Articles

16Jan

2017 UX Roundup

This post started off as an email to my team that I thought might have some useful content for other UX folks. This here is a collection of articles, webinars, tools, and other thingies that I encountered over the year that I think are worth sharing, with some inspiring quotes sprinkled in along the way.

Articles and Video

Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.
– Salvador Dali

Interesting read about how to prepare for the next stage of UX

READ: https://www.fastcodesign.com/90135223/the-golden-age-of-ux-wont-last-heres-how-to-prepare-for-whats-next 

Notes from article:

• Don’t just understand users, understand the business
• Think product strategy (understand the totality of the product you are designing for)
• Understand how UX affects growth

Instead of thinking outside of the box, get rid of the box

-Deepak Chopra

Video webinar from Jonathan Wheeler, Sr. UX guy from Oppenheimer

WATCH: https://www.invisionapp.com/webinars/ux-leadership-everyone-designs

Main takeaway from video:

  • Don’t be a gatekeeper pf design, be a design facilitator

The above video was from the great webinar series from InVision called Design Talks that has over 60 videos thus far covering topics such as UX Leadership, design systems, and user research

WATCH: https://www.invisionapp.com/webinars

A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new

- Albert Einstein

State of UX in 2018: UXdesign.cc

This list does a pretty thorough job of going over the field
READ: https://trends.uxdesign.cc/

Notes:

• “UX Designer” as a title is starting to differentiate; some people are specializing in UX for specific domains, while some are morphing into Product Designers, the new generalists.
• UX is moving beyond the traditional screen and must learn to accommodate new technologies and ways of interacting
• Understanding the complete diversity of your users is becoming more important the more diverse people become (interesting examples are software systems that assume Asian eyes are closed)
• Storytelling will only become more and more ubiquitous; UX and copywriters will collaborate more
• Branding is more than just a logo; how can a brand be expressed throughout an experience?
• AI is now a real thing (Amazon Echo, Google Dot, etc.); How will we design for it?

Anyone who influences what the design becomes is the designer. This includes
developers, PMs, even corporate legal. All the designers.


- Jared Spool

More trends for 2018

https://theblog.adobe.com/10-ux-design-predictions-for-2018/
https://blog.prototypr.io/heres-where-ux-is-going-in-2018-top-7-design-trends-d0cb73e51b45
https://blog.figma.com/18-designers-predict-ui-ux-trends-for-2018-2d04d41361c6

Quote I most identify with:

“I really hope 2018 is the year designers commit to designing with accessibility in mind. 
We need to stop using ultra light grays for essential elements, we need to stop animating 
every single pixel just because it looks nice, and we need to stop making it harder on people 
to understand the content of a page only because we want to prove ourselves as designers.”
— Hubert Florin, Product Designer at Slack; me too, dude, me too

UX podcast: High Resolution

This series has 25 interviews with industry leaders from companies like AirBnB, Uber, Facebook and Slack. You can watch them as videos or listen to them as podcasts.

WATCH or LISTEN: https://www.highresolution.design/

User Research webinars from Usertesting.com:

A ton of content here with a focus on user research and testing

WATCH: https://www.usertesting.com/resources/webinars/

Online UX conferences from UXPin:

UXPin had some great free online conferences in 2017 that you can access as videos.

WATCH: https://www.uxpin.com/studio/webinars/

Tools

Most of the tools I used in 2017 I have been using for years but I did pick up a few new ones.

Note taking and collecting: Milanote

This is a cloud-based tools for collecting notes, inspiration, links, images, and it allows you to organize them into boards. I have a board where I store interesting articles and links and one where I add images and examples of good design that I use as an old-school morgue file.

The tool has free and paid accounts and is definitely worth checking out.

CHECK IT OUT: https://www.milanote.com/

InVision: Boards

I’ve been using InVision for several years now but 2017 was the year I really started using Boards. I probably use this feature a bit different than intended. I have a board that I use as a morgue, which is an old-school term for a collection of inspiration. Another board is literally dozens of ebooks that I have collected. Putting these files on a board makes it easy to share them with the whole team. I use boards for large scale projects to store mocks, zips of assets, palettes, and specs. I also have boards that are filled with terms and their definitions, organized by category (such as Psychological concepts, Design Principles, and Quotes).

InVision has free and paid accounts and is a great tool that is about to launch a bunch of possibly groundbreaking features in 2018.

