5 Innovative Research Methods To Try With Your Design Team

Most web design team often undergo a period of execution where innovation takes a backseat to just delivering designs on time and with just enough in them to get the client’s approval.

If your web designs also go through a similar period of enough productivity but no innovation, then it’s time to introduce some new ways of fostering innovative thinking within your design team.

Below are five popular activities that should help your design team come up with newer ideas and perspectives while designing for your clientele. Let’s dive right into them.

1. The Walt Disney Method – Brainstorming

Walt Disney method is one of the simplest brainstorming activity that can be done with your whole design team. The focus of the Walt Disney Method is to look at a problem – in this case, the client’s requirements and vision – from three different perspectives to ensure that the final design addresses all the aspects of the client’s requirements.

Developed by Robert Dilts in 1994, the three perspectives this method employs are that of dreamers, realists, and critics. A fourth perspective (outsiders) is also a part of this method, but it doesn’t bring anything important to the table as far a design problem is concerned.

The whole design team takes the place of one perspective at a given team and then note down the different points that come up. This is repeated until all the perspectives have been exercised. The final result is a comprehensive list of points that the final design should address. The main principle of this approach is to allow for parallel thinking to generate, evaluate, construct and the critique a design concept.

In the first perspective (dreamers), the group approaches the problem by generating ideas that don’t have any restrictions in terms of practicality. The focus is on eliminating the fear of criticism at this stage hence all the ideas and thoughts are noted down.

As realists, the group switches to a more practical and realistic way of implementing the ideas generated in the previous stage. At this stage, practical solutions to implement the “dreams” (ideated in the previous stage) are thought of. Questions related to timelines, costs, and other operational aspects of realizing the dreams are raised at this stage.

In the next stage, the group acts as critics, critical thinking is stressed upon at this stage. Each “solution” from the previous stage is closely analyzed for weaknesses. Weaker ideas are eliminated, and the final result is a list of actionable design concepts with a clearer plan of action.

The Walt Disney method, due to its linear nature, has gained popularity as a good tool to foster critical thinking in your design team. Often, the result of such a session provides with a valuable action plan which can further boost the productivity of your design team.

2. Matrix of Emotions

The difference between amazing design and common design is that amazing design hits you somewhere deeper than just your visual senses. When crafted properly, design can make the viewer feel sentiments – joy, happiness, gloom etc. – on a subconscious level. This is the core idea behind “Empathy Mapping” or creating a “Matrix of Emotions”. To design something useful, you need to understand your audience first. The more your design team knows about their audience, the better it is.

This method allows the team to place themselves in the end user’s choices and then note what the user says, thinks, fears and does. A traditional matrix looks something like this:

Traditional matrix

Often, there is a fifth dimension of challenges faced by the user as well. Now, the design team needs to write points that they can think for each of the four (or five) sections. They can use post-it notes to put their thoughts on the map.

Once completed, the Matrix of Emotions provides incredible insight into what and how the end user might react to your design concept. If possible, an even better option is also to have your client fill in the matrix so that your team has some first-hand information to get started.

3. Characters of Belbin

Named after its originator – Raymond Meredith Belbin – the Characters of Belbin method revolves around the idea that each team member is different and brings to the table a diverse set of strengths and weaknesses. A good team is one that has the characteristics of the nine different characters of Belbin. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your team needs to have nine different people but that your team members need to have strengths that are associated with each of the nine characters.

The nine characters of Belbin are as follows:

