5 point plan for using artificial limitations to improve experience design

5 point plan for using artificial limitations to improve experience design

Which assumptions have become the static furniture of your brain’s design studio?

Smartphones, perhaps? When was the last time you imagined an experience which didn’t involve the presence of a smartphone?

What about a visual interface? How many experiences have you worked on recently which didn’t rely on sight as their primary sensory channel?

Assumptions like these are now ingrained in the daily practice of experience design. Similarly, we might include alongside them others such as:

  • Touchscreen input
  • Internet connectivity
  • User accounts

Of course, all of these are indeed mass market characteristics we can safely presume apply to most users, most of the time. However, their absence is also a mass market phenomena experienced by nearly everyone at some point. These absences, while infrequent, can be some of the most important in determining overall user experience.

By committing to a regular cycle of exercises where you artificially remove familiar totems, you can shift around the furniture of your mental studio and keep things fresh. This is a practice which improves experience design not just during the specific infrequent or extreme scenarios targeted by such exercises but throughout the much broader, gradual scale of how these limitations might be encountered by users.

Here’s a simple plan to get started:

  1. Examine your previous projects and identify five or so frequent assumptions, e.g. the presence of internet connectivity and smartphones.
  2. Rank these assumptions according to the impact their absence would have on your design, e.g. if it wouldn’t function at all without a smartphone, put that top of the list.
  3. Experiment by re-imagining the design with one or more assumptions removed or reduced, e.g. you may start with an extreme scenario like removing all visual elements and gradually work backwards through situations where visual elements may be impaired or temporarily unavailable.
  4. Consider how their removal or reduction would affect your current design but pay more attention to inspirational thoughts about how you would re-imagine the overall solution. It is crucial to commit to the game and free yourself to explore novel paths.
  5. Document your findings: firstly, list adjustments you now wish to explore within your current designs and, secondly, a longer-term list of approaches you’ve been inspired to try when designing new solutions.

Let me know how you get on. In particular, I’d love to hear about the different artificial limitations you select and why you chose them.

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