SIGN UP HERE: https://www.invisionapp.com

SnagIt: Update for MAC!!

SnagIt is a screen capture tool that has been an absolutely essential part of my workflow for YEARS. Unfortunately, the MAC version has been stuck in time while the PC version was much more full-featured. Well, 2017 brought us MAC users a real upgrade!!!! And this is such a cheap tool that upgrading is a no brainer. I use this tool to take quick screen grabs but also to make short videos that explain interactions or to show how an interaction works on another site.

LEARN MORE: https://discover.techsmith.com/snagit-brand-desktop-new-label/?gclid=Cj0KCQiAp8fSBRCUARIsABPL6JZ_yGEvSPTcybYWsoldn9DKE3rwtoXhBgnPNF1yFLAkSMCYepuXc1saAldtEALw_wcB

4Jan

Welcome to my new series for 2018, Guerilla UX!

This series will highlight some of the challenges of doing UX when the resources are low but the stakes are high. When there are not enough resources, such as time, people, access to users, access to tools, or just general knowledge of UX, to properly perform user-centered design, that’s when you need to employ Guerilla UX practices. These are short-cuts, workarounds, and best practices to help anyone tasked with facilitating the best possible user experience for a product.

In my nearly 20 years in the industry, I have never had the perfect set of variables for UX. Sometimes it was lack of knowledge or understanding. Other times, it was lack of access to users. The most common deficit was the almost constant lack of time to perform the entirety of the UX process.

I have learned to work with what I have, because even a little strategic thinking, coupled with a deep knowledge of research-based best practices, along with at least SOME testing and validation, can go a long way towards creating better products that are usable, useful, and attractive.

Other the next year, I will cover many topics, including:

Learning UX on the job – how to transition from whatever role you currently have to a UX role
Using user proxies – When access to real users is slim to nonexistent, there are other ways to test using user proxies – folks who interact with or are intimately knowledgeable about your users and their needs.
User testing with user panels and remote user testing services – Sometimes a panel may be your best bet to access people who are closer to your user base.
Performing heuristic evaluations on your products– Using knowledge of best practices, perform a review of your product to better understand what needs to improve.
Performing competitive audits – one of the easiest research methods as it does not require access to users, only your competitor’s products or services, or in the case of the web, their web address.
Working with developers – learn how to better communicate with developers and how to create specs that they can read and understand to ensure your vision is effectively brought to life.
Understanding your business – UX isn’t all about users. UX is best applied when strategy is employed and that means understanding your company’s goals so that what you design helps to satisfy business and user needs.
Tools of the trade – Common tools, software, and other resources.

First up in the series, to be published later this month: Learning UX on the job.

Stay tuned!

7Feb
Yup, it's my puppeh

My UX Path

(Updated 11-23-2017) Everyone I meet who is a UX-something has had a different road to UX. Some folks started out as programmers, others as graphic designers. Some folks have even been lucky enough to gain HCI degrees. I find it extremely interesting to learn how others have come to UX and I thought I would share my path as well. My path is long and winding and still evolving.

Back in the nineties when I was in college, I started out as a biology major. I wanted to be an environmental scientist and save the world. Then I got into psychology and got pretty far in that. Psychological concepts are actually pretty important in UX, so this was a really good diversion. My best friend at the time was an art major and she encouraged me to take some art classes. I have always been into arts and crafts but never considered them viable career options. I took some classes and found them to be really rewarding. Another friend encouraged me to take a graphic design class-I didn’t even know what graphic design was. I excelled at graphic design and decided to change my major for the third time. I took a computer graphics class and fell in love with Macromedia Director and creating interactive presentations. I then got a student gig working on the university website and that is how I got started in the digital realm.

Even though I finished the graphic design program, I have never actually been a graphic designer. Sure, I’ve designed print pieces here and there along with many, many logos, but I have never had the title of graphic designer. I went straight into web design and production and have been an interactive something-or-the-other for over 18 years now.

Over the next few years, I taught myself HTML and CSS. I started writing functional specifications filled with wireframes and information architecture diagrams and user flows. I began to lead web development projects from start to finish, all the while doing all of the UI design and front-end production. I learned how to do QA testing. Then I became an expert in SharePoint branding and site collection administration.

I started to get into analytics and search analysis. I did competitive analysis and research and wrote a bunch of reports. I started to create training documentation, then I started to conduct in-class training.