  • Planters – These are free-thinking and creatively charged team members who are often the best people to go to if you’re looking for innovative solutions to problems. The planters don’t stress much upon practical and operational barriers that come with their solutions. Having too many Planters in your team can often lead to lower productivity as too many ideas without any action lead to over-analysis.
  • Resource Investigator – This team member is all about networking and arranging resources for the implementation of an idea, often from outside of the team. Resource Investigators are often extroverts, outgoing and cheerful but they tend to lose enthusiasm as the time goes on during the project cycle.
  • Coordinator – Fit for leading the team, a coordinator is a good delegator of work. Coordinators are natural born leaders; hence they are good at addressing conflicts, helping other team members, and realizing the potential of each team member. Due to their primary responsibility of delegation, coordinators are often seen as manipulators as they tend to delegate all of their work to other team members.
  • Shaper – These team members are highly motivated and performance-oriented. A shaper pushes other team members to perform and stay motivated during the project cycle. Due to their ingenuity, shapers are also good at overcoming obstacles and are highly innovative problem solvers. These characteristics also make Shapers somewhat prone to being short-tempered as they are critical of poor performances of their peers.
  • Monitor – A monitor comes with an unbiased approach towards evaluating the performance of the team. Monitors are thorough possessing high levels of attention to detail but are not very creatively inclined which also makes them highly critical of solutions that don’t have a solid logical or practical base.
  • Teamworkers – These team members are the soothing balm, which keeps the whole team working together in unison. Teamworkers are often characterized as good listeners, shrewd diplomats and those who help warring factions of the team to calm down and work together. Often, the importance of team workers is revealed when they are absent as then conflicts don’t get addressed, and the team’s overall productivity goes down. Due to their sensitive nature, teamworkers tend not to be decisive.
  • Implementer – These are the worker bees of a team. They abide by the rules and turn ideas and concepts into real action in the team. It has often been observed that Implementers are fiercely loyal to the company or the team itself and thus tend to take up jobs that no one else in the team wants. Due to their law-abiding state, Implementers often have issues working on projects that need bending of rules or established practices.
  • Completer – Such a team member is what you can call a perfectionist. Completers tend to have an immense inner motivation to do things in the absolute best way possible. They set high standards for themselves as well as for other team members and are thus not often liked by their peers for over-analyzing minor mistakes. Completers also don’t have much faith in other team members when it comes to a task that falls in their area of expertise. They prefer doing those tasks themselves rather than delegating them.
  • Specialists – These team members excel in a particular field and possess immense knowledge and know-how in that sphere. Specialists often have higher than usual degree of concentration levels and a drive to learn more than most. Due to the specific nature of their interests, specialists cannot be relied for anything that is outside their area of interest.

Once you have identified the different characters in your team by having your team participate in a mock project or exercise, delegate projects to them in a manner that complements their strengths. This way, you will have a team that is working in the most efficient manner.

4. Remember The Future Game

This method is all about letting the team members visualize what the product they are working will have done in the future. This is different than asking what the product will do? as the former question allows for more out-of-the-box and detailed answers. Also, in the latter question, there’s no frame of reference for comparison. On the other hand, when the team is asked to assume that they have been using the end product for some time then they find it easier to describe the product’s features and abilities.

The phrasing is what is essential in this method. For instance, if you ask what do you want your smartphone to do? Andwhat will your smartphone have done by 2050?, the answers will almost always be wildly different.

This is a good exercise to also involve the client in as they can give the design team an idea of the vision of the client and the client’s expectations with the final product.

5. Day From Life Method

This method also centers around the idea of knowing the end customer as well as possible. In this method, the team members and the end user sit together where the end user recounts all the activities that they take part in on an average day. The team members note down different activities in as much detail as possible. This exercise can then be repeated with multiple end users so that a detailed timeline of different activities is created.

Once the team has the timeline, they can identify the pain point of the end user and make suitable changes and additions to the design of the final product so that the end user is as satisfied as possible at all times during their period of usage of the product.

These are some of the exercises that you can carry out with your design team to break the monotony and to let the design team think more openly and bring to the table innovate ideas for their projects. These methods work because they let each member of the design team put forward their ideas and notions which makes for a final design that is well thought out and is able to address a majority of possible concerns of the end user.

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3 Comments

  1. Great article with innovative design method.

  2. Great article. I bookmarked it as a resource I need to re-read and apply your strategy on my team as well. God bless you.

  3. Thanks for sharing such a useful article. There are fewer firms which focus on designing part to such an extent, they tend to focus more on functionalities instead of well-thought UI design. I think any of the above methods can be opted by such firms in order to produce innovative designs rather than same patterns with little bit changes done on existing templates.

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