A 15-minute investment in creativity

Despite the allure of the Newton’s apple story (Apple falls, and presto, change-o: an idea is born), creativity doesn’t fall from trees. On the contrary, the kind of creative thinking that drives true innovation takes nurturing. And by nurturing, I mean an honest and consistent commitment to exploration and out-of-the-box thinking in the form of time, resources, and space.

Because, here’s the thing: as product-design company Zurb aptly puts it, “People struggle to be creative when it’s not part of the culture.” Companies may tout “Innovation!” as their driving goal, but that proclamation means nothing if there isn’t infrastructure to support true creative thinking day-to-day.

Which leads me back to Zurb and a simple little practice called Friday 15. On Fridays, their team dedicates, you guessed it, 15 minutes, to some kind of creative exercise. They do this for team-building, fun, and to inspire a creative culture. Here’s a taste of the brain-ticklers they’ve explored together:

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Designer’s Toolkit: Road Testing Prototype Tools

We’ve all been there: you’ve got a few days to throw together a prototype. For expedience sake, you go to one of your large, well known tools to get the job done. The files quickly become bloated and crash—hours of hard work lost. There’s got to be a way to create prototypes at a similar level of fidelity with a lighter weight tool.

After test driving some alternative prototyping tools I discovered that there are indeed other good options. Here is an overview of what I found, followed by assessments of each tool, with hopes it will help fellow designers in the prototyping trenches.

Choosing the tools

After researching existing prototyping tools, I narrowed a long list of about 40 to a small set of 10 that looked the most interesting. Some factors that influenced which tools I selected include:

  • Hearing about the tool from fellow Cooperistas or other colleagues.
  • The popularity of the tool based on what I read in other blogs.
  • Whether it looked cool or exciting from my first impression of the design and features.

This is not a comprehensive set of tools, but includes the ones that I was interested in checking out.

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UX Boot Camp with Marketplace Money

Old School Radio Meets the Digital Age

Take a look inside Cooper’s June, 2013 UX Boot Camp with American Public Media’s Marketplace Money radio show, where students explored the next horizon of audio programming—a paradigm shift from broadcast to conversation-based platforms.

The Challenge
Students rolled up their sleeves to help the show respond to the trend away from traditional radio by finding the right mix of alternative distribution platforms. Marketplace Money came equally ready to take a radical departure from their current format in order to create a new model that redefines the roles of host, show, and audience in the digital age. To reach this goal, students focused on designing solutions that addressed three big challenges:

  1. Engage a new, younger audience that is tech savvy, and provide easy access to content via new platforms, such as podcasts, satellite radio shows, and the Internet.
  2. Inspire audience participation and contribution. Facilitate conversations and inspire people to share their personal stories so that listeners can learn from each other.
  3. Design ways for the host to carry an influential brand or style that extends beyond the limits of the show and engage with the audience around personal finance, connecting with listeners in ways that are likeable, useful, and trustworthy, making the topic of personal finance cool, fun and approachable.

At the end of the four-day Boot Camp, student teams presented final pitches to Marketplace Money, and a panel of experienced Cooper designers offered feedback on their ideas and presentations.In the following excerpts from each day, you can test your own sensory preferences for receiving content as you see, hear and read how design ideas evolved at the Boot Camp, inspiring new relationships between people and radio.

Marketplace Money Class

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Explore New Interaction Paradigms at UX Boot Camp: Wikimedia

Advance and apply your UX design skills to a meaningful real-world problem in this intensive, hands-on workshop

BootCamp_WEB

This September, join Wikimedia, Cooper, and design-thinkers from around the world as we find new ways to spread knowledge through mobile Wikipedia. In this four-day workshop, you’ll use new UX skills to make mobile content contribution more approachable, intuitive, and less reliant on traditional input methods like typing. If you’ve wanted an excuse to explore new interaction paradigms and stay ahead of the design pack, this is your chance. Best of all, you get to do all of that in the creative classroom setting of Alan and Sue Cooper’s 50-acre ranch in Petaluma, CA.

Register now: UX Boot Camp: WikimediaSeptember 17-20, Petaluma, CA

What’s in it for you?

  • Learn new interaction techniques and approaches under the guidance of industry leaders, including Alan Cooper
  • Learn how to think through a problem from both a design and business perspective, rather than blindly applying methods by rote.
  • Energize your practice and make new connections by working on a real-world challenge with peers from around the world.
  • Beef up your portfolio with a smart, new design concept
  • Pick up leadership and collaboration skills that will help you better navigate your work environment.

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UX Boot Camp Goes to Europe

Guest post by Francesca Di Mari at Sketchin, a Swiss user experience design firm based in Lugano.

At  Sketchin we strongly believe that design can improve lives and foster social good. We first heard of Cooper’s UX Boot Camp when we visited Cooper in September, 2012, and we fell in love with their idea of using design to educate and foster social good by bridging design students with non-profits. This idea was conceived of and developed by Kendra Shimmell, the Managing Director at Cooper U, and it launched our determination to be part of a design revolution for social good.

Our first step was to create our own UX Boot Camp modeled after what we experienced at Cooper. So in May of 2013, together with Talent Garden Milano and Frontiers of Interaction, we organized the first Italian UX Boot Camp in Milan, modeled after the Cooper UX Boot Camp. Here is a look back at what we created and discovered in the process.