After many years, I became a Creative Director and was responsible for large-scale redesigns of major e-government projects. Currently, I spend my days as Sr. UX Analyst and Designer at an asset management firm. My days are filled with research, wireframes, mocks, sketches, user testing and interviews, and UI design. I don’t do any front end development anymore, at least not at my day job. I also consult on the side doing expert UX reviews.

After all these years, it is easy to feel like you have it all figured out, but I feel like I am just getting started. I make a concerted effort to constantly learn new things, new techniques, new ideas. I also believe that a person’s career is in their hands and if your company won’t pay for training, pay for it yourself. Read books, blogs, newsletters, whatever. Teach yourself whatever it is you want to know-I did, that’s how I learned HTML/CSS and pretty much every thing I know that I use on a daily basis. I have or have had subscriptions to Safari online books, Lynda.com, Treehouse, over 30 Udemy courses, Creative Live and a membership to the Interaction Design Foundation. I also have two industry certifications – Certified Usability Analyst from HCI and an NN/g UX certification.

I’ve worn a lot of hats and have a wide-ranging set of skills. I feel like everything I have learned has helped me to be better at anything I do. I am able to solve problems quickly because chances are, I’ve solved it before (benefits of having a long career and working in different industries). I’ve worked at small agencies, at a death care company, an e-gov agency working with elected officials, and now, an asset management firm. I have always done freelance on the side, both for money and for the experience of working with more varied clients and projects. I am looking forward to another year in this industry and another set of skills that I hope to pick up.

Wherever you have started, you can use it as a stepping stone, just keep going and never stop. I sure won’t 😉

NOTE: That pup up there, yup, that’s critter number eight, Princess Buttercup. Adopt the planet!

31Oct

From Fireworks to Sketch: Getting your Fireworks vectors into Sketch

So anyone who knows me as a designer knows that I have a very strong love for Fireworks as a UI tool. I started using it back in version 2, in the nineties, and it is the primary tool that I have used in my career for designing user interfaces and graphic elements. I have never understood the love for Photoshop as a UI tool. Every time I have tried to accomplish a UI task in Photoshop, it took way too long, if it could be accomplished properly at all. I am a firm believer in designing in vectors and in using the right tool for the job. I love Photoshop, but for editing photos. Photography is a hobby of mine and Lightroom and Photoshop are absolutely essential to my photographic process. But for web design and UI work, Fireworks has always been number one, with Illustrator for more complex vectors and certain other tasks.

When Adobe announced they were not going to keep updating Fireworks, I was one of the folks that died a little inside that day. I had been singing the praises of this tool for years and now it was being taken away from me, with no viable replacement in sight. Then Sketch came around. I bought the first version but never really used it. Fireworks still worked fine and I didn’t see a reason to switch yet. Now it’s almost 2016 and I am seeing the bugs starting to affect my team. The other UI designer on my team at work cannot even get Fireworks to open on her system, so she can’t open any of my layered png files. I refuse to use Illustrator as a UI tool so that meant it was time to move on. Sketch 3.4 is now on both of our systems. Now the fun begins-matching up the features and functionality of Fireworks versus Sketch.

Surprisingly, I can find little info on the web to help Fireworks users transition to Sketch, so that is why I am doing this series. Giant issue number one: your Fireworks files will not open in Sketch as layered vectors. This is a huge issue. Folks like me who have been using Fireworks for 15+ years have hundreds to thousands of files that we can not open, except in Fireworks. How do I get my Fireworks vectors into Sketch?

Don’t try copy and pasting-they will come in as bitmaps. Don’t try saving as .ai, not if you want to open them directly in Sketch. You have to open them in Illustrator first and then save as .eps, then open in Sketch. I found a simpler process.

My process for converting Fireworks vectors into Sketch

  1. Open Fireworks, Illustrator, and Sketch. If you don’t have Illustrator, well, phooey, who doesn’t have Creative Cloud at this point? Try one of the other vector programs.
  2. Open your file in Fireworks.
  3. Select your vectors and go to Edit > Copy as vectors.
  4. Paste the vectors into Illustrator; with the vectors still selected, copy them from Illustrator.
  5. Now paste them into Sketch. They come over as perfect vectors.

