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How to make space for creativity within UX design
I sometimes get asked if UX is conducted at the expense of creativity. Does UX remove the beauty of what we do, and focus just on utility?
The answer? Only if you’re doing it wrong. Creativity is vital to UX. Without it, your experiences can be flat, dull and uninspiring. And no one wants their customers to feel like that.
That’s why UX and creativity go hand in hand. The first delivers effective experiences that help them achieve their goals. The second lifts the user and makes them feel good. They should be woven together, never separated.
Here’s how you can create experiences that’ll deliver - and inspire - your customers.
It might seem like ideas emerge, fully formed, in a split second of genius. But the Eureka moment can only happen because your creatives have spent time understanding the customer’s experience with other professionals.
Get your UX team and creative team working together from the start - but not in isolation. Design Sprints are one way to do this. Formalised by Google Ventures (GV), the Design Sprint is a structured workflow that’s built on collaboration. It brings the right talent in (from the outset) to tackle a brief head on; this includes creative, UX, business, marketing, software engineering and even operations professionals (like Finance and HR) into a room to collaborate and ideate.
Know your customers
Start by knowing your customers (or KYC as it’s known in some industries). It’s always enlightening, and often surprising. You have to know what it feels like to walk in the shoes of your target customer.
Providing you ask the right open-ended questions, your users will talk about facets of the user experience that you might never have considered. In one client project, we wanted to understand how mechanics perceived the Institute of the Motor Industry (The IMI).
From this archetypal persona group, interviews with a number of users revealed there was a marketing opportunity at local garages. One in particular mentioned that, if waiting customers saw IMI magazines on coffee tables, it could promote what the institution does and how it sets standards for the industry. This would help to endorse that particular local garage.
It was something ‘on the ground’ that we may not have thought of. Hearing it from a real persona was powerful. By combining a creative ideation process within a formal UX one, we were able to extract valuable nuggets and ideas that went beyond the conventional UX process.
But persona interviews are only one tactic that creative professionals can use. The UX process includes a powerful technique called empathy mapping, which is often part of a service design blueprint. That’s when you map all your target user’s touchpoints along their customer journey. It’s a way of logging how they feel – and how you want them to feel – at each step.
While it sounds counterproductive, constraints unleash creativity. The most successful organisations are able to capitalise on this. There are countless examples of products and services that have delivered a new type of innovation by removing modalities and conventional interactions to deliver a new type of innovation.
Uber is a good example. Instead of calling and booking your local cab company, you can book via its simple app that leverages algorithms and crowd-sourcing. By planning and fixating on a very limited set of interface rules, Uber built an entire business model and engine behind the scenes that provides a revolution in user experience.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own projects. But the strongest product mindsets explore how to break the mould by going into ‘blue ocean’ territory.
The ‘Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas’ focuses on the organisations that blur the lines between industries to build uncontested marketplaces. For example, Cirque De Soleil forged a new niche. It’s not a theatre, nor a concert. It’s not a circus or even a festival. So, what is it? When it’s hard to define, it means that you are on to something!
While this may not seem like the role of UX or Creative Designers, if you’re not working strategically with clients on this sort of things, then you should be.
You should leverage UX research and the creation of principles to craft a strong brand rationale. For example, the Government Digital Services (GDS) set a strong vision for GOV.UK by starting with a manifesto about how the government needs to transform itself. GDS created guiding principles that underpinned all their exemplars and future digital services.
They did not prescribe how things should look and behave, but rather advise or guide on what really matters. This was designing with real data; focusing on the user; and developing services, not websites. The rationale also allowed for creativity, by being consistent but not uniform.
We created a data-driven design system for the Bank of England that could convey its role and heritage.
Beautiful experiences are usable experiences. Exclusion is ugly. Weave accessibility through your art direction, don’t bolt it on later. Talk to your users to find out what else they need.
Our UX team recently visited the Royal National Institute of Blind People to design and test how we can make our digital experiences more accessible to those with visual impairments. With the current focus on neurodiversity and inclusivity, some brands are now realising that, by homing in on the ‘few not the many’, they can deliver more inclusive digital products.
For example, Monzo developed features and functions that assist compulsive spenders to limit their overnight spending habits. They have also helped introverts by allowing them to select instant messaging (IM) as the default way to interact with customer support, as opposed to over the phone.
By being inclusive, organisations deliver products and services that are arguably ‘more creative’.
The Cyber-Duck UX team tried visual impairment glasses to see what it's like to interact with digital products with reduced abilities.
Overall, creativity is vital to compelling experiences. Get lots more tips like this in your free copy of our 12 steps to B2B digital transformation white paper – it’s packed with practical advice.
Danny Bluestone, founder and CEO, Cyber-Duck.
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