When I was teaching interaction design, a number of years ago, I also explored design in general (as I am inclined to do when I get interested in something). I looked at engineering design, architectural design, graphic design, industrial design, etc. As always, I was looking for heuristics that would provide a short cut to good design. Also, as always, I came up with my own model, that included several elements. For some reason, one of them sprung to mind, and I thought it was worth revisiting. Probably mostly for my own benefit, but perhaps you’ll find some resonance too.
So many times when we sit down to design, we’re locked into previous solutions (in cognitive science, we call that ‘set effects’), and limited uses of tools (aka ‘functional fixedness’). As a way to break out of our preconceptions, I started suggesting to my students that they should, once having surveyed the requirements, do a ‘no limits’ design exercise before they look at previous solutions. The principle is to think what you’d do if you had magic (well, no mind-reading, I don’t want you having any idea what goes through my so-called mind) to solve the design problem.
And, as Arthur Clarke so famously said, “any truly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. Really, the limits are our imaginations, not technology any more. (Ok, perhaps our resources are limits still as well.)
The point being, before we lock into the constraints we face, we blue-sky about what we’d do if we could. It’s a way to think laterally, and expand the potential space of our solutions. Many times, I find that thinking this way brings in some technology capabilities we hadn’t considered beforehand, and we actually can come very close to the ideal design instead of sticking to what’s been done before.
I’m working on a fun design project right now, where we’re conceptualizing content models (http://blog.learnlets.com/wp/?p=86), and I’m looking to both shake my partners and the clients out of their traditional industry thinking. I’ve asked my partners to use a technique like this in thinking through the navigation issues, and I’m eager to see the results.
I guess it’s one of the tools in the quiver of innovation, or, I should say, Quinnovation ;). Now you can add it to yours.