One of the cool things about Sketch is the infinite canvas. I was able to combine multiple vector icon sets into one master icon set in Sketch because the canvas can be as large as you want it.

So, what about more complex layouts that include bitmaps, text, and vectors? There is no easy solution for these-you will have to do some cleanup.

My process for converting complex Fireworks layouts into Sketch

  1. Open Fireworks, Illustrator, and Sketch
  2. Save your Fireworks file as an Illustrator 8 .ai file.
  3. Open your file into Illustrator; you may need to click the Update text button.
  4. The file will open and all of your text and vectors will be there, but your bitmaps will have come over as x-ed out boxes.
  5. Copy from Illustrator into Sketch.
  6. Now it is clean-up time. You will have to either copy and paste bitmaps directly from Fireworks, or save individual bitmaps that have transparency. If you have a bitmap that is transparent, copy it and save it into its own Fireworks file, then export as png 32-it will preserve the quality and the transparency. You can then open these files directly into Sketch and add them back into your layout.

So, it’s a lot of work just getting your files into Sketch. I really wish Sketch would have figure out a way to work with Adobe to allow layered png files to open in Sketch, but that’s life. I have cursed Sketch’s existence quite a few times trying to figure out how to accomplish certain tasks. Hopefully this post can help others transitioning suffer a wee bit less.

Happy designing!!!

3Sep

The Importance of Integrity

Sometimes I feel the need to wax poetic about non-tangibles, and lately I have been thinking about the role integrity plays in life. How many times have you thought about your personal integrity, or the integrity of those around you? What I mean by integrity is how a person chooses to act towards others, how honest they are, how trustworthy they are-all of that plays into the general theme of integrity.

I cannot express enough how important it is to not only live a life filled with personal integrity but how important it is to not be around those you feel lack it. If you encounter people in your daily life who consistently treat others with disrespect, are dishonest, possibly manipulative, these people will affect you negatively. If it means dropping friends or acquaintances, then do it. The people closest to you have a huge influence on you and what they say and do can poison the well of your own life. If it means getting a new job to ensure that the people you work with are in step with your morality, then do it. Never work for or with people you can’t or don’t trust because that lack of respect you have will become apparent, and the actions of these people can harm your work, your attitude, and possibly your career.

Beyond other peoples integrity or lack thereof, how you behave in your life and work matters. Strive to be a person who others can count on to tell the truth, to always be the person in the room that can be trusted with confidential matters. Strive to do your absolute best, no matter what activity you are working on. Lift people up around you and make sure that if you are in a leadership role that you seek out ways to mentor and grow those you lead.

More important than your reputation is your character, because it is what is real, while the former is what is perceived. Sometimes to maintain your integrity you have to risk your reputation. What value is your reputation if it is built on half-truths?

Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.

John Wooden

What does all this have to do with design? Everything and nothing. Integrity and character matter, no matter what you do for a living. If you are a designer, it matters. If you are a doctor, it matters. I only ask that we keep these things in mind so that we can all, as a design community, as a community of people, strive to be more than what others think we are. Be better, and everything we create will be better.

12Jan

Web Design Trends 2014

It’s that time of year again when everyone decides what the web trends for that year will be. I have done the research so you don’t have to. I’ll start off with my list…

My List O trends I would Like to See More Of and Ones I Think Should Die – 2014 Edition

More:

simplified content and design: my motto is “get people in and out”. For many websites, users are coming for something specific. I’d like to see more streamlined experiences that allow for that, rather than the overly complex sites that now dominate.

custom icon fonts and SVG: I think these are a great way to add scalable graphics to sites that need to support IE 8 and 9. I was never a fan of sprites, so I think this is a great method of combining the core icons and graphics for a site into one tight file (assuming they are created correctly and no unnecessary icons are included to add to the file size). For those lucky enough to not have to support IE 8, SVG all the way…

even more responsive: they are just way too many popular sites and ecommerce sites that are not mobile optimized. I do an awful lot of browsing on my iPad and I cant stand having to zoom just to click on something because the site I am on refuses to make their site responsive. With more and more people browsing on mobile devices, responsive is not a trend, it is a necessity.

color, beautiful, bright, color!: my fav trend that I am seeing, and one I have been waiting for. I have been trying for years to make my sites more colorful and less corporate, and since I have bosses and clients, I generally have to sneak my happy colors in as accents. With this being a trend now, I am actually being encouraged to use more color! Yeah!!! Seriously, drop the old corporate colors and come into the light bright happy!

