Anja Stork
Published on under Concept, Usability, User Experience

An Interview with Maximiliane Wagner on the Methodical Approach to Create Creativity

The term “creativity” comes from the Latin word “creare”, which means “create” or “generate”. An intuitive and often used definition is that creative ideas are both new and useful as they provide a suitable solution for a problem. In this interview with Maximiliane Wagner, an experienced UI conceptualizer who has been working on the topic of methods for creativity for some time, we present methods that support the creative development process. Since, at coeno, we are mostly involved in UI development and design, we focus on methods that are useful for this purpose.

But first, the basics. By what factors can creativity be promoted? 

Creative achievements are often the result of collaborative work in a group. It is, therefore, particularly important to create a creative and relaxed environment in which all participants feel comfortable and support each other. This makes it easier for the attendees to leave the beaten path and to express unusual, crazy ideas. In addition, an intrinsic motivation, that is, participation in the creative process is fun in and of itself. External incentives, such as money or pressure, affect the creative performance rather negatively.

What effect do creative methods have on the development process of ideas?

Creative techniques help create exactly the atmosphere described above, in which creative ideas can appear. The methodical approach also reduces the fear of not having an idea and simply helping to start. Many of the methods are based on heuristic principles such as associating, abstracting, forming analogies, combining and varying. They help to find new solutions. One can, therefore, regard them as an aid to stimulate divergent thinking and dismantle thought blocks.

One thing, however, must be clear: creative methods are not a recipe for creative ideas. The quality and quantity of the results are always dependent on the task, the briefing, the applied method, the atmosphere, the participants and how they are feeling on the day.

Are there specific methods that can be used specifically for the development of UIs?

For the development of UIs, methods are particularly suitable in which the participants draw initial sketches and wireframes. One method that applies to this is the design studio. Each participant has five minutes to sketch seven ideas. In doing so, quantity precedes quality, so no details have yet to be worked out. The goal is to get the cobwebs out of the head with the time pressure and to not exclude ideas quickly. Subsequently, each participant has three minutes to present their ideas and then receive criticism and suggestions from the participants. In the second iteration step, two to three groups are formed depending on the number of participants. Each group works out their favorite ideas in ten minutes and then presents them to the others. In a feedback round, improvement suggestions are then collected.


Example Result Design Studio

A similar method is Collaborative Sketching. At the same time, participants sketch their ideas for the user interface simultaneously on a large sheet of paper. Everyone can be inspired by the ideas of the others, take over elements, but also add or correct other sketches. It is important that during this first phase the ideas are not discussed. If there are no ideas left, the participants present the different ideas, discuss them and develop them further. The most useful and reasonable solutions are then compiled in order to be worked out in the further course of the project.


With which method did you have the best experience so far and why?

At coeno, we are happy to apply the method of Collaborative Sketching. This has the advantage that “stealing of ideas” is expressly allowed. In this way, those participants who initially believed that they had no ideas will find them in the process, first, by simply taking over and developing new ideas. Their own and new ideas then come mostly automatically. In addition, I appreciate the method, because ideas are directly visualized and each participant can let go of themselves without the ideas being criticized or talked down. Since the wireframes of others are directly supplemented and optimized, this method also frequently leads to far-reaching approaches.

Another method with which we have also had very good experiences is Rapid Design Thinking. Read more here.

Very interesting, the methods described here are mainly to develop new products. Are there any that could be used in the further development of products and ideas?

On the one hand, there are methods that work with checklists, such as the Osborne Checklist or the SCAMPER method. These checklists serve as a kind of guidance for a systematic, almost forced modification and development of ideas. These are questions, such as, for example, what can be replaced, omitted, re-added or emphasized in the product.


Example Result SCAMPER

Another method to develop products or ideas is the Stumbling Stone Technique. At the same time, all participants take the role of a terrible nagger and try to discover all possible problems with a product and to express as many concerns as possible. The criticisms are written down. We then try to find solutions for the problems and concerns. The method is also well suited as preparation for a presentation to a customer, as it is possible to prepare for possible counter-arguments.

Frequently, the question arises as to how the customer can be involved in the idea development process. Are there any particular approaches that are recommended in collaboration with customers or larger groups? 

Many methods can be used in small as well as larger groups. If there is any doubt, a large group can almost always be subdivided into smaller ones and one can then try to consolidate the ideas in a large group.

One method, which is only suitable for larger groups, is the World Café. To do it, a small team, which later presents to the moderators, has to elaborate on three questions. In the workshop itself, participants sit at tables with three to five people. At each table, there is a moderator who presents the first question. This is discussed for 15-30 minutes and then all the findings are collected on a paper table cloth in drawings and text. Afterwards, the groups move on to the next table. The moderators remain at the tables and present the existing results to the newly arrived group. The group complements these results with their own ideas. Then the next round starts with the moderators introducing the next question. There is a total of three working sessions before the results are discussed with all.

Are there any problems with working with customers that you should look out for?

A problem with the application of creative methods with customers is always that it is difficult to assess how well the customer can get involved and how much they will contribute. This is particularly difficult in the case of methods where people must draw, because many people are too shy to simply sketch, when they have no experience. As a result, during interaction with customers, group methods work best. Then, if in doubt, the customer can be supported and their ideas can be captured if they do not want to grab the pen themselves.

How can the developed ideas be evaluated?

There are many different methods that can be used to evaluate ideas. A very simple one is the Dotmocracy method. Each participant receives a fixed number of adhesive dots. They can now stick them to the ideas which they consider particularly good. The ideas with the most adhesive dots are then the highlight ideas. The rules on how many dots everybody receives and how they can be allocated cumulatively can be changed depending on the occasion.

Do you have some final tips on how to prepare for creative meetings?

Often this is forgotten, but it is particularly important, that good ideas can only arise if the participants have sufficient knowledge of the subject. Good research, for example, to find out the needs of the users, to get to know the market situation, and so forth, should always precede a creative meeting. And, of course, this knowledge should be shared with all participants.

Also, important for creative meetings is that both the problem and the objective are clear. Otherwise, you lose focus during the creative process.

Another tip is to prepare the room for the meeting. So, provide pens, paper and other needed material in advance, but also drinks and small snacks. If the participants can nibble on something, this always lifts the mood.

And last, but not least, one should always be aware: an idea does not have to be new, it is only important that the idea solves the existing problem as well as it can.

Thank you so much

The interview was conducted by Anja Stork, UX consultant.

This Post has been published in Concept, Usability, User Experience.
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