Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Getting back to innovative

In the 10 years I’ve been a designer I’ve spent a lot of time trying to keep my design quality and interest levels high. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with some excellent designers – designers working on start-up products in new technologies and designers pushing established products to the next level. One thing I've noticed is that no matter how excellent a designer is everyone has some times when the interest lags. Everyone has some times when the quality just doesn’t seem as high. When that happens how can a designer get excited, creative, and innovative again?

Here a few ideas I’ve seen work:

  • Create some designs for something you know little (or nothing) about
    This is a different take on “get out of your comfort zone”. Work exclusively on PCs? Try designing for the Mac. Work mainly on web-based applications? Try a desktop application. Create designs for a narrow demographic? Change those designs to target another audience. Getting away from your expert areas might set you up for a failure (at least the first time around) but it will give a new perspective and open some new creative pathways. Who knows – this may be your big eureka moment.

  • Work in a different department for a while
    Have no business sense? Maybe it’s time to face that fear. Ask for a 6 month stint in the sales department or a chance to work with the business development team. It may seem like a crazy idea to you and your manager (let alone the sales team) but getting out of your normal routine and trying to meet a different set of objectives improves your product vantage point. Leadership in design, as in other areas of the organization, has far more impact when the leader has hands-on knowledge outside of the design department.

  • Present a bad design
    Can’t work on a new project? Can’t try a new job role? Try opening creating new pathways and facing some fears by presenting a bad design. Design something you know isn’t up to par. Identify an appropriate audience and present it, thinking of yourself as a teacher testing a design class. As your audience starts pointing out what’s wrong congratulate them. Encourage them. Your teammates might think you’ve gone a little crazy but you’ve gotten yourself out of an innovation-killing mindset: defensiveness. The next time you present a design (hopefully a better one) if you can keep that same mentality you’ll start seeing some innovative collaboration begin.

This is list is pretty short -- send me what works for you.

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