Die:

80 bazillion sites that all look like Bootstrap: I get it, Bootstrap is cool, it saves time and makes web development a bit easier. But please, move away from the out of the box templates and customize that mess. The majority of the web sites I have seen on “best of” lists all have the same dang layout.

giant photos as content: if that giant photo isn’t content, it is fluff, that I fricking have to download. I know it’s a trend, and those of us with bosses sometimes have to bend and be trendy, but make these pics count. And learn to optimize them for all that’s holy! Selective blur and progressive jpgs, and use something other than Photoshop to export your files (Fireworks or one of the jpg and png website tools).

forgetting IE: I know all us cool kids use Chrome or Firefox or Safari, but Joe Average most likely still uses IE, and an older version at that. It really doesn’t take that much effort to make your site at least be usable in IE 8 and 9-not doing so is just lazy and alienating. Design in terms of progressive design-cool stuff should degrade gracefully in older browsers, not keep the site from working at all.


Now let’s see what the interwebs have to say…. and what I have to say in response:

Web Design 2014: What to Watch Out For

Webdesigns tuts+ http://webdesign.tutsplus.com/articles/industry-trends/web-design-2014-what-to-watch-out-for/

solutions to the slicing problem: I find this one curious as I have not “sliced” an image for use for the web in years because I build things in Fireworks and export individual files rather than slicing. This article presumes web designers hand over flat photoshop files to a dev-does this still really happen??? If you are a web designer, you need to be able to build your own UI’s, other wise you are just a decorator.

significantly fewer graphic pngs: I agree with this. As we move towards more mobile everything, retina everything, we need our core graphics to be scalable. SVG is still our best hope but it does not have the support I would like yet. I will be using more custom icon fonts myself to overcome these issues.

adoption of flexbox: Man, I want flexbox, now, but since I HAVE to support IE 9, and to a large degree, IE 8, I cant go there yet. Le sigh…

an overload of video-oriented web design: this is an interesting trend, having a short informative video in place of textual content. So much more real understanding comes from this type of imagery over reading, so for certain types of sites, this is a no-brainer.

animated and responsive icons: yes, yes, yes

adoption of second screen: this trend might be fun for tv shows, but not so informational sites, at least, not that I can see yet.

easier mobile optimization: with frameworks becoming mobile first, creating mobile-optimized experiences should become easier this year, hopefully

published content without the fluff: new platforms are allowing writers to get their words out as cleanly and efficiently as possible.

Web Design Trends That Will Disappear in 2014

webdesignledger http://webdesignledger.com/trends-2/web-design-trends-that-will-disappear-in-2014

Oooh, let’s see if I agree…

homepage sliding banner: I think this will stick around, for some sites it is the most logical way to present featured con tent. That, and people love themselves some sliders-that’s a neutral thing.

extensive fill-out forms: I hope this is true. Long forms say “please leave this web site, thanks” to me.

circular script logos: is this an issue?

flash intros: what is this, 2002? I thought they died a long time ago…

too many fonts: maybe this will die out, but a lot of designers are still discovering Web Fonts and might not be able to drag themselves away from trying every one.

complicated design: this goes hand in hand with the current  “simplify all the things” trend.

10 Web Design Trends to Leave Behind in 2014

Wix http://www.wix.com/blog/2013/12/web-design-trends-2014/

pages, pages, pages: I guess they are pushing for more 1-page websites, which is fine for portfolio sites and smaller sites, but portals and corporate sites can’t get away with putting everything on one page, nor should they try. I do think it is time to kill “Mission” and “About” pages that are literally one paragraph-combine that mess, dangit!

ribbons: yeah, they need to die, unless your site sells ribbons, then it makes sense.

unreal stock photos: yes, please die. I despise the majority of stock photography, particularily with people in it-they always look staged and cheesy.

confusing websites with newspapers: I agree, too many columns, too tiny type, too many words…

skeumorphism: bye bye elaborate gradients and textures

ambiguous content hierarchy: all the sites should not a pinterest be, seriously

mixing fonts: I like type, but it is an art to mix them properly. I stick to one or two type families. The trend of using many disparate fonts on one site just feels like someone just found out Google Fonts was a thing.

