During the Discover phase we take time to create a foundation of understanding. Through interviews, heuristics assessment and data analytics, we get layers of information that gives us a deeper understanding of the world and the people around the problem we are trying to solve.
With that grounding, we then allow ourselves to imagine. To imagine is to think, believe, fancy, assume and suppose. This is the phase to let our imagination run wild and allow ourselves to play.
When imagining, it’s imperative that we allow ourselves to think quickly and expansively. We go wide before we narrow our focus. This means using fast, low-fidelity techniques that allow us to quickly explore where we may want to go. Research, co-creation sessions and sketchboarding are all fantastic techniques that allow our minds to wander freely and explore large amount of iterations on an idea before we narrow our focus.
Below are some techniques that will help you Imagine.
Industry & inspirational research
Different from competitive landscape in the Discovery phase, this activity does the same type of research but with a designer’s perspective. Which means it’s strongly focused on the interaction, intent, behavior, voice, and aesthetics.
Chances are you already have some cool ideas for solutions in your mind of a key stakeholders shared some of their thoughts (and potentially ‘comps’!). The industry research helps us gain an understanding of what others are doing in the field. Using the competitive landscape where direct competitors are identified, we can look into their experience, purchase their products, and become a customer to understand how they are tackling the problems. What are they doing right? What are they doing wrong?
Industry research doesn’t have to be direct competitor it can also be related fields. For example, in researching experiences for a life insurance products when someone suffers a personal loss, I researched meditation, mental health, and working through grief. Though not directly related to the field, it was related to the state of mind for the people we were designing for. Take time to see what is out there, get inspired and grab ideas.
I have often found designers a bit skirmish at this idea. After all, we want to be unique, we want to lead instead of follow. We want to do our own thing not what others have already solved. I myself have fallen into this early on in my career. But researching and gaining inspiration has nothing to do with the final outcome which will be unique because the problem you are solving is unique. It’s about letting yourself be influenced, gaining perspective of what has worked and learning from things that have not. Being a courageous designer means being able to be inspired by others.
Co-creation sessions can be invigorating experiences. Usually held with stakeholder or customers (but not the 2 mixed) they are fun, loose conversations that give the control over to non-designers. By using our key tools: visualization, journey mapping, etc. we allow others to use our language to communicate their pain points. It’s a simple way to demystify what we do and gain perspective of how other people think of the problem.
Co-creation sessions bring people into our process better than any other activity we do. And with it’s low-fidelity technique (paper, pencil, playdo incase of emergency) it breaks the wall between designer and stakeholder. You will not have a set solution when leaving the co-creation session but you will gain a true understanding of how problems are perceived.
Sketchboarding is a low fidelity way to get ideas out of your head as quickly as possible. It’s an activity done by yourself or as part of a larger activity like Co-creation sessions. Sketchboarding allows you to be quick, loose, and focus on generating ideas some sane, some crazy. It’s about exploration and freeing your mind to come at a problem in many different ways.
Have you ever done that wiggly hand thing? The one where you bounce from foot to foot start pumping your shoulders up and down, stretching your neck to the rhythm of the rest of your body finally releasing with the shake of your arms and hands? Sketchboarding is just like that. It gets your creative blood flowing. It’s a designer’s version of warming up.
It allows ideas to flow through quickly and with every idea quickly sketched, it opens the blood cells and our brain cells to think of even more. Sketchboarding also allows us to go in and out of environmental factors for an experience and zoom into interface design ideas zoom out to environmental consideration (did the person begin in their car and finished at a desk at home?). What do they see/need in their car versus what do they need when sitting in from of their laptop at home? The fluidity of the exercise create a calmness that allows ideas to flourish.
Another essential exercise is narrating the story. The discovery phase can generate a large amount of data and it can feel overwhelming and unmanageable sometimes. If that is true for the people doing the research imagine the audience that needs to digest, understand, and make key decisions based on it. Journey maps allow us to refine data and visualize it in context of a larger narrative so we can understand it further and so we can better tell the story to others.
Journey maps can be different depending on the insight to the research or the scenarios of your particular experience. Some typical components of journey mapping include:
The lens (or setting the stage.) This is where the story begins, who is the hero (architype) of the story, what is their goal. Time. Typically identified in stages the time or flow people take through an experience is an important depiction of a journey map. It tells the story of where people start and where they end up. The action. What did they do to trigger a touchpoint with your brand or experience. What did they say or think? Journey maps need to be grounded on the experience of the person/people going through it, understanding the thoughts is imperative to help others live in their shoes. What did they feel. Like much in life, it’s all about the feels. Were people distressed, happy, content? Adding emotion to the journey map helps identify areas where there is friction and where there is delight so we can do more of the good and less of the bad. How are they interacting, what are the channels. There’s many ways to interact with a brand or experience today, journey maps let’s us visualize all the ways people may connect so we can create experiences that are seamless from channel to channel. Aha! In every research there is inevitably an Aha moment. One that the research participants did not anticipate but found it particularly insightful. These are pivotal moments identified in journey maps to help us hone in on what makes people tick. There is always an opportunity to improve. In journey maps we identify key opportunities to start embracing what are things we can do better. Opportunities are not solutions but observation from the archetypes perspective. One of the most important data points in any journey map is the sources. Journey maps are founded in research insights, be it interviews, industry, or subject matter experts, journey maps must visualize insights driven from true research and not gut feelings. Adding sources not only legitimizes your map but grounds it in facts. It’s ok to go in and out these techniques. Typically i may mix inspirational research with sketchboarding. There’s no steadfast rule that you must finish one UX activity before moving on to the next. These are all different parts of your toolkits. Pick them up as you need them. By allowing ourselves to image we allow ourselves and our teams to be free of constraints and explore ideas early on before going into the pixels. Once you’ve exhausted your and others imagination it’s time to start bringing things to life. It’s time to create.
The loot: Journey Map