Generative design

My favorite presentation from this year’s IA Summit was Leah Buley’s “How to Be a UX Team of One“. She discussed the generative design methods employed at Adaptive Path. Typically design will start with one idea, which is then iterated it until it evolves into some ideal form. But generative methods focus on maximizing the volume and variety of ideas up front, then pulling together the best concepts into a single solution. Brilliant.

Catriona Cornett recently ran an exercise with Vanguard’s information architects to demonstrate a generative method. She timeboxed it to 10 minutes, and instructed us to each come up with 10 ideas for a problem in that time – bing bang boom. It was a really good experience. One thing I loved was that at the end of the 10 minutes, we had a ton of things to talk about. By contrast, I’ve been in meetings that went on for hours with nothing to talk about.

I did something along similar lines in my work on Vanguard’s search engine and intranet. In the process of evaluating the existing site and conducting a comparative analysis, a lot of ideas would just hit me. Without chewing on them too much, I wrote a short description of each on one of those really tiny 1″ post-its and stuck it to a whiteboard in my cubicle. At the end of each day I’d look over the ideas, grouping together similar ones and seeing if they spurred more ideas still when juxtaposed. After two weeks, the board was full and I felt extremely ready to start jumping into some snazzy designs. But AP’s methods are much more structured and group-oriented than this.

I strongly suspect generative methods are a flat-out better way to do design. If you haven’t seen Leah’s presentation, it’s definitely worth checking out the slidecast.

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