Too many share buttons: good grief, who shares everything they read? I so hate all the social media and share glop that stands in for content nowadays…

obscure color contrast: is this a trend? If so, knock that out!

overly clever icon menus: Yes!!! Icons are supposed to provide instant recognition, so you don’t have to read the label. Too many sites are using wackadoodle icons that make you sit and go” what the hell is that?” FAIL.

BONUS:

Some nice lady made a  groovy wall on Pinterest with 2014 design trends: http://www.pinterest.com/melissacales/2014-design-trends/

6Jan

The “Best of 2013” Best Of List!

The last week of December brings with it a multitude of “best of 2013” lists. I went through them so you don’t have to (unless you want to). Here goes!

The best of 2013 for designers | Webdesigner Depot   http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2013/12/the-best-of-2013-for-designers/
This is a  great list, soo many groovies and thingies to look at, there isn’t enough time! A week later, I am still going through this list. Here are some of the highlights:

Best JQuery Plugins of 2013 | Wed Design Ledger http://webdesignledger.com/tools/best-jquery-plugins-of-2013
Great list of JQuery plugins-I have been looking for solutions like these for projects I am working on-Equalize.js: http://tsvensen.github.com/equalize.js/ I am talking about you!

Best Web Designs of 2013 | Web Design ledger http://webdesignledger.com/inspiration/best-of-web-design-in-2013
Literally dozens of sites that are giant photos… design is sooo subjective….

2013 Best of the Web Award Winners | Center for Digital Government
http://www.govtech.com/cdg/digital-government-achievement/Best-of-the-Web–Digital-Government-Achievement-Awards-2013.html
Ok, disclaimer, my day job was a finalist 🙂 (State of Mississippi portal)  You would be surprised by what state and local governments are doing on the web; some of these sites are pretty impressive.

50 Best Websites 2013 | Time http://techland.time.com/2013/05/06/50-best-websites-2013/

Highlights:

Top 10 News Stories of 2013 | Time http://nation.time.com/2013/12/04/top-10-best-u-s-news-stories/

Best Photos of the Year 2013 | Reuters http://blogs.reuters.com/fullfocus/2013/12/01/best-photos-of-the-year-2013/
Some amazing photos here.

Top 50 Albums of 2013 | Pitchfork http://pitchfork.com/features/staff-lists/9293-the-top-50-albums-of-2013/
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these albums and have never heard of 90% of these artists. I am getting old. I’m gonna go listen to Roll the Bones again.

The 10 Best Ads of 2013 | ADWeek http://www.adweek.com/news-gallery/10-best-ads-2013-154404#kmart-ship-my-pants-10
My favorite is number 9, Chipotle “The Scarecrow”, that features a fantastic cover by Fiona Apple of the Willy Wonka classic “Pure Imagination”

Best iOS Apps of 2013 | Cult of Mac http://www.cultofmac.com/259426/best-ios-apps-2013-roundup/
I only have one on the list, the Yahoo Weather App, and me loves it.

The 21 Best Infographics of 2013 | Fast Company http://www.fastcodesign.com/3023118/infographic-of-the-day/the-21-best-infographics-of-2013#1
I love info graphics, and the one with all those cameras has me all hot and bothered….

Best Apps for Mac 2013 | 9to5 mac http://9to5mac.com/2013/12/25/mac-holiday-2013/
If I didn’t already have Creative Cloud I would be all over Pixelmator: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id407963104?mt=12

20 Best Memes of 2013 : Mashable http://mashable.com/2013/12/31/top-memes-2013/
Yea, so I made a Harlem Shake video with finger puppets, i’m in good company.

3Jan

Creativity

A few months ago, I presented a session at my companies annual Tech Conference that focused on what science and design pros had to say about creativity. The session went really well and I got a lot of good feedback on it, so I have decided to turn the session into an article. Here goes….

What Science Says About Creativity

“Constraints shape and focus problems, and provide clear challenges to overcome as well as inspiration. Creativity loves constraints, but they must be balanced with a healthy disregard for the impossible.”

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer

CONSTRAINTS FUEL CREATIVITY

Research from the Department of Social Psychology at the University of Amsterdam has shown that certain constraints can actually increase creative thinking. When people are given something to struggle with, either a physical obstacle, or difficult question that must be answered, people tend to shift into what is called “global processing”, which tends to increase a person’s creativity in problem solving.

