Time constraints - creativity help or hindrance? (DesignJam)

by Martin Rosenmejer on 19 May 2011

Recently, I was lucky to attend the third DesignJam event in the UK. The concept is simple – 50 people with an interest in UX, web design and/or development are divided into 10 groups and asked to create a design solution for a specified challenge in only one day. The challenge for this third DesignJam event was to create an application for improving the commuting experience.

Having only one day to create a solution makes it challenging but also fun, and although some great solutions were created, but I think the processes and methods used when working under such time constraints are interesting to investigate…

It’s the first time I’ve attended this type of event and there were two things that stood out as particularly challenging.

  • Getting to the idea – the challenge of generating ideas and reach consensus on one final idea in a group of people with different backgrounds, who’ve never worked together before in less than 2 hours
  • Presenting the idea – it may sound obvious, but with the time constraints it’s easy to get lost in developing the idea instead of finding a good way of presenting it

1. Getting to the idea

In the introduction, one of the mentors recommended separating the actual idea creation from the process of deciding on the final idea. Working under these conditions, I found this approach very helpful.

Idea creation and decision-making often tend to be mixed up making it hard to decide on a final idea since new ideas keep popping up disturbing the decision-making. The outcome of such sessions is often a longer list of good ideas without getting closer to deciding on one final idea.

At DesignJam, there’s no time for long brainstorming sessions, so we started by structuring the 2 hours into an idea phase and a decision-making phase. It helped us keep on track reminding ourselves that decisions are taken after the brainstorming.

We got to our idea by following this process:

  • Generating ideas on post-its and stick them all to a whiteboard
  • Organising the ideas into ‘idea clusters’
  • Prioritising the clusters by voting
  • Deciding the idea to work with

It was a very efficient strategy benefiting from a group synergy, where we built upon each others’ ideas and ended up with one final idea. The interesting element is that the time constraint actually helped us get to a great outcome – reinforcing the idea that creativity needs boundaries in order to work. This is definitely a method I will bring into other idea creation processes in the future.

2. Presenting the idea

The second lesson I learnt from the day is the importance of finding a good way of presenting the final solution. Again, the time was short. We had in total 2 ½ hours to develop the concept and document the application i.e. creating wireframes, storyboards etc. At the end of the day, we had 5 minutes to present the final solution.

One of the challenges is to work with the right level of detail. It’s easy to get caught up in details, which aren’t necessary for presenting an initial concept.

With the limited time for preparing, it seemed to work using an ‘elevator pitch’ for briefly presenting the concept. Moreover, some of the best presentations were built around a real-life scenarios describing theunfulfilled user needs and how the solution could accommodate these needs. These presentations used role play or storyboards for presenting one or more scenarios complemented by a few wireframes. It was simple and it worked.

It was very interesting to see how different presentation methods worked for ‘telling and selling’ the story to the audience. It definitely inspired me to include new elements into the presentations I do in my job as a consultant.

DesignJam was a great event and some really impressive concepts were created, showing great creative skills. It was really interesting to see how the time constraints enabled people to be creative in their working process and via quick adaptation to the conditions, efficient group collaboration, and necessary compromises ended up with great solutions.

What methods do you use for foster creativity in short time frames? Post your thoughts in the comments below!

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