Trust the process

Think like a designer and boost your idea generation

“Trust the process.” It’s a phrase every designer is familiar with. A project has reached a roadblock, it’s unclear how to proceed, and the hard work done to get to this point seems useless. Usually spoken by a senior creative, with twenty years of experience navigating the tricky and ambiguous road to design outcomes, the three words are often exasperating for the person to which they are being directed. I’ve found myself in that exact situation many times in the past, but recently I’ve come to understand their importance from the other side of the fence.

This has been my first session as Lead Facilitator for the Hatchery, and I have a new appreciation for why my superiors kept drilling this phrase into my head. In my day job as a Service Designer I am constantly asked to imagine new products and services, and understand how they fit into people’s lives. I am given the freedom to create new modes of interaction and experiences that enhance users’ quality of life. It’s a degree of liberty I take for granted, with much less structure than other professions, but the downside is that uncertainty and ambiguity is prevalent and pervasive in every aspect of the process. You have to become comfortable with trusting that, in the end, the process will lead you to a solution. This is a key insight I’ve been trying to teach the students coming through the Hatchery.

The Hatchery is an extracurricular design thinking and entrepreneurship program run by the University of Technology, Sydney. The program exists to teach students the tools required to solve real world problems using design thinking, and allows them to investigate, prototype and test their solutions with input from industry professionals.

Rapid ideation is a great example of how ‘trusting the process’ can be a beneficial way to navigate a difficult part of the creative journey. It’s a brainstorming activity we teach the students as part of the Hatchery 3-day bootcamps at the beginning of the program, but it can be used at any time during the creative process when you need new solutions or perspectives. Groups of 3–5 students are given seven minutes to come up with as many solutions as possible to a given problem, the only caveat being that they need to come up with at least thirty ideas. Initially students balk, as thirty ideas seems like an impossible task. However as they begin to understand the dynamics of ideation, and learn to build on each others trains of thought, the ideas up (and post-its!) flow freely, and the tone of the activity completely changes. We have groups with sixty to seventy ideas on the first round and, whilst some are outrageous or unfeasible, the creative challenge is surmounted, and confidence of each team member is boosted.

Post it notes galore!

The secret to getting so many ideas? “Yes and.” When we brainstorm we often put our critical brain to work, and shut down ideas because we think they will never work for x reason. The only wrong answer in this task is “no”. Whenever your teammate throws out a suggestion, you have to build on it.

“We could make a train carriage that is quiet for people who want to work on their commute”

“Yes and we could have another carriage playing party tunes for people who want to dance”

“Yes and we could have a whole train where each carriage is a different activity”

You get the idea. It’s also a great team building exercise, as you have to let your inhibitions go. I love walking around the room while teams are ideating, the vibe is electric.

For students coming into the Hatchery who don’t have a design background, it can be difficult to grasp the ambiguity of the creative process. Most professions have a process to achieve a tangible end result (e.g. a sale), whereas the result of the design process is often intangible until the last second.

If you couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, would you trust that following the walls would get you to the end, or would you pack up and go home? In design, the process leads you down untrodden paths, and being willing to experiment, fail, and iterate is crucial.

In saying that, being on the other side of the fence has lead me to another realisation: don’t be prescriptive about the process. There is a fine line between giving guidance and giving direction- it’s important to know when to let people fail, but not let them head too far down the wrong path.

By embracing this approach, you can build your creative confidence. This is the skill that comes with time, as you begin to iterate without attachment or ego in the knowledge each piece of feedback, each failed attempt, and each creative roadblock is surmountable. Until then, trust the process.

Hatchery applications are now open for the Spring Session. If you are a UTS student (undergrad, postgrad, masters — doesn’t matter!) apply before June 16.