An intelligent constraint informs creative action by outlining the “sandbox” within which people can play and guides that action not just by pointing out what to pursue but perhaps more importantly what to ignore. (Mathew May, How Intelligent Constraints Drive Creativity).

TAKEWAY

Find the constraints in the problem you are trying to solve, and if you have none, create some. It could be as simple as determining some parameters, such as “must be responsive and must not take longer than 1.5 seconds per page to load.” If you are doing a brainstorming session, give the participants clear constraints to focus their creativity.

SOURCE: Stepping back to see the big picture: when obstacles elicit global processing.

BRAINSTORM ALONE

One of the classic idea-generation techniques is the group brainstorming session. A group of people get together in a room and throw out ideas about how to solve a problem. How good are the ideas generated from such a session?

Not very good, according to research conducted in 1963 by Marvin Dunnette, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota. In the study, multiple groups were given different topics to brainstorm over. Some groups were allowed to brainstorm alone, while others brainstormed in traditional groups together. What was found was that the quantity and quality of ideas generated from solitary brainstormers was higher than from group brainstorming sessions.

TAKEWAY

Next time your team wants to brainstorm about a topic, give the topic, along with constraints or parameters that the solution must meet, to each team member and allow them to brainstorm alone. Then bring everyone together to review the solutions generated. Without the peer pressure to “show off” in a group dynamic, or to conform to popular opinions, you might find that the solutions generated are more feasible and of a higher quality.

SOURCE: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Chapter 3: When Collaboration Kills Creativity

EMBRACE CLUTTER

A common stereotype about creatives is we tend to have a lot of clutter in your workspaces. This clutter can be from books, toys, papers, sticky notes, maybe even the odd plant or two. Research from the University of Minnesota suggest that those of us who embrace our need to be surrounded by objects tend to be more creative and produce more ideas than those of us who are more zen-like in our work environments.

To be fair, the research was not terribly scientific and was much more about subjective observation than a rigid scientific methodology, so take this insight with a few grains of salt. Study participants were either placed in a cluttered room or an orderly room. Participants in the cluttered room tended to make choices that suggested openness to new ideas, while those in the orderly room tended to make choices that were more expected.

TAKEAWAY

Again, this research is not as scientific as I would prefer and therefore we are relying more on subjectivity, but we still might benefit from creating workspaces that are filled with objects that we love. It makes a certain sense that constantly seeing objects rather than seeing a blank wall, could spark more creativity than not. If your workspace is pristine, consider adding a few things, such as a plant or a toy or two, to increase the visual stimuli that surrounds you.

SOURCE: Tidy Desk or Messy Desk? Each Has Its Benefits

“But anyone who has experienced flow knows that the deep enjoyment it provides requires an equal degree of disciplined concentration.”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

GO WITH THE FLOW

Ever notice how sometimes you get so engrossed in what you are doing that time seems to stop and your output increases? This state of being is called “flow”, defined by researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus.”

Research suggest that those who are able to get into a flow state more readily, “high flow” individuals, tend to not only be more positive and have more feelings of contentment, but tend to also be more creative.

TAKEAWAY

Some people can naturally enter a flow state while for others it requires a more systematic approach. Flow starts with a clear, singular purpose. Abstract goals rarely produce flow. It also helps to produce a creative challenge that is somewhat hard-our brains tend to get bored without interesting challenges. Make sure that you are in an a environment that matches your personality. If you need stimulation, then maybe that is a coffee shop. For others, being alone might be the ideal situation. If possible, try to prevent any disruptions or interruption-they pull you out of flow. Read more about how to achieve flow.

SOURCES: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

GET HAPPY

Rub Some Bacon On It

I have found that the number one obstacle to my being creative, to generating ideas and solving problems, is my attitude. When I am stressed, annoyed with someone at work, or frustrated because I can’t figure something out, my brain locks down and nothing useful comes out. I force myself to do things to change my mindset, and being that I am generally a goofy person, watching silly videos or listening to comedic music tends to change my attitude rapidly. There is science to support the idea that simply feeling happy can positively impact your intelligence and creativity. So next time you want to drop kick someone at work, Rub Some Bacon It and get back to being awesome.

