Managing Design Innovation

with Matthew Beebe

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Giving ideas a framework

Matthew Beebe

Design & Idea Expert, User Experience, Human-Centered Design

Lessons Learned

Good decisions are hard to make unless you have clearly defined goals.

Throughout the course of your project, you should be developing a solution criteria.

Look at the ideas you have and pick out those that fit the criteria for which you are solving.


Lesson: Managing Design Innovation with Matthew Beebe

Step #3 Creativity: Giving ideas a framework

The inspiration for the worksheets came from two different places. I went to grad school at the Institute of Design in Chicago, and there I took this class called “Design Planning”. This process was extremely labor intensive, but I really enjoyed that class, and I was like, "Wow, there's something to that." Okay, so I put that aside, but in the back of my mind, “structured planning”, this process that I learned from the professor there — his name is Chuck Owen — I was like, "Man, there's something to that.”

Okay, so then, I also get super-fortunate with my first job after grad school being at IDEO. IDEO is very well-known for its process, but my experience was that the process, a lot of times comes down to putting a bunch of smart people into a room with Post-its and Sharpies and expecting great ideas to come up. Usually it does work, but we're always intuiting our way through this process.

I think that if you step back and you look at a bunch of different IDEO projects, I felt that there was a recurring pattern in all of them, but when you're down into the weeds of them, they all feel very different. I thought there's some way to bring together these two worlds basically — the super-structured world of structured planning that I learned in grad school and the very off-the-wall creative insanity of the IDEO projects, I guess, because I felt like you needed to be able to bounce back and forth between the two.

What I found at IDEO was that we were very good at generating information. So, we’re having Post-it Notes just all over the wall within the first day of a project, and it's like already, “What am I going to do with all this stuff we just created?” It would be like a week later into the project and already decisions are hard to make because you can't remember everything that you’ve made. All the information that you've made, all the discussions we've had with the client about the goals of the project, they're trapped in our Post-it notes. They're all on the Post-it notes somewhere, but there's no place where you can say, "These are all the goals.”

Then occasionally you would have these check-in moments with the client where you are forced into put some structure to all that stuff, but it's really a hard process. Preparing the documentation for a project was so painful because you're just trying to remember everything basically, trying to dig through the Post-it Note archaeology to remember all the ideas that you captured. Half the time you find an old Post-it Note, and you can't remember what was really the idea that was in that Post-it note.

With the worksheets, it was trying to bring together the two worlds basically. Allow for the off-the-wall explosions of ideas but then have a way to make sense of that all so that a week later, when we need to recall that stuff and put to use all the stuff that we came up with, it’s easier.

A lot of times after a brainstorm, it's really hard for a team to figure out how to move forward. There are different methods. Sometimes some senior person would come into the room and offer an opinion, sometimes the team can do some form of voting exercise to figure out which ideas to move forward with. I don't think they're terribly scalable, and I think that's why it's important to track the solution criteria. Basically throughout the course of a project you're developing solution criteria, and what you would like to do is at some point is to put a matrix basically, all your criteria on one side and all your ideas on the other side, and say, "Which ideas fit which criteria, and how well do they fit?”

A lot of times these innovation projects or design projects are a little bit too loose, there's no official documentation of the criteria. Typically the innovation process isn't structured enough to offer that kind of decision-making opportunity where you can say, "These are the ideas we have. These are the criteria. Which ones fit?" It's not to say that that matrix spits out an answer, but I think the point of the matrix is to facilitate the discussion around which things we should move forward with, because the real thing that happens when you look at the ideas in that more structured way, is I might think that this idea solves for these three criteria and you might think that this idea solves for these other criteria.

What really that illustrates is a different understanding of what the idea is, because the problem is that it's really hard to move forward with some of these things when people don't even understand what the idea is. It's a way to shine a light, basically, on what is the thing that you've come up with, what is the idea that you've come up with, but also what are the criteria we're solving for. It helps you understand both sides of the equation.

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