Start Each Design from Scratch

Let’s say you’ve done a little research, you sit down at your computer, and you’re ready to start a new design.

What’s the first thing you do?

Well… If you’re like a lot designers you immediately head over to Dribbble or some other site for inspiration.

Trust me, you don’t want outside inspiration at this stage

It sounds counter-intuitive, but the trouble with starting a design by looking for inspiration is that you’re likely to find an idea that feels like a good fit.

Once you have an idea that appears to check all of the boxes, it’s too easy to fall in love and become seduced by it. This is just human nature.

In truth, your idea will almost always appear in that moment to have all of the right ingredients. You may actually feel quite proud of yourself for being able to come up with the idea so quickly.

But what are the odds of this being the best possible solution for your users?

Experience has shown me that despite your confidence in the moment, the odds of this first idea being the best solution are actually quite low.

I’m as guilty as anyone

My plate is always full. I’m always eager to wrap “this thing” up, so that I can quickly move on to “that thing”. But in doing so, how often do I head down a less-optimal path?

The solution: At the beginning of each new design, spend 15 minutes sketching out every idea that comes to you.

A couple of years ago, I attended a day-long workshop by Brandon Schauer from Adaptive Path on sketching and rapid ideation. It was excellent.

One of the points he made really stuck with me.

We were given a verbal summary of an interface that needed to be designed. We were then instructed to sketch out a solution (these were super quick, low fidelity sketches). After we were done, we were asked to raise our hands if we liked the direction our sketches were headed. Naturally, the majority of people were really happy with their sketches.

Next, we were asked to make 6 boxes on a blank piece of paper, and to brainstorm alternate approaches. We were given a total of 15 min to complete all 6.

At the end of the 15 min, he asked everyone to rate their favorite sketch, be it the original, or one of the six new sketches. He then went through and asked us to raise our hands for each set. The revelation came when only about 5% of the audience raised their hand for the original sketch. 95% of us preferred one of our alternate approaches. This blew my mind.

“I don’t buy it…”

You may look at this experience and be suspect of the conclusion that I’ve come to. You might suppose that without doing any sort of 15-min-6-box activity, that you might have just as well arrived at the same final design through the process of iteration.

You may be right, some of the time… But how will you ever really know when you’re right, or when some unexplored path would lead to a better solution?

Is it possible that your pride is just getting in the way? I hope not. And to that end, I hope you will at least give it a try.

It’s about giving yourself more paths to choose from

That’s ultimately what it boils down to. Instead of starting with a single option, you start with half a dozen or more. Starting with multiple options will give you better odds of actually heading down the right path from the very beginning.


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