UX Bootcamp Milano 15

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Teaching Cooper U and Storming the Castle

I love teaching our Interaction Design fundamentals class. I meet designers from all over, and for 8 hours a day, we talk about design, problem-solving, planning, strategy, big ideas. Then, at the end of class, we tackle a real-world problem near and dear to all Bay Area residents — redesigning the ticket vending machines for our regional rail transit system (called “BART”). And oh boy, do these BART kiosks need to be redesigned.

When I started teaching Cooper’s Interaction Design class in 2007, the most common conversation was, “How do I get people in my company to recognize design as something more than icons and wireframes?” Our materials focused on how to get beyond the notion that design is a rearranged set of tabs, and how to establish UX design as a key partner in the product development process. These conversations often felt existential: Who are we, really? How do we demonstrate our value? What do we do if we’re socked away in the IT (or marketing) department? I always felt a little like I was giving a pep talk to troops who would soon go back to the battlefield. “Have fun storming the castle!”

In the past few years, this conversation has changed, and the Interaction Design course materials have changed with it. The pep talk has turned into a more strategic discussion about what to do with the recognition and responsibility that UX has been given. The conversation has also become more practical: What are the best ways to partner up with a development team that has gone agile? How do I scope a user research project? How do I make the case for user research? How do I sell my ideas to all the different audiences in the product development process? … And the million dollar question: How do designers best contribute to getting the best possible thing built?

So we spend the first couple of days in step-by-step instruction on tools and techniques, and then we spend an entire day applying them to the BART problem and presenting the work. Our students come from all parts of the organization — design, product management, development, marketing — and their solutions for the BART kiosk are all over the map. In a good way! Many contain interesting notions and ideas; some are totally wacky; a few are actually pretty awesome. It’s a wild four days, and everyone (including me) always learns a lot.

Interested in taking the class? More details and registration here.

5 Things I Learned From Cooper U’s Design Leadership

We are always on the look out for posts, articles, and other pieces authored by Cooper U Alumni. The stories that they tell are often an insightful glimpse into what lessons stood out to participants. We were delighted to find this blog post by Meg Davis (Extractable) that calls out so many of the tips and meaningful moments from Design Leadership’s curriculum. Take a look…

I recently had the pleasure of attending a two-day event hosted by San Francisco agency Cooper about design leadership. This discussion-based event covered great material about techniques for leadership and communication in the design industry. I would highly recommend this event to other design professionals who want to improve the effectiveness of their work.

Five insights stuck with me, and I’ve included concrete tips about how to live out these insights practically.

Be as intentional with people as you are with your work.

As user experience designers, we love researching people to find out their motivations for using web and digital products. We spend hours of primary research during each project, watching people use products in context of their work. However, we don’t put this level of attention towards our co-workers who we work alongside. If we took time to really understand and build empathy for the people we work with every day, we would understand what kind of pressures they face, what rewards them, what they need to make a decision, and what they need from us in order to trust us. If we can understand each team member’s skills and motivations, then we can leverage them to work better together. As the Cooper U team so beautifully put it, “Sometimes you need to slow down to speed up.”

Tip: At the start of each project, talk to each team member about his or her intentions for the project and figure out ways to support them, even in small ways.

Tip: Before going into meetings with your peers, understand and anticipate what they will need to feel engaged during the meeting and feel buy-in with respect to the work.

Read more about Meg’s experience on the Extractable blog

Meg Davis attended Design Leadership training in February. This course was created and taught by Teresa Brazen and myself. Learn more about this class or sign up for the next one here.

Want to share your Cooper U experience? We would love to hear about it. Send us a note.

OneNote for Interaction Designers, Part 3: Research and Presentation

OneNote is, as you’ve seen in the prior posts (OneNote for Interaction Designers and OneNote for Interaction Designers: the Nuts and Bolts, awesome for design meetings. But it’s also useful in research and client presentations, too.

How we use it in research

[From the video, slightly edited:] Having a laptop open in a research interview puts a barrier between you and the person you’re interviewing, and the typing can be quite distracting and intimidating for the interviewee. But typed notes are searchable, making for very useful reference when you’re synthesizing your notes. OneNote is a nice compromise. With a Tablet in slate mode, we remove the physical barrier of the laptop, and as long as you have the pen in a “Create Handwriting” mode, you can later go back and search your notes as if they were typed. (The handwriting recognition is pretty amazing.)
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OneNote for Interaction Designers, Part 2: Nuts and Bolts

In a prior post I explained how Cooper uses OneNote as a tool for Design Meetings. In this post I’m going to presume you’re a designer and eager to get a quick primer to the tool. Then I’ll share some best practices we’ve developed at Cooper.

A quick primer: Five tools

OneNote is a rich program, meant for a number of different scenarios. Here I’m only going to introduce the most basic concepts you need to get going on using OneNote as a quick design sketching tool.

1. The infinite canvas

You write on a canvas that is for all practical purposes, infinite. You can simply use the touch screen to slide to empty paper. That canvas can have a grid-paper like background, or it can be white. For most of the time I leave that grid on, to help keep lines straight and aesthetically pleasing.
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OneNote for Interaction Designers, Part 1

Whiteboards are cool, I guess. Fast, easy, familiar. But really, they’re nothing compared to digital sketching. At Cooper, we use digital sketching in almost all of our projects, and almost always in OneNote. In the next few posts I’ll share how we use it and why we think it’s awesome, see what you think. But first, to whet your appetite, some example drawings from Cooper designers straight out of the program.

These aren’t meant to be finished designs, of course, but examples of how communicative and illustrative designers can be with their earliest ideas using the tool, and doing so very quickly. Each of our designers has their particular way of working, but in general we share the same setup.

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