Work faster, self-edit less

A basic task that UI and UX designers are faced with is creating wireframes (for those unfamiliar with the term, it is basically a sketch of a site, app, etc). After having gathered product requirements, wireframing is the next logical step, and is usually thought out to be a lonely, one person task.

But it shouldn’t.

When working alone, designers will prototype a couple of ideas and just go with them, but that doesn’t really encourage innovation. And let’s be honest: more often than not, wireframes are skipped altogether and we go straight to high fidelity mockups.

The best place to start all designs is on paper. Paper allows you to be free of technical difficulties, a slow computer or a software you don’t fully master or that is cumbersome.

But better yet is to get your team together and try the Crazy 8s prototyping technique. No, I’m not talking about the Crazy 8s card game.

(And if you’re not an UX/UI designer, stick around to find out how this technique can also help you in other areas of your job!)

How it works

1) Diversity rules: Gather some people in a room, and make sure they aren’t all designers. The goal here is to involve people from different backgrounds, for two main reasons:

  • when you put together a multidisciplinary team, you get more heterogeneous ideas
  • make stakeholders, project managers, developers and others feel more like they’re a part of the process. Having ownership is very important to maintain a healthy corporate culture

2) Show and tell: Since you have people in the room that aren’t designers, it might be a nice idea to show them some basic mobile patterns, like lists, nav bars, menus, just to get their ideas flowing. But make sure you show them a broad variety of examples, otherwise they’re just going to copy what they saw on the one app you showed them that had a feature similar to what they need to draw.

3) Props: Give out A4 papers that have been either folded 3 times and divided into 8 parts, or that have 8 rectangles drawn in them side by side. Distribute pens (not pencils! We don’t want anyone having enough time to think about erasing anything. You’ll see why next) and get your stopwatch ready.

4) The rules: Explain to the team that they will have exactly 5 minutes to draw 8 wireframes. Yes, you counted that right. It’s less than 40 seconds per wireframe. So remind them that details are unnecessary. What you’re looking for is the big picture, the structure. So in hindsight, the larger the pen, the better. Think thick markers. It is useful to have a list of features that need to be designed visible for everyone, so no one staggers behind without knowing what they should sketch next, even though there is no correct order for sketching screens.

5) Ready, set, go! Start the watch, remind everyone that this is an individual exercise, since the goal is to get as many ideas as possible, and just keep reminding them how fast the clock ticks. If they seem stuck, suggest repeating a sketch that has been done with slight variations, to keep them moving.

6) PENS DOWN! When the alarm goes off, everybody has to stop in the middle of whatever they were doing.

Sounds crazy, right? Well, it is. The first time I tried it, I got to fill out only 4 of the 8 slots. And that’s after working as a designer for years.

Example of a Crazy 8s exercise

So what’s the point of this exercise?

  1. Individually:

Get your creativity flowing.

Having time pressure forces you to put down on paper those ideas you are not fond of. If you don’t have the pressure of time, those bad ideas will be stuck on your head, and because of self-editing, you won’t put them on paper and won’t get them out of the way. But when you get rid of those, you can then move on and force yourself to think of something new, since you have to fill those 8 slots.

2. As a group:

Getting your whole team to participate can help bring forth new ideas. After everyone has finished their wireframes, they should be presented to the group, and then all the team can vote on their favorites. You can even frankenstein some ideas together!

And by having developers, stakeholders etc sharing this process, they can contribute right off the bat on highlighting what works and what doesn’t, which requirements should be preferred and which should be dropped, and a lot of time is spared as opposed to presenting ideas just after building high fidelity prototypes.

In conclusion

After the first round of Crazy 8s, you can even do a second one, focusing on the best ideas. The goal of this exercise is to get as many ideas as your team can, and fast. Had it been a formal meeting, the team would have spent hours hypothesizing on how the product should be. Everyone would be sitting lethargically on their chairs, and only one designer would be up on the board trying the sketch feeble ideas.

Crazy 8s gets the job done fast and with many possible outcomes. And it gets everyone moving. It’s about quantity, not quality.

If you haven’t tried this with your team yet, do it! Tomorrow! The beauty of this technique is that it can be applied to a whole gamut of jobs. When I first learned about it, I loved its simplicity and was eager to try it out on the next opportunity. So next day at work, I proposed it to a colleague that was stuck thinking about new poses for a game character. And in the next 5 minutes, he had 8 new ideas. It works.

In fact, it works so well that I decided to apply it to this article. You can adapt the technique to help you on other aspects of your job that you feel are hindering you. This being my debut article, there was a lot of self judgment here. So, following the theme, I decided to Crazy 8 it. But with a few modifications — after all, writing the same text 8 times in a row seems a bit insane. I instead created a Mildly Crazy 4s. 10 minutes for each turn, 4 turns total. You couldn’t believe how bad the first article was. But after 4 iterations, I gathered my best ideas and put them together on what you are reading right now.

So next time you are feeling stuck, no matter what you are doing, remember to get some people together to help you out and use the pressure of time to force your next best ideas out!

If you like this article, please recommend it! I really appreciate it.

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