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How to Boost Your Creativity as a Product Designer

4 intuitive ways to get in the head of end-users

When David Kelley, Bill Moggridge, and Mike Nuttall founded IDEO, a consulting firm that would become one of the most innovative companies of the late 90s, they brought a new perspective in product development.

Instead of focusing on a perfect solution to the problem of their customers, they tried to consider and test every possible idea and alternative.

This imaginative way of designing innovation enabled them to find more creative ways to help their customers.

It helped them feel more accurately their customers’ journey and understand the emotional side of their behavior.

How have they been so creative and empathic as product designers?

According to David and Tom Kelley in Creative Confidence, what they called design thinking opened up new possibilities for them to connect with consumer behavior.

By pushing them to ask meaningful questions, to use more visual and intuitive analysis, and experiment more smartly, this method allowed them to get inside the heads of users.

Inspired by it, here are 4 ways to design creative and relevant innovations for a specific market.

Asking Yourself Meaningful Questions

The most spontaneous habit you can have facing a problem is to ask yourself the question of how you can solve it (how can I solve a power outage?).

You may then try to address the functional side of the problem, what makes it not work on the surface: an internet failure, a bug, a button that doesn’t work…. Here, by putting the fuses back on or calling an electrician.

But another good way to connect with the concerns of your end-user is to ask the question of why: why do we have so many power failures? Maybe because the supplier is bad or some employees are misusing the facilities.

By asking the question of why 5 times, you are gradually getting closer to the emotional side of the customer’s experience:

Why has the machine stopped working? It overloaded and went haywire.

Why was the machine overloaded? The bolts weren’t sufficiently oiled.

Why weren’t they oiled enough? The oil pump wasn’t doing enough.

Why wasn’t the oil pump working properly? It was damaged.

Why was it damaged? The user kept trying to oil the machine.

Why did the operator force the oil pump? Because he was frustrated by the slowness of the machine. He thought the machine was not going fast enough even though it was very productive.

In this way, you get clear insights into the problem to be solved: you have to convince the user that the machine is productive even though it runs slowly. For example, by adding more noise or appearance of speed to the machine.

Observing Closely Your Customers

One of the problems in analyzing consumer behavior is to find a common measure between quantitative data (conversion rates, consumption habits) and qualitative data (surveys and testimonials on customer motivations).

Quantitative studies do not necessarily explain why consumers do what they do, whereas qualitative studies rely only on conscious motivations and justifications, which may miss deeper motivations.

An optimal way to gather relevant information is to observe the consumer in action, analyzing his gestures, his environment, the timing, and the circumstances in which he starts to consume. You may ask them to show how they use your product, to describe it, or even to draw a precise picture of their experience.

This is the method of design thinking to study in an empathetic way, to understand the emotional factor of product use.

The IDEO agency, for example, conducted observations of people handling everyday tools, giving them the idea of a new ice cream spoon.

They noticed that some people had the reflex to lick their spoon when enjoying the rest of their ice cream before throwing it in the bin. So they created a spoon that was more pleasant to the tongue.

If they had done interviews, they certainly would not have had this information, as it was an almost unconscious habit. But it made a big difference in the experience of using the utensil.

Picturing By Yourself The Customer Experience

When entering the creative process, there may be a tendency to rush to find a unique solution adapted to your observations.

Yet, focusing on the number of ideas and potential solutions is generally more effective than aiming for one optimal solution.

It is not necessary to imagine in detail all the possibilities, simple visual means can suffice: drawings, collages, videos to redesign habits, problems, and the general experience of the consumer.

Dan Roam, an expert in the art of visual thinking, insists that anyone can draw anything — even if they don’t feel naturally creative or gifted — just by deconstructing it into 5 basic shapes: round, a line, a square, a triangle, an irregular shape.

Starting from these shapes, emotions, relationships, and ideas can be represented in a drawing. You can retrace them, renew the presentation of your figures, reconsider the emotions of your clients with the help of a simple pencil.

From there, you can create different storyboards, depending on the scenario.

That’s how the airline Air New Zealand managed to rethink the customer experience of its flights creatively: in groups they brainstormed a dozen prototypes with cardboard, polystyrene, and paper do-it-yourself, redesigning the seating configuration of their aircraft.

This allowed them to design the possibility of including bunk beds for passengers inside the seats themselves and without using more space.

Building a Cheap but Impactful Prototype

Sometimes rather than waiting for good ideas, the most effective way is to directly test the impact of a prototype on consumers. This allows you to experience them directly and give credibility to the creative solutions you propose in meetings.

Creating a presentable prototype can be complicated and time-consuming, but there are quick and easy ways to make it happen. For example, by producing videos or interactive presentations that simulate the essential parts of a product or software.

Adam Skaates, a toy inventor, once came up with the idea of offering his team an application that allows children to create their monster and dance with it. To overcome their likely skepticism, he got himself filmed on his smartphone, dancing to the rhythm of whoever touched his smartphone.

You may know also the first version prototype of Dropbox, which was only a demonstration video.

This kind of product is enough to understand if consumers will be interested in the features and even the design of a future product, and already allows you to learn from it.

Your turn to increase your creativity as a product designer with these 4 techniques!

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