How To Be More Creative: Simple Exercises For Your Product Team

I’m walking on thin ice here, but sometimes I feel that UX design is killing my creativity. When it comes to the design process, I follow all the steps in the book. But occasionally, something gets lost along the way: true innovation. Then, I wonder: how to be more creative in a UX setting, while still putting the user first?

What lies behind a creative crisis and how to avoid it

Maybe I’m exaggerating, but in some respects, UX design has stagnation coded in. Jakob’s law reads:

“Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know. Design for patterns to which users are accustomed.”

Conventions have value. Obviously, putting the Search bar on the bottom-left corner wouldn’t make a website more ingenious, only more confusing.

How to be more creative while still putting user needs first

UX design is a process, and I follow all the rules: I value research, I make design decisions based on user insights, and I always put the user first. But also, sometimes, I feel that following conventions and only satisfying user needs keeps me from getting truly creative.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean we cannot work creatively. It only means real innovation takes more than just playing with the surface and that we need to find other ways to use imagination.

Every product has differences. I can’t tell you what makes one more innovative or creative than the other. I can give tips on how to avoid getting stuck in these creativity pitfalls.

How To Be More Creative Designer

Simple ways to boost the creative process

1. Widen your perspective

As a general rule, the more you know about your target audience, the more creative solutions you can deliver.

Instead of diving into UI solutions immediately, first, understand the user’s problems. This requires even more research.

Here at UX studio, we always start our work with in-depth interviews whenever possible. This way, we can deeply understand problems users have and articulate solutions to those specific cases. This gives a much wider perspective for creative thinking, and we get a solid foundation to start generating ideas.

2. Look for best practices in unexpected places

When searching for best practices, look for examples not only from direct competitors.

As a designer, I like reading UX case studies, but sometimes, simply looking at different websites can result in so many ideas!

Sometimes we find the most interesting ideas applied in the least expected places. Dropbox or Trello don’t likely come to mind first as examples for gamification in UX, for instance – but think twice before dismissing them!

How To Be More Creative Sky

3. Diverge on ideas before picking one

Personally, when dealing with a problem, I have the hardest time coming up with more than a couple ideas. I always have a quick solution in mind, but usually the most obvious and not necessarily the best or most creative.

To avoid this, I force myself to come up with loads of possible ideas, at least at the beginning. Then I can narrow down the possibilities to one, hopefully, the best.

Why focus on this? According to Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi (the father of the well-known flow theory), a creative person’s thinking process diverges. Resourceful people possess three skills essential to coming up with something new:

  • The ability to generate many ideas quickly,
  • The flexibility to come up with ideas that differ from each other, and
  • Originality, which shows the ideas’ rarity.

People like me, for whom these abilities do not come instinctively, can use the following tricks to take down these barriers.

How To Be More Creative Frames

4. Reframe the problem: a few tricks

When a problem has you stuck, looking at it from another perspective often helps. Reframing does this most effectively and can prove strikingly helpful in problem-solving, decision making and learning.

To reframe, take a step back and try to see the problem in another way. It helps not only generate more ideas but also supports the above-mentioned flexibility and originality as well.

Reframing practice comes in several forms, but I have collected three favorites as examples.

Trick 1: I know the answer, but what was the question?

Challenge the question itself. Instead of asking how to get more registered users, ask how to make the registration process more convenient for them.

A new question provides completely different sets of answers, and thus, solutions.

Turn this around by asking the opposite of the original question. So, instead of asking for the best solution to this problem, ask for the worst thing to do. It sounds weird at first but wait…

Trick 2: Bad ideas don’t always turn out that bad

The ideation process can contain some problems. For one, we automatically exclude a lot of ideas because we find them bad or useless for some reason.

It may sound controversial, but this wrong attitude can fail us. Although it can prove right in many cases, this habit eliminates the opportunity of later examining why they don’t work.

Re-evaluating these bad ideas can open up brand new perspectives. Not to mention that if I let myself think about bad ideas, a lot of unique solutions can come up.

Trick 3: Take a walk in someone else’s shoes

Recently at UX studio, we had a training on how to facilitate design sprints. At a certain point of brainstorming, the instructor gave us little cards with different roles on them. Mine read: “For the next brainstorming round, imagine you are an eight-year-old girl”. Not only did I find it hilariously funny, but it also forced me to think completely differently than before.

The technique of using role play excellently changes ways of thinking and explores the situation. Experiencing a problem from another person’s point of view forces you to reframe your thinking and to see it from a different perspective. It pushes you beyond your limits to step outside your personal style of problem-solving.

How To Be More Creative Team

5. Don’t be a lone wolf

Most of the above tricks can apply to individual projects. However, as my last example shows, these tools work most efficiently during workshops. The Sprint book packs loads of reframing techniques and structures the whole week (or “sprint”) in a way to support divergent thinking.

Obviously, you can’t do a design sprint on every challenge, but you can always ask a colleague’s opinion. I can’t count how many completely new ideas have come from talking to a developer.

Creativity is a mindset, not a technique

The question of how to be more creative has always proven quite elusive. It doesn’t come easy, not vary substantially, especially in the product design field.

Users don’t tolerate radical changes in the interface but they still hunger for innovative solutions.

If we want to bring the best possible answers to light, we need to develop a mindset that supports creative thinking. Hopefully, these tips will lead to the best possible solutions in product design.

Liked this article?

Share your thoughts with us! Got any secret creativity boost techniques? Have you tried any of the above? Let us know in the comment section!

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Gábor Szabó

Product designer, design system expert & typography lover based in Budapest.

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