Exercising Design Thinking

As a UX design professional, I feel that one of the important things to do to keep me on my toes is to practice design thinking. I suppose a common metaphor for this would be physical exercise (we’ll use running). That is, at first, running is such a slog, but if you consistently exercise, over time running won’t feel as much of a slog. To expand on this metaphor, when running doesn’t feel like a slog, you can, generally speaking, do one of two things:

  • Maintain the intensity
  • Push the envelope (that is, get faster or run farther which means entering that “uncomfortable” phase until you gain fitness to handle the new volume/intensity)

So what does pushing the envelope mean as a designer? For me at this point in time, it means applying my design thinking to solve different problems than what I’m accustomed to, learning more about the processes of other designers, trying out new tools, and branching out to learn more about other disciplines that get impacted by UX design.

How have I been doing this lately?

I’ve started to participate in a civic projects group called Code for Atlanta. It’s an opportunity to meet and interact with other professionals (typically design, product, and dev). On top of that, it allows me to practice my design thinking by looking at other kinds of problems to the projects that go in in the group. An example of this is coming up with research proposals and activities for a hackathon event. This gives me an opportunity to think about and practice UX research. It is also an opportunity to use my knowledge to help empower my local community.

My notes and research ideas laid out in an app I’m trying out called Milanote. While I can’t say whether or not I’ll be using incorporating this app in my toolkit, this exercise has given me the opportunity to try it out. It’s a pretty neat way of thinking about note taking.

I’ve started picking up some books to learn more about product design and strategy. These are two in particular I’ve read recently:

From reading these books, I get a bit more insight into other areas outside my domain and help shape the way I think about a product in the context of the bigger picture (business motivations, end-to-end experience). It’s not guaranteed that whatever I read may have actionable techniques that I can use in my craft, but it will help me be more informed about process/development and allow me to better understand the motivations of other teammates I collaborate with that fall in these disciplines.

I’ve also recently joined Quora and have sought out UX related topics to answer. While a lot of the questions aren’t intense, I find it a good way to keep tabs on myself, reflect on the knowledge I already know, and practice written communication.

I’m not great at keeping up with podcasts, but one in particular that I’ve been listening to lately is the User Defenders podcast. I enjoy it because it’s basically a series of interviews of professionals (typically in product and design) and makes for an easy listen during my commute.

Over time, I’ll look to additional ways of exercising my design thinking such as seeking out my own problems to solve and employ a process to design a solution (I have a long list of ideas I’ve jotted over time that I’ve wanted to explore).

Pursuing these avenues has helped me stretch my design thinking.