SOURCES: Happiness: Good for Creativity, Bad for Single-Minded Focus
Happiness and Creativity: Going Along with the Flow

“The brain looks different if you’re trying to solve a creative problem than if you’re trying to solve a math problem”
Dr. Jeffrey Thompson of The Center for Neuroacoustic Research in San Diego

MUSIC CAN AID IN CREATIVITY

According to Dr. Jeffrey Thompson of the Center for Neuroacoustic Research in San Diego, music can alter your brainwaves and change your state of consciousness to be more receptive to creative ideas. The types of music that have been shown to aid creativity are ones that are slower paced with regular patterns, like classical or more ambient music. As you listen to the music, your brainwaves attempt to time themselves to the speed of the pulses in the music.

“That alters your consciousness, creating a more dreamlike state,” he says. “That dreamlike state, Theta, mirrors the state of consciousness associated with creativity.”

TAKEAWAY

Next time you are trying to get into idea-generation mode, turn off the Nine Inch Nails and turn on some Enya. Leave the gangsta rap for when you are in “get r done” mode.

SOURCE: http://www.howdesign.com/design-creativity/music/

SHELL’S “I need to be Creative NOW” PLAYLIST

What Pros Say About Creativity

“creativity is just connecting things.”
Steve Jobs

8 Steps of Creativity

According to the book Zig Zag:The Surprising Path to Creativity, there are 8 steps that the author has found are essential to the creative process:

  1. ASK Look for the right problem to solve
  2. LEARNBe a constant student, always learning new skills, mastering your craft
  3. LOOK Regularly seek out the new in all facets of your life
  4. PLAY Engage your imagination to release your unconscious mind
  5. THINK The more ideas that you generate, the more likely some of them will be great
  6. FUSE Ideas come from multiple sources and are fused together to create a unified vision
  7. CHOOSE Curate your ideas and only choose the best ones to cultivate
  8. MAKE Now bring your idea to life and make something real

Random Thoughts on Creativity

Stay a Beginner

When we become experts at something, we become burdened by that knowledge. Zen master Shunryu Suzuki said “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Be a Collector

Keep a morgue file, or swipe file, filled with anything and everything that inspires you, that is done well, that you wish you had designed. Go through it every time you need to spark your creativity. For this digital age, I recommend using Evernote for your morgue file.

Take Mental Breaks

If you are getting stuck on an idea or a solution to a problem, walk away from it for awhile, switch tasks, and allow your mind to generate unconscious connections. You may find when you go back to the task that you have a fresh take on it that you hadn’t thought of before.

“Limitations often force you to view things from a perspective you are not accustomed to and, in turn, can stimulate the clarity and purpose of the design, rather than debilitate and hinder your creative process.”
Joshua Brewer, Constraints Fuel Creativity

“I have devoted 30 years of research to how creative people live and work, to make more understandable the mysterious process by which they come up with new ideas and new things. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it’s complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an individual, each of them is a multitude.”Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Read more about the 10 Paradoxical Traits of Creative People

“Creativity is just intelligence having fun.”

Albert Einstein

“Telling yourself you have all the time in the world, all the money in the world, all the colors in the palette, anything you want-that just kills creativity.”

Jack White

“Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic”

Jim Jarmusch

“We don’t know where we get our ideas from. What we do know is we do not get them from our laptops.”

John Cleese

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”

Howard Aiken

“The creative act is nonlinear.”

Josh Linkner, Jazz Musician

Related Links

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources. ”

Albert Einstein

LEARN MORE

GET HAPPY

OTHER RESOURCES

  • SITE: Lumosity  Lumosity is a subscription-based site that lets you play games that are designed by neuroscientists to improve core cognitive functions-smart people are creative people. I have been using this service for the past two years and highly recommend it.
  • SITE: Coffitivity  Recommended by a company colleague, Coffitivity is a site and app that plays the sounds of a coffee shop, to act as background sound, meant to aid creativity. There are downloads for MAC, iPhone, and iPad as well as the site itself.
  • SITE: Safari Books Online: Safari is an online book shelf, with thousands of technical, creative, and business-related books and videos. An important aspect of being creative is being knowledgeable and having access to information. Safari is subscription based and allows full access to the included resources and also includes apps for iOS, Android and Blackberry. We have a subscription at work that I use extensively.

BONUS

  • PUT THIS ON REPEAT: Couleurs by M83. This is my creative anthem, it feels like the backing track to an awesome montage scene of me being awesome 🙂
© Copyright 2016 Michelle Pakron, All Rights Reserved