It starts with a feeling

So where do novel design ideas come from? Indeed there are many sources of inspiration for creative ideas, both material (like books, films, products, or nature) and immaterial (values, beliefs, attitudes, philosophic assumptions, and cultural origins).

Often however, the path towards the discovering of a novel solution begins with a simple yet vague feeling, something my former CMU Design prof Suguru Ishizaki termed as a “felt difficulty“. This is where you sense something is a bit off, somehow not quite right thus not providing the optimal experience. Maybe it’s the controls, or the messaging, or the interaction, etc. But something needs to be corrected, perhaps re-invented… Maybe a new product or interface or service would solve things, delivering previously unmet potential and expectations.

From this “felt difficulty” then arises the principal question you’re trying to answer. Just as Trinity said to Neo in the club scene in The Matrix, “It’s the question that drives us.” What is it you’re striving to answer and seek out with improving upon the original felt difficulty? The question maybe something about the customer experience, the market, the features, the technology, etc. But what is that ONE question? (For ex: How can the user access music easily)

Once after identifying the question, then you need to identify the driving problem. What’s the consequence and level of impact/intensity of ramification of not solving the problem? Is it urgent enough to warrant significant design effort, etc. (For ex: the problems is about navigation and utility, which drives the product’s overall user experience value and customer market potential for sales, the consequence of not resolving this problem is user frustration and loss of sales)

Finally, to help establish and shape the overall design motif, metaphor, language/style, it’s worth spending time to consider the overall theme and values…in a sense, what is the humanistic value proposition of the product design solution. Is it a sense of beauty, trust, freedom, human dignity, expressive potential, etc. Identifying this will help you determine the emotive qualities and materials to support them: the text, fonts, colors, imagery, visual style, and so on. (for ex: joy/whimsy and elegant simplicity, with freedom of interaction)

This basic framework can help begin to shape a journey of critical discovery and realization about the design motives/goals/purpose that leads to novel, powerful solutions.

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