Coming up with better designs, faster


LASR collaborative design workshop

After completing the user research stage of the project the team had a much clearer understanding of the issues we needed to address to improve the user's experience of Libraries Australia search . My responsibility as the user interface designer for this project is to come up with the best solutions to address these issues. Traditionally a designer would work in secrecy carefully crafting an ideal solution or two before presenting it to a wider audience. The designs would then be commented on and modified a number of times before being accepted and it's often some variation the initial ideas that often become the final design. The problem with this approach is that so much time gets invested in one of the initial ideas that other potentially better solutions can't be fully explored or considered.

LASR user interface design sketches

Sample sketches on 6 up template

For the LASR project the project team tried a more collaborative approach to design to come up with better designs, faster.  I'm a big fan of sketching when it comes to exploring different solutions. It's cheap, fast and allows the exploration of a large number of different ideas quickly. What if we could get the whole team involved in generating ideas with sketches? Surely more heads are better than one? Our team members draw upon a wide range of experience and skills including business analysis, software development, project management and business expertise which bring a more balanced and considered perspective when coming up with potential solutions.

To get the team comfortable with the basics of sketching I ran a short introduction to sketching workshop to demonstrate some simple techniques to enable getting ideas on to paper. The key point: Your sketches don't have to be pretty they just have to be enough for you and other people to see what is going on.

Armed with their enhanced sketching skills we ran our first collaborative design workshop. Each team member was provided with markers and a pile of 6-up templates (A4 paper with 6 blank squares for sketching ideas in). I introduced the design problem that we wanted  to solve (including relevant findings from the user research phase)  and instructed each member to sketch as many different ideas they could think of in just 10 matter how 'out there' the ideas appeared. Our aim was to explore as many different ideas as possible. The use of the 6-up template and short time limit prevents too much detail being introduced into the sketches.  Each person was then asked to 'sell' their ideas to the rest of the team who were encouraged to ask questions and critique each design. This activity highlights the ideas that have merit as well as those which need further development. After presenting the first round sketches the team was given a further 15 minutes to come up with improved designs by 'stealing' and incorporating ideas from round one. The second round sketches were presented and critiqued and the team came collectively chose the strongest ideas they felt would best solve the original problem. These ideas were then used as a starting point for creating more detailed prototypes to be evaluated with users.

Through the use of collaborative design workshops we...

  • Can explore many different possibilities in a relatively short time period
  • Arrive at more considered and balanced designs based on the varied experience, perspective and skills of all team members
  • Create a sense of ownership with team members as they are directly involved in the design process
  • Produce better designs, faster

So far we've used the design workshops to explore solutions for

  • Improving the display of search results and
  • Allowing records to be compared with each other
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