When Your Idea Got Killed Halfway

I have to admit, this is the most frustrating week I have been through since I came to this master program: Our project 4 “baby”(design idea) got killed when there is only one week left. I was incredibly inefficient in everything from Design Theory presentation to portfolio. Things seem piled up against me. However, I reminded myself that what really matters is how we climbed off our lows. And in most of the cases, if we looked in retrospect, we had nothing to worry about in most of these low times.

Think big by doing small

Existing Lucidchart template picker (https://www.lucidchart.com)

In project 4, we were asked by Lucidchart to design a new template picker experience for diagramming. Our team collaborated extremely well and efficient, at least before our favorite baby(idea) was killed. How it was killed is interesting. We were very excited and proud when our initial idea appeared: providing users with the freedom to choose different levels of complexity of templates which will help them to find the template they desired. What a special big idea! It must be so distinct from what other people have in mind (I found out later that many other teammates had the similar idea initially too). It was not until two days later when we dug into the details, we realized that something was wrong: it was not easy to provide a unified standard to defined complexity levels from basic to advanced since all the templates differ greatly. We decided to post questions to our stakeholders on Slack if they had thought about this before or have anything to back up. Sadly, the answer we got from lucid was that our idea went sideways since we were asked to design for a template picker instead of the template itself. We need to start all over when it was in the middle of this whole project.

Surprisingly we found out that many other teams reached the same plateaus as we did because of one specific reason: As not so experienced designers, we have the desire to think big and different while, in most of the time, without adequate abilities to address small issues. Partly because we just wrapped up our last FEMA project which was wide and broad, we enjoyed the feeling of being untethered and “creative”. When it comes to this Lucid project with real constraints and relatively small problem space, we forgot to take design cost into consideration and tried to make big leaps. However, as Marty put it, what your clients value most is something small but can make a big difference.

Fortunately, we don’t have to start all over: The smartest thing we did so far was that we come up with several backup ideas when we were waiting for stakeholders’ reply. This helped us to act in the unexpected situation. And based on the extra data given by stakeholder, we are able to commit to another design concept quickly.

Every design is a trade off

In fact, our final design looks very similar to what Lucidchart is right now. It seems like we didn’t change a lot and we are actually very happy with this fact because we have given our design a great many thoughts.

At the beginning, we kept complaining some bad designs Lucidchart has and sketched lots of ideas (such as putting “add new document” and “my document” into two tabs), but eventually, we killed most of them by thinking thoroughly. And we found out some of its “bad designs” (for example, including an arrow for template picker in the “add new document” button) actually have their rationale. This is one of the advantages of doing a design with extreme constraints: it forces you to ask a lot of questions and think deeply because every detail matters.

The confused arrow in the “add new document” button help users to open a blank document within one click (https://www.lucidchart.com)

Although after so many trials, we came back to the most ”obvious and plain” idea, we realized that designing in the real world is usually a trading off process. It’s completely ok if we only made minimal changes as long as we are confident about them and give them solid rationale.

Little things we did well during our meeting:
1.At the beginning of each meeting, we will spend a few minutes to draw our sketches big on the whiteboard instead of discussing them on paper. This helps us to be clear of each idea and make changes.

2. We vote all the time! It has become a subconscious behavior.

3. When we evaluate our ideas, we go two rounds. During the first round, we will talk about what we like and dislike about one idea and the person who brought up this idea cannot defend. In this way we can have our “design candidates”. The second round, we will vote for these candidates and combine the winners. This process helps to make decision process very efficient by preventing it from an endless discussion.

Things we need improve:
1. If we have any uncertainty towards an idea, instead of voting for thumbs-horizontal, we should do thumbs-down and give our questions immediately. Otherwise, it might leave some potential troubles to the final design.

2. When comes to a tricky problem which seems impossible to address given the time pressure, at least have 5 minutes to think about it instead of passing immediately. This might lead the design to a completely different path. In a word, every detail matters in the deliverables.


Special thanks to professor Marty Siegel and all the teammates!

If you have any question or suggestion, please reach out via email: doutian@iu.edu

More about my work at www.iamdoutian.com