Thinking a lot lately about the creative process and problem-solving mindsets. It occurred to me yesterday while contemplating my toes that we IA’s are a terribly rational lot, and often forget to trust our instincts. Graphic designers often work from the gut first, then explore or “reverse engineer” a rational later. IA’s study all the available data, digging for more and more until we are quite saturated it, then every aspect of our design is carefully calculated based on our information and analysis of it. I think that ability to justify sometimes makes a little– unsure? fearful? unwilling to leap after a gut feeling. I think we need to trust those instincts; our unconscious mind is a powerful processor and those strange moments of “a ha!” are often simply our gut processing the data faster than our conscious brain.
Three a ha’s I trust.
1. Dumb Questions. Often at the beginning of a project I’ll get a completely wild idea, something that just can’t be feasible. I am then faced with the prospect of asking a dumb question “what if,” “is there…” or “why not…?” I usually know I’m about to be slapped down. But out of the answer I often get a hint of the solution. Brainstorming can be done out of a brainstorming session; we should always trust ridiculous flights of fancy– how else are we ever going to do impossible things?
2. Inexplicable lines. Sometimes in my schematics I have an urge to put down a line, or sometimes a box. I don’t know why. I always do. Then, later before presenting I go through and justify them all– if the weird appearing line has no purpose I remove it. Schematics are not design, after all. But often it is standing for something… perhaps I’ll make a note to the designer: be sure to create a visual divider here” or sometimes my unconscious brain is coaxing me to add a search box just where I might want to use it. By allowing those early schematics to be loose and sketchlike, I allow myself to play and thus gain a better understanding of the problem and its potential solutions.
3. The single user test. I suppose I could call this the “Doh!” moment as easily as an “A Ha” moment…. Sometimes during usability tests I see a user having a problem and I’ll instinctively know that this problem will be had by a large section of the populace. As semi-scientific types, of course, we don’t like to get data from just one user. But after seeing hundreds of users interact with websites, I’m pretty good at separating the idiosyncrasies of one person versus the archetypical behavior of a user. If I will listen to my gut when it says “Doh! Why didn’t I see that before?” A good example would be a single fifty-five-year-old not reading one-point-font instructions modifying a form field. My gut will say “Doh! Of course people won’t see that! It looks like legal text!” Later my rational brain will come in and point out that over 50’s often have failing eyesight, and instructional text probably should be more easily readable.
Our gut is a fine tool in the IA toolbox, and illumination is sufficiently precious we shouldn’t throw it away. Follow your gut, use your brain to sort it out after. But do trust that strange gut feeling, the uneasiness about a project, the weird idea for a solution, that oddball dream about the product… all those signals that your unconscious is about to deliver up a true “A HA!” moment.