Weird Design

Start with the weirdest design

I learned a lot of things in school. However one idea stuck with me, and informs my design process to this day. I’d like to share this idea with you:

Imagine a circle. This circle represents the range of acceptable design solutions for a given problem.

Within this range are the ideas that pop into our mind right away.

Depending on how much “experience” we have, the circle is either larger or smaller—but everybody has this ability. It’s called “thinking inside the box”.

And as long as we start inside this circle…

we’ll rarely ever create anything innovative.

So start on the outside of what’s expected.

Start wayyy on the outside. Ask the dumbest questions and contradict the most basic assumptions. Take a step and cross the line from the zone of “Things that are possible” into the zone of “Things we haven’t figured out how to do yet:”

So, what happens when we think of ideas that aren’t possible? We can make them possible, that’s what!

What if a professional DJ system had no knobs or buttons?

Crossfader for iOS was the first motion-driven DJ rig. We rocked shows from Las Vegas to Shibuya, Japan.


Because—and this is the secret—it’s always far simpler to work our way back to reality from an outlandish idea, than it is to make a boring idea better.

Another way to look at this ‘starting outside the circle’ idea is an excerpt from Warren Berger’s book Glimmer: How Design Can Transform Your Life and Maybe Even the World :

The approach of trying to view design challenges from unusual angles can be effective because “it gets you looking in the opposite direction from everyone else,” says Tom Monahan, whose Providence-based creative coaching firm, Before & After, works with designers and marketing executives on how to think more creatively. Monahan uses an exercise known as “180-degree thinking” in which people start out trying to conceive of something that would have the opposite effect of what they’re actually trying to create — such as a car that is unable to move or an oven that doesn’t cook. “You start out making something badly, and then see if you can make that bad thing into something good,” Monahan says. “Along the way, you may happen upon some unusual ideas and connections.”

— from “Glimmer” — Read the chapter on “Jumping Fences” here

If we begin subtracting from ridiculous ideas, we’ll eventually find ourselves right on the edge of what is expected. And that’s where the magic happens:

Think of it as “iterating downwards” to reality

In software design, there will always be constraints such as engineering resources and time that move a design away from the ‘crazy’ level and back towards the ‘boring’ level.

“It can be helpful to think about an idea from a point of view that makes no sense whatsoever.” — Stephan Sagmeister

As with all theories there is the reversal : it’s worth noting that this approach can produce ideas that are unsalvageable. But hey — that’s the price of doing business if we’re trying to push the limits!

So, start with weird, and see what happens. We might end up with a bunch of emoji art. But if we do, that’s okay, too.

Send me your weirdest designs on twitter.

Here’s another bit about creativity : “How to create ideas”