Thinking a lot lately about the creative process and problem-solving mindsets. It occurred to me yesterday while contemplating […]

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.


Add Yours
  1. 1

    I used to do software training and tech support, years of watching users struggle through interfaces. I developed a pretty good gut for that, but it seems like IA is too young a field to have that instinct. We’ve all got these supermodel guts.

  2. 2

    another intepretation of this would be ‘designers with little experience should NOT trust their guts; they should do research, testing, and seek the advice of those who have more experience.’ That’s an important point, IMHO.

  3. 3

    As Christina points out, a ha’s about potential problems can be big time savers. We just have to be prepared to back them up if it comes to that.

  4. 5

    This is what makes them good designers, and is also why good designers can do information architecture quite nicely themselves.

  5. 6

    Finally: I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at the creative process and specifically the role the unconscious mind plays in problem solving and been bouncing some early ideas off of folks and I am stunned at how violently people oppose the idea that they might solve problems when they stop thinking about them. I’m guessing it must be the perceived lack of control that is so disturbing…

  6. 8

    Another point I’d make is that visual design has been around for a long time. There are more examples of it, more practitioners, more education, more public awareness. The ‘collective gut’ is better developed than with IA. When a designer I work with starts throwing out ideas on instinct without looking at the user research, I don’t get offended, I just work with him or her to push the idea forward.

  7. 9

    I also read a quote from Leonardo Da Vinci (my creativity guru) where he defined the moment in bed just before falling asleep as the best moment for problem solution. It has worked for me several times, before and after reading such quote.

Comments are closed.