Everyone has heard the phrase “everyone is a designer”. This phrase is most often said by those who are not designers by trade. There are many articles that argue avidly against this concept, as well as for it. I am here to argue the middle route.

While I disagree with the concept that everyone is a designer, I agree that everyone does have a part in the process of design. It seems quite obvious, but instead of identifying everyone as a designer, what if we identify them with what they are… users.

Everyone is a user. Your opinions on design come in because you have experience as a user, and you are fighting for what your use case is.

Instead of demanding a seat at the designers table, what if we invite everyone into the field of user testing and research gathering? Doesn’t this as an entire process make more sense than just demanding, “I’m a designer, everyone is a designer, listen to me and my opinions."

Of course, every use case matters, but when we allow our peers to live by the code “everyone is a designer” there is a disconnect with how we should use the information they are providing.

Everyone is not a designer. Everyone is a user.

How can you create a safe space with which you and your coworkers and/or stakeholders can work together to hear all of these different use cases?

Well, ideation sessions are an amazing opportunity for this type of collaboration. There are many different ways to conduct ideation sessions, a few of the following are my favorite.

Affinity Diagramming

Affinity diagramming has long been used in business to organize large sets of ideas into clusters. In user experience (UX), the method is used to organize research findings or to sort design ideas in ideation workshops.

This exercise is pretty simple, and is often found in business practices such as retros. In its most basic form, you select a problem you need to solve, or perhaps a user flow to determine an order for a user to experience on the site.

Either start the session with categories listed on a board, or let your participants have a free flow of ideas. Give each of your participants a set of sticky notes, prep them for the issue you will be solving, and then give them time to write down solutions. When writing solutions, your participants can choose to use words, writing concerns or concepts down, or they can wireframe the state of the page and/or section you are discussing.

Once you call this part of the practice to an end, place all your sticky notes on the board and start grouping them according to shared concepts. Now, it is in the hands of the UX designer to choose how these ideas will be taken into consideration or implemented.

But remember that all ideas in this session are helpful and valid. They may be completely aligned with what the designer has in mind, they may be new concepts or different ways to think about the issue, or they make spark a completely new idea for the designer to run with. You can read more about the practice of affinity diagramming here.

Six Hats

A simple, effective parallel thinking process that helps people be more productive, focused, and mindfully involved. You’ll learn how to separate your thinking into six clear functions and roles, by mentally wearing and switching “hats,” you can easily focus or redirect thoughts, the conversation, or the meeting.

This exercise is a bit more difficult to apply. It really requires good mediating. One idea quickly leads to another, defined as lateral thinking. However this exercise requires parallel thinking. Keeping your participates on one train of thought at a time.

Obviously there are six hats in this exercise:

  • The White Hat, calls for information known or needed.
  • The Yellow Hat symbolizes brightness and optimism. When you are ideating under this hat, you only explore the positives and probe for value and benefit.
  • The Black Hat is judgement. Play the devil’s advocate or why something may not work. Spot difficulties and dangers.
  • The Red Hat signifies feelings, hunches and intuition. Follow expressions of emotion and feelings, share fears, likes, dislikes, loves, and hates.
  • The Green Hat focuses on creativity; the possibilities, alternatives, and new ideas. This is the opportunity to express new concepts and perceptions.
  • The Blue Hat manages the thinking process. This is the control mechanism that ensures the guidelines are observed, i.e. the mediator.

This is my favorite exercise, it is very challenging but once your group gets the hang of it, it really helps define opportunities for growth, where you need to dial it back, and what concerns moving forward may be. Check out the original source here.

6–8–5's

Rarely are ideas born overnight. For an idea to become a great idea, it takes considerable work and effort. Part of the reason we end up with under-developed ideas is that we stick with the first good idea we have — rather than taking the time to explore complementary approaches. 6–8–5 is designed to combat this pattern by forcing us to generate lots of ideas in a short period of time. The activity can then be repeated to hone & flesh out a few of the best ideas.

This is probably the easiest and quickest tactic to implement on a budget. Bring your team into a room for 5 minutes, and rapidly ideate. Then the designer can analyze the patterns and ideas and implement as they see fit. However if you want to get more in depth, have a longer session, where you pick an idea each round to further expand upon, leading to more flushed out ideas at the end of the session. It’s a very flexible process.

To conduct this session, all you need is a few pieces of paper and pens to match. Fold the piece of paper into a 2x2, 2x3, or 2x4 grid. You can now create 4, 8, 6, 12, 8, or 16 different sketches on one piece of paper. Prep your participants with their task, solve a problem, design a page, design an element, etc. Now set a timer for 5 minutes. Let the team sketch silently and fill out as many ideas as they can until the round ends. The ideas should be very rough, no polished ideas.

Once time has run out, each participant should share their ideas with the rest of the group. The group can ask questions, but this is not time for free flowing brainstorming. If more ideas are sparked here, they should be used in a round two sketch by any one of the participants. So you can either stop at round one, just to get some new perspectives flowing, or you can conduct several rounds to help solidify concepts and get more fully flushed ideas from the team. Check out gamestorming for the full set of instructions.

In Conclusion

  • It is extremely important to have different voices be heard throughout the early development of designs.
  • Designers are experts in their field, they are the ones who can take floating ideas and concepts and bring them to fruition.
  • Everyone is a user. Everyone has experience enough of the world to have something to bring to the table in an ideation session. Different perspectives are extremely important in the design process and while designers can attempt to see an issue from all angles, it’s more beneficial to have a diverse group of people bring those perspectives to the table.

To achieve valid ideas, you need a strong mediator to direct these ideation sessions. Someone who knows the right questions to ask, knows what to explore further, and how to spark ideas in others. Some organizations may be large enough to have user researchers who can conduct these sessions but in the fast paced world of agencies, this person is your designer or strategist. Finally, to bring the whole thing to an end, the designer takes these concepts and ideas, and creates a dynamic solution which can be developed and put into practice. All with the help of users.

Grace Anello Grace Anello is a User Experience/User Interface Designer at BVAccel with a passion for user research and collaboration.