This afternoon I spent half an hour with a few hundred South by Southwest attendees, sharing how my book Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills came about. I presented the above deck, and answered a ton of diverse questions from the audience. I've tried to capture some of the questions and my responses below.
What do you do when you get stuck? I mean, you'll always reach a wall on any design project.
Yes, there are always moments on design projects where it seems like the well has run dry. I've found that in those situations, it helps to construct situations where you have to dig even deeper in the well to find more water.
One trick that seems to help is to set a goal to come up with 100 ideas on paper in one hour. Sure, you may not reach 100, but you'll have a moment (or two) where you'll stop thinking about making good ideas and draw on your intuition and subconscious. Sure, crap happens during those moments, but so do moments of gold. The point is not to decide whether it's crap or gold until you've had a chance to get a distance from the material, and let it speak for itself.
Do different personalities or dispositions gravitate towards specific types of brainstorming methods and design processes?
I find this a fascinating question, for a number of reasons. First, designers always gravitate towards more rational or more intuitive processes, just as a matter of how they incubate and execute ideas. So if you give a fairly intuitive designer a highly rational brainstorming method, it's likely that there will be some friction and potential fireworks.
However, rote repetition rarely leads to deep design intuition. The point of exploring different brainstorming methods—especially those that oppose your everyday tendencies—is to step outside what you know and explore what you don't. Sure, failure will happen, but taking risks requires such an effort. There's nothing to be afraid of except throwing away what didn't work… so if you're deeply attached to what you create, it's going to hurt.
I'm a developer and want to become a designer. What should I do?
Be tactical, observing how the designers around you work through a design problem, from initial research to conceiving ideas. Try out activities that utilize those processes. See which ones feel natural, and generate ideas in similar manners. Take on design problems and try to solve them only on paper. Stay out of code and technical architecture, examining how things could be made if there were no reality constraints. Then, when you've started to fall into a rhythm, see what happens when you bring implementation technologies into that process.
How should designers work with project managers?
As partners, with an appropriate level of give and take. I don't mind project managers drawing wireframes on the whiteboard when the team is grappling with a tough problem. However, they should also feel comfortable if the team begins negotiating dates on the GANT chart. Essentially, a collaboration with open communication and trust, as well as some fluidity involving roles.
If you're seeking more design challenges, I've posted on Scribd 10 bonus challenges that I couldn't fit into the printed book. Enjoy!