Oct 17, 2012

Right-Brain Aerobics

Francisco Franco's picture
Francisco Franco
User Experience Designer

We all know that it's good to keep the muscles in the body fit. The reasoning is simple: what doesn't get used atrophies. But not only do the muscles in our body need to be exercised, it is also very important to keep our mind in shape—especially the "creative" muscles.

With the day-to-day of working for a design firm, meeting deadlines, and making sure we hit our clients' expectations, it's easy to neglect taking our creative brain to the gym. Last Wednesday the UX team at Hot Studio decided it was time to practice some basic concepts: testing and iteration.

One of my favorite exercises to practice this is where teams have 20 minutes to build the tallest freestanding structure using spaghetti (not angel hair, not fettuccine), one yard of tape, and one yard of string. The only caveat is—and this is very important—the structure has to be able to support the weight of a single marshmallow at the top. This little detail, which I’ve seen get neglected over and over again by teams of designers and engineers, can have “catastrophic” outcomes if not taken into account early in the exercise. Just take a look at this video:

Here's a recount from one of the participants: "We remembered how important it is to incorporate prototyping to test early ideas for their viability. Most of the teams went from sketching straight into building their structures but, during construction, learned about the properties of spaghetti, and the flaws in their designs."

This exercise, as simple as it might look, can help enormously when visualizing opportunities to improve your design practice. For example, in the early stages of a project we gather information about our clients' business goals, the end users, and different technologies. Trying to account for any of these things later in the design process can be the equivalent of a weighty marshmallow plopped on at the end; the whole system may come toppling down.

Here are instructions and more information about this exercise. Give it a good read, understand the lessons behind it, and try it yourself with your team. Just reading it won’t provide the same impact of physically going through the exercise. Give it a try and learn by doing, because that's the whole purpose of the exercise. Have fun!