When author Harlan Ellison would get asked where he got his ideas, the award-winning writer would joke that he'd send a check to a little shop in Schenectady, NY. In return, the shop would send him a fresh pack of six ideas. Joking aside, truth is that writers, like designers, get their ideas by paying close attention to the world around them and seeing what others are doing.
But as more and more companies turn to design to grow into different markets, different avenues, it can be exhaustive to churn out idea after idea. No longer does it become just about generating a billion ideas. It becomes more and more about narrowing in on the right idea. Finding exactly what matters most to people, what solves their problem.
So how do designers hit on that idea? How do they ferret out the gem among a stack of coals? How do they get the confidence to get it right and keep from being paralyzed by fear of getting it wrong? The real challenge to those questions is trying to solve the human problem, according to this video by the folks at Continuum, a design strategy firm that works on everything from industrial products to household products like coffee makers. Check out the video below and watch how the designers narrow down on the right idea:
Notice how the designers in the video use many design methods in their hunt for the right solution, such as brainstorming, sketching, and interviewing. They even collaborate along the way, exploring dozens of ideas together to get to the right one. That being said, let's take a closer look at three points from the video.
- Understanding users' needs and values. User aspirations tell us more than past product choices, the video points out. It's not enough to know just who our potential users are. What separates a great designer from one that just moves pixels is the person who delves deep into the drives, beliefs, feelings and needs of their users. If not, the consequences could be dire. Remember Josh Levy and Ross Cohen, co-founders of BeenVerifed, who burned through $550,000 in funding without getting a single customer? That's because they spent months developing a product that didn't have a market, that nobody wanted to use.
- Getting ideas quickly into the wild. Tinkering with a prototype gets the idea out into the wild quickly, so we can user test and refine the prototype. More than that, putting work out in front of would-be users as soon as possible can prevent a lot of heartache in the end. Take Google Wave for instance. Sure, it was a pretty technically impressive application, but it was a big flop. That's because Google didn't learn how users would respond to Wave before they released it.
- Good design strategy is actionable. As one designer says in the video, sometimes things that are called design strategy actually end in user insights rather than ideas. The key is turning those user insights into meaningful action. Take for instance our work with Borealis, a software company for managing environmentally responsible oil and gas projects. Insights from frustrated users led us to the actionable idea of centering the application around the users' profiles. More than that, we struck upon the idea of mini-apps that were easier to build, maintain, and would excite users.
Getting to the right solution to a human problem requires deliberate practice, digging deep into the problem, asking tons of questions and sifting through dozens of ideas. It requires understanding users inside and out. By doing so, designers can strike upon the right idea without fearing they'll end up with a flop.