Thinking about a system to maximize for creative output


What is a system and its role?

System is defined to be an organized or established procedure. And a system and its procedures exist to fulfill a purpose more effectively. Funny thing is, it is not uncommon to see folks perceiving and treating systems as hurdles rather than help in getting their tasks done.

System for creative work

So then, what kind of system do we need to achieve creative outputs more effectively? More specifically, I started pondering what system would be practical and add value to what my team & I work on right now. I’ve had opportunities to think about this more so than before throughout the past 12 months, because I was starting out a new team from scratch and was building a new process along with it (& we are still evolving it).

A. Creating a rhythm of exploring & detailing out the problem space

Since we operate as an independent studio in the company, we are often in a position to self-initiate projects & propose them to the management rather than be given specific projects to solve. Most of our projects start out with a high level problem topic.

  1. Every member goes through research to find what seems relevant or tangent to the problem topic.
  2. Everyone shares their findings, and each person jots down what resonated with them on a post-it.
  3. Group the post-its through affinity diagramming, but do it silently first so interpretations remain open & unskewed to any one point of view.
  4. As post-its find their place on the wall, go through each post-it & describe what each thought meant to capture.
  5. Label the groupings, and prioritize the top buckets to go after during the next step.

B. Optimizing the process & communication for a fast design ⇄ develop cycle

Unless a set process has been solidified & practiced within the team for some time, there’s a good chance that each person has a different expectation of what output they need to deliver & what they need to hand over to their partners.

Source: Whiskey ad shooting scene from Lost in Translation
  • No template or precedent to follow.
    So everyone is drawing up a different output in their minds. We have been defining the process as we evolve.
  • Not everyone has the same collaboration experiences.
    What they’ve delivered in their handoffs, and what they’ve received in handoffs from others.
  • People have different strengths, which means people have different weaknesses.
    The expected output may require holistic thinking and architecting the experience end-to-end (ex. General product designer), but some are specialized in specific verticals (ex. Visual designer); vice-versa. Not everyone may be trained or apt in creating what’s required.

C. Allow as much time as possible to focus on what’s most challenging by easing trivial tasks & minimizing duplicate efforts

For our team, the most challenging work is around discovering new problems and incubating experiences at a fast-paced manner. Here are a few areas that I’ve felt are important to address for the work that lay ahead of us.

  • Don’t waste time re-doing & re-creating.
    We should focus on solving a new problem or building upon what we’ve already accomplished, rather than spending time re-creating what’s already been done. Openly share all design assets, upload completed research for all to see, and modularize code for reuse so everyone can put their focus on what hasn’t been done yet.
  • Don’t fail on the same point twice.
    Document how we failed so we don’t fail on the same point again. Failing is fine, as long as we learn from it & don’t make the same mistake again.

System is just one part of the equation.



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Sungjoon Steve Won

Sungjoon Steve Won

Design at Coda. Previously head of Product & Incubation Studio at NAVER, building productivity & OS at Microsoft, and designing mobile at Samsung.