Concepting for UX Designers

“UX people squeeze all of the fun out of creative ideas.” ~creative director

It can be tough for UX designers to embrace the ‘fun’ of concepting. We are trained to explore the dark corners of ideas to make them work smoothly for human beings. We consider the detours and side paths and button them up neatly. Our teams depend on us to apply logic, structure and rigor.

That’s a heavy load.  It’s easy for user experience designers to get typecast as someone who shoots holes in everything. Concepting is an opportunity to set that burden down and imagine the future. If that’s not an exercised part of your repertoire you may not know how to participate. It’s easy to fall into the familiar role of pressure testing the idea, tethering it to the earth. What’s a UX designer to do?

Concepts need space, time to grow before being anchored to structures and interfaces. Let yourself have fun building up ideas without editing. Send your inner analyst on a break. Resist worrying if something will work. Trust that the time for that exercise will come. Don’t fear ideas that fall apart. There is value inside every pie-in-the-sky, you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me concept.

UX Design is part aesthetics, part logic and applied science of human behavior. We make easy connections between the analytical and delightful. Jumping into “will it work” mode too quickly deprives your team from your insight. It also makes you a really lame playmate.

There will be time to revise and mould ideas into a usable experience. But it is not the only standard you have to march behind. You must play. When you catch yourself creating a user flow in your head, set that mental work aside. Reassure your inner IA that you will come back to the comfort of structure…later. Reeling in an idea that is overreaching is easy. Unleashing a design that is constrained and nudging it toward innovation is near impossible. Start big. Give yourself permission to play.

An Unexpected Interaction

I was surprised by a garden along my usual path of concrete and steel from the train station to my office. It was clearly marketing a product, but I was intrigued enough to look closer.

Ordinary midwestern garden vegetables. A nice contrast to my surroundings. I miss growing food, nurturing the little plants tending to them lovingly. Did I read that sign right? They want me to touch the plants? My mother’s voice echoed in my ears, “don’t touch”.

Garden sign

Touch the carrot plants

I reached out.

They giggled.

And gurgled.

I smiled.

tweet to water garden sign

Tweet to water the garden

This experience brought a moment of unexpected whimsey to an otherwise drab morning. Not only was the placement of the garden unexpected, but also how I was able to interact with it. To touch a plant and have it audibly respond was a small delight. A bit of marketing that gave back to me in exchange for my attention. I look forward to listening to the ripening tomatoes.
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