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Seeing Rather Than Saying

George Brooks
July 30, 2019

Coming up with new ideas is daunting.  Writers block or lack of creative juice plagues us all.  As a team begins to explore the next solution, they often run to conversations, brain storming meetings, & collaborative sessions to jumpstart upcoming projects.  The team will talk in circles trying to explain all the possibilities of an idea.  As this happens, each of the people in the room starts to create a mental picture of what’s being discussed.  Some of the room will even begin creating a mental map around how that picture will become a reality.  But often, each person has a different picture in their mind.

Everyone has a different picture in mind

As humans, we are extremely visually driven creatures.  We build mental models from previous experiences in our lives.  Very few ideas come from a blank sheet of paper.  We beg, borrow, and steal from bits of experiences we’ve had. We often don’t know what we don’t know.  


So when someone begins describing that new dashboard for the marketing team, the marketing manager who’s been using Google Analytics envisions a super white screen with lots of thin blue and orange lines,  filters for everything, and a navigation down the side.  The designer who spends hours pouring over dribbble and behance imagines a super sleek, brightly colored interface with no labels and lots of white space.  And the executive in the room imagines the powerpoint graph that was presented in the last board meeting.  Each are perfectly accurate in their vision for a dashboard, but all bring a different context or experience to their mental image.  Determining which is correct and which we should move forward with is the challenge. Not to mention we all think that we have the same idea.


The person with loudest voice gets their idea chosen

You’ve seen this scene before. The team is in a brainstorming session, and the marketing manager continues to drill down the validation of this picture in their head.  They may or may not intend to, but they continue to do everything they can to WOO (Win Others Over).  And since they are a manager and do most of the talking, the designer fades out, the executive checks out, and the team concedes to the mental picture of the person doing the most talking.


Sourcing ideas that start to paint a picture

One of the key moves that we’ve made is toward the concept of “Together Alone.” This is borrowed from our work with Design Sprints.  It gives the team a series of quick exercises that pose strong questions and allow every member of the group an opportunity throw ideas into the hat. No pitches, no conversation, no debates.  Seeing rather than saying.  


If we are utilizing the entire Design Sprint process, we are able to do the same thing for storyboarding and even sketching ideas.  All these activities can be done somewhat alone, presented quickly up on a wall (real or digital), and then voted on. Now we have a shared understanding of how we are going to move forward.


Consumer experience have trained us to expect more than grey boxes

Users are becoming more and more experienced in using technology.  Their expectations for a great user experience are no longer based on pure function, but are instead deeply rooted in great design.  They’ve been trained by Google, Facebook, instagram, and Apple that every experience, both for consumers and for businesses, ought to be usable, useful, and pleasurable.  

Because of this shift, we’ve found ourselves in a place where grey boxes and text (know as wireframes) are not enough to get the test results that we need to truly validate the desire for a certain direction.  Instead we lean heavily on pixel-perfect prototypes.  With tools like Sketch, Figma, or InVision Studio and a rockstar group of designers, we can move fast to create an experience that feels nearly like the real thing.  This has opened up a world of feedback from our clients and their users.  

Seeing rather than speaking

In addition to getting much better user test results with high fidelity prototypes, our clients have much more confidence understanding the direction of the product faster. When a client can see their vision come to life in the matter of days, they can quickly start to communicate a refinement to what their potential customers want most with more confidence.


This shift to seeing rather than speaking gives us the agility to get ideas out quickly and gather feedback from clients, users, and stakeholder quickly.  With this rapid feedback, our team can iterate and refine on designs toward a direction that has the best possible outcomes.  And since our product teams are working together to find these solutions, developers, test engineers, and product managers can speak into the opportunities and challenges of creating the proposed solution.  

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