See & Experience

Start every project with observing and gathering evidence from the context or situation you want to design for.

If you want to understand how a lion hunts don't go to the zoo. Go to the jungle.

Frank Chimero
While you may have worked in the industry for many years or are quite familiar with a particular aspect of everyday life, spending time really looking at and understanding what happens in a given context leads to insight. This is no time for stereotypical descriptions, conventional understanding, or common sense. It’s critical you immerse yourself in the world of who you’re designing for, see it with fresh eyes, and question why it is the way it is.

Dimension & Diagram

Identify the different dimensions of your problem and create simple diagrams to improve your understanding and collaboration with others.

Whoever best describes the problem is the most likely to solve it.

Dan Roam
Just as you would ask patients more about the different dimensions of their life to assess their health, so you should identify the different dimensions of your project. These dimensions can be used in simple diagrams with arrows and annotation that will help you visualize your project, its complexities, and how you might solve for them. Diagramming isn’t about drawing well. It’s about identifying elements and their relationships and representing them with basic arrangements, shapes, lines, and arrows—then adding information with annotation. Different layers of annotation can be used to address different categories of information.

Question & Reframe

Question the familiar, the status quo, and typical ways things are done.

If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking.

George S. Patton
When you’re good at your job, people expect you to have all the answers. And many of us have been rewarded for knowing how things work in our industry. Figuring out new, better ways of doing things requires questioning how things are done today. “Why do I have to go to a counter to rent my car?” “Why can’t I subscribe to a cab service?” Questioning the status quo opens up new space for thinking and imagination. Apply this principle in every dimension of your project—when visiting the field, in small conversations, reviews of research, evaluating ideas. Question things creatively and cover different dimensions—what makes it good, what makes it bad, could it be done differently, can something be eliminated? Could it use low-tech, high-tech, or just a simpler approach? Unlike most questions you get, don’t be so quick to answer them. Let the question force exploration and insights.

Imagine & Model

Generate a lot of ideas and model some of them to push your project forward.

Genius is the ability to put into effect what is on your mind.

F. Scott Fitzgerald
Michael Polanyi, the Hungarian polymath said, “To have a great idea, you have to have lots of ideas.” The Dyson vacuum was the culmination of more than 4,000 prototypes. As for vacuums, so for innovation! Imagining lots of different ways to address a problem is called, “populating the solution space.” No problem or situation has a single solution. Great solutions often have hundreds of new ideas in them. Brainstorming and thinking up ideas any time of the day ultimately helps you create a solution that succeeds. And don’t be deceived by verbal descriptions of ideas. Visualize and model them. At first a sketch and then a paper model. Make a prototype to try. At each iteration you’ll better understand your idea and get much more meaningful feedback from others.

Test & Shape

Share what you’re working on early and often.

Feedback is the breakfast of champions.

Ken Blanchard
“No concept survives its first contact with the customer.” The current mantra in software startups is new ideas need to be seen and tested by those you’re designing for. The feedback, much of it constructive, will help you make the concept better by shaping it in response. You don’t need to agree or disagree with any of the feedback—you just need to hear it. People who are unable to receive all kinds of feedback to make their work better will struggle with the process of innovation. Don’t make the mistake of keeping your work a secret. Learn to share rough ideas early and freely, striking up conversations with others, asking what they think, how they might improve it, or what they would advise. You’ll get great support for your effort because you engage and listen to others’ ideas.

Pitch & Commit

Put together a short, but compelling case for your project including the user need, the insight and proposed solution direction, summary of work to date, the real challenges you face, the investments necessary, and its ultimate value should you be successful.

Never, never, never give up.

Winston Churchill
This pitch will be important for securing local support, partnerships, financial resources, and organizational commitments. The pitch should be short, but well-rounded and not just a description of the solution. Demonstrate your commitment to the project by being both an advocate of it as well as a good listener to those who help shape it. Make small progress and share it. People who see the idea moving forward will gain respect for it and interest in its success.