Over the last 3 months I’ve been fortunate to record conversations with 3 accomplished people whose open, insightful thinking broadened my horizons:
- Samar Héchaimé, co-founder, Agora Envisioning (listen / watch)
- Sofia Svanteson, CEO, Elsa Science (watch)
- Jennifer Sukis, Director of Design for AI, IBM (listen)
The most recent of those, with Jennifer Sukis, left me thinking about the virtue of random leaps of imagination and how hard they are to achieve in practice.
Leap! (randomly), a 15 min exercise
Do you have 15 minutes in your day to see if you can make a leap of your own?
Here’s the challenge. There are just 4 simple steps:
- Choose some work you’ve completed, e.g. it might be a report, a presentation, a product release or anything else which feels ‘finished’.
- Use a random method to select another industry, product, service, person or whatever e.g. you might take a walk and select the first thing which catches your eye.
- Quickly jot down or record any relationships you can think of between the work you chose and the random thing you selected. Top tip: speed is your friend. Don’t overthink it. It’s important to work fast on this bit.
- If you feel like sharing (and I hope you do), send me a note to tell me how it went.
If you do, I promise I’ll share back with my own example.
The context of how this emerged in my conversation with Jennifer was an approach espoused by a university her son was considering. The school tries to encourage multi-disciplinary thinking by requiring students to go through this practice for each major project they work on. Jennifer also talked about observing the benefits of diverse thinking in the classes she herself has taught at the University of Texas. By opening up her class on ‘Advanced Design for Artificial Intelligence’ to business and medical and many other types of student, as well as those focusing on design, Jennifer noticed an increase in the overall quality of results.
Deep down, you probably know a lot of this already. Creative exercises like this are deceptively simple – and often even obvious in their construction – but most of us still don’t do enough of them. I know I don’t! The hard work is sustaining them as a practice and knowing when they can be used most effectively relative to other aspects of your own working style.
You’ll know you’re doing enough when these kind of exercises lead to uncomfortable results. Disruption, that nebulous word which can be equal parts aspiration and avoidance, isn’t comfortable. We’ve all experienced a lot of it lately from the unexpected tragedy of a global pandemic.
One of the reasons for inviting Samar Héchaimé to be my first MEX Live guest in May was to tap into her wisdom – gained over a long and richly international career in design – in search of better outcomes amid the sorrow and hardship caused by Covid-19.
She spoke eloquently about learning from widespread, collective difficulties to remind ourselves that user-centred design practice which focuses solely on individual outcomes is self-defeating. While empathetic, one-to-one understanding remains core to this design approach, it exists within a continuum where it should inform, and be informed by, the wider systems in which it exists.
My conversation with Sofia Svanteson helped me to understand more of what that means in practice. Sofia, who many of you will know from the wonderful legacy of talks and workshops she’s given at MEX over the years, is building a healthcare company which helps patients better manage chronic conditions. Understanding the needs of their stakeholders, from medical practitioners to those suffering with illness, has meant drawing on all the skills Sofia amassed running a UX consultancy – and learning new ones.
Delivering better healthcare – as we are all being reminded at the moment – is a challenge as complex as the body’s own mechanisms. Research methods which deepen our understanding of individual entities and design methods which encourage creative, inter-connected thinking about their meaning have never been more important.
For another angle on leaps, you might enjoy MEX Inspirations, an ongoing series exploring tangents and their relationship to better experience design.