outside your domain. Go to a part of the bookstore that you don’t normally go to—architecture? Chemistry? How would those disciplines approach problems similar to yours? Berkun took an improvisation (acting) course, and learned these rules:

  • No half-assing. Give your all.
  • No apologies.
  • Make the other guy look good.
  • Say “Yes, and…” instead of “No, but…”. This is the most important of these 4 rules, because you add something.
In the re-sketching or mash-up stage, you “add something, and add something.” Sketching happens on paper with markers—not a developer’s usual medium. It asks you to come up with five different ideas, and makes room for “silly” or “impossible” ideas.

Want to know more? Check out Scott Berkun’s blog posts about creativity, or read about Five Sketches™ on this site.