How your team can solve a customer problem in just 8 minutes, by UX Designer, Patrick Semple
This article explores a workshopping technique which helps teams find simple, elegant solutions to the projects they’re working on.
The design team in AO works in a fast-moving environment. We believe it takes a village to create a great product. Involving all our digital experience teams in the design phase of projects helps us achieve excellence. This often includes project managers, developers, product specialists, business analysts, marketing & merchandising executives, and business stakeholders. With this approach, we’ve been able to find elegant and simple solutions for our projects.
Workshopping with members of these teams has brought everyone together and created a shared understanding of the problem we are aiming to solve. We get to take advantage of everyone’s expertise and hear their opinions on how the project could succeed.
How do we achieve this?
By sketching, with good old fashioned pen & paper. We use these tools to create multiple ideas with a design thinking technique called Crazy 8’s.
It may have a funky name, but it’s a powerful tool. Knowing how to use it can deliver fantastic results.
✏️ Why sketching?
We believe that sketching in digital product design is about:
This video from The Founder (2016), entertainingly illustrates how a fast-food company designed the layout of their kitchens so that burgers in their restaurants could be made quicker. They didn’t just settle for their first idea, but one that they got to after a lot of exploration. It’s a great example of how sketching can be used to work through the problem. Because they did, they found a very elegant and simple solution.
- 💡 Finding new and brilliant solutions
- 👫 Group thinking & collaboration
- ✏️ Enough drawing to solve the problem
💡 Finding new and brilliant solutions
🎨 This diagram by Tej Patel, the UX manager at AO, explains why sketching is so important. He explains that sketching helps you go wide with your thinking. To identify the ideas that aren’t obvious at first so that you can find new ideas that are simpler and more elegant.
It’s very easy to run with the first idea you think of when you start a new task. Unfortunately, this is usually the most obvious solution, which can be clunky or complicated. By pausing, and taking the time to consider other options, you may find a better option to the problem. The more you dig into the problem, the further from the obvious solutions you get. To the fringe ideas. These are the ideas that we want to find. The ideas that might be innovative, that haven’t been done before. Ideas that are better for the customer and our business.
When we start to design a prototype, we can have a couple of options that we can take to the customer. We can battle the fringe ideas with the obvious ideas to see which the customer prefers. Even if the obvious idea wins, at least we have done our due diligence and explored all options.
👫 Group thinking & collaboration
Gathering a talented group of people with a diverse background in the company means that we can draw from a wide range of experiences. This helps us generate a wealth of different ideas. If it was only one person coming up with ideas, they may not fully consider every aspect of the problem because they can only see it from their own perspective. Working as a group fills in more of the blanks.
While getting everyone’s perspective is important, the time benefit to group work is also important to note. If you workshop a task with 10 people for 30 mins, that’s 5 hours of work you have organised into a 30 min slot in your calendar. The project will have more benefit than if one person spent 5 hours sketching by themselves. Don’t be afraid to ask people, we’ve found that most people are more than happy to help out when asked.
When working together, we’ve found that the people end up with a shared understanding of the project. We have found that the people involved in the session feel like they have contributed and had a chance to express their creative side. When it’s their turn to pick up the project for their department they understand the thinking that went into it, which is invaluable. It’s better than any email or meeting to organise a handover.
✏️ Enough drawing to solve the problem
Sketching has more to do with problem-solving than it does with fine art. Don’t worry about how beautiful or ugly your sketching looks. Sketches are just a tool to help you figure out the solution. You‘re aiming to solve a customer problem, not render a perfect user interface with a Sharpie.
If you find yourself shading in between the lines with a beautiful set of colouring pencils, just STOP! Draw the detail you need to get the idea across. Boxes, lines, and circles are great. Add some text and you’re done. Like in The Founder clip, their team didn’t try and draw a perfect oven or hob. A rectangle with text was perfect. It was clear.
On the other hand, furiously knocking out quick messy drawings and calling them sketches won’t work. Sketches need to be readable. They are brilliant tools to share ideas early. But if no one can read them, what’s the point? They should ultimately be able to speak for themselves.
🎱 Crazy 8’s
So how do we start solving a problem with sketching? In our design team, we think one of the best ways to come up with ideas is a Crazy 8’s session. It works well for individuals at a whiteboard or groups in a boardroom.
📸 A quick & fun Crazy 8’s session
It is a quick sketching exercise that challenges a team to sketch eight distinct ideas in eight minutes. The goal is to push beyond your first idea, frequently the most obvious, and to generate a wide variety of solutions to the challenge.
⚡️ Setting a challenge
We all need a north star to work towards. Having a sketching goal like “how might we redesign a new image gallery to convey a product’s quality and feel?” helps get everyone behind a common cause.
Framing the goal as a question like How might we…gets everyone into the mindset of solving a problem. It may surprise you but questions are easier to answer than a statement. By shifting peoples mindset this way, immediately opens up the possibilities for everyone in the workshop. They will now be in solution mode.
🔑 The why?
Showing the team the “Why” behind the task is important as it will allow them to focus on the customer need. We identify some key research that will help create an interesting task. We want this to be based in fact, that’s backed up with real customer data from analytics, customer labs or surveys.
Examples of research statements can be “We have noticed that customer research products online but then go to shops to see the product in person” or “We have found that when a customer tries a fridge for the first time, they open the door to feel the build quality”
During the Crazy 8’s session, we clearly display these statements for everyone to see.
Give everyone an A4/A3 sheet of paper and ask them to fold them in half 3 times. Then unfold it so that you have 8 rectangles on each sheet. I usually recommend to everyone to write some notes down in the first square. Like ideas and bits of insight they know from their own area of expertise.
Sharpie markers are also helpful. Their thick nibs stop people from drawing too much detail. Forcing each person to focus on the idea and not the drawing. Get a big box of them and hand one out to everyone.
⌛ Set the timer and get sketching
The timekeeper sets a timer for 8 mins. Some people use fancy timers but we find using our phones the easiest. The timekeeper will shout every time a minute has passed. Everyone should try to draw a different idea for every minute that passes.
At the end, every rectangle should have a different idea inside it. If some people finish early, hand them another piece of paper and ask them to continue coming up with ideas. The more ideas the better.
😳 Getting stuck is normal
This happens and it’s normal. Be brave and push through. Try ideas you don’t think will work. They may spark something else that will. If you have tried a certain type of input or controller, what will it look like with a different one?
Using your mind’s eye, walk yourself through the design as if you are a customer. Keep asking yourself what would they expect to see next. Would this look right to them?
🔵 Dot Voting
Dot Voting is a tool to find group consensus on the best idea