Reflection 1: A few tips on how to survive the design swamp

The Design process itself is a very interesting topic, especially in a novice student team where all the teammates come from different backgrounds. There are expectations, collaborations, but what’s more, arguments and even fight. How can we survive a design dilemma without exhausting each other in a team and become more confident about our design?


Tighten the tires altogether

During my IDP(Interaction Design Practice) class at Indiana University this week, we are given the design challenge to develop a super-light information and emergency relief app for FEMA within two weeks.

Frankly speaking, this broad design topic is a little bit intimidating. Not surprisingly, most of the teams felt clueless and frustrated and that was when our professor Marty Siegel drew down this simple but manifest diagram. And then he used the process of replacing car tires to illustrate how to get through the swamp.

When you try to install four new tires, you don’t tighten one very tight and then move to others. Instead, you tighten one loose first and do the same to another one. Until you install all four, you tighten them tight together. So is designing.

The Design is so broad and I often feel overwhelmed and worried that I might miss out something: Am I doing enough research? Am I generating enough good ideas to pick up from? The example reassured me that design is not getting everything perfect at once in a row(tighten a tire tight and then move to the next). Instead, it is pushing every element (research, interview, ideation,testing) forward as a whole little by little and iterate on their interaction and consequence(tighten all the tires loose at first).

Emily’s reflection,one of the second-year students, on her project ”Engage” gave a good practical solution: ”keep the problem space you’re working with as confined as you possibly can so that the research itself remains manageable.”

Try to relax ourselves a little bit if we are stressed out by the huge design swamp. By tightening every tires slowly but steadily, we are marching forward every minutes and there will be one moment in that attitude U curve when we will feel confident again.

Sketching the meeting

“Sketch not only ideas, but also meeting notes, papers, movies and so on.”

Yes, Our team were in the middle of a design swamp this week: endless discussion and chaos. And we had no clue what to do next. The wisest thing we did was inviting our professor Marty to our meeting.

After a recap, he asked us to sit near the whiteboard and write down our assumptions, users, the uncertainty we have about the using scenarios. And then we used post-it notes to individually answer the questions. This made a lot of sense to us immediately: it provided a clear picture what we should tackle. It’s the power of sketch which is so easy to be overlooked: By visualising our thoughts and pinning down questions, the whole team was brought on the same page.

Another “Aha” time we had was with our mentor Brian. Again, we fell into endless arguing. He jumped in:”Hey guys, do you think sketching out the user scenario will be a better thing to do instead of going into details now?” That short sentence literally saved our meeting. I found it quite easy to forget all the design methods or artifacts when we got stuck in the design swamp. It requires a lot of practice to let the design methods we learned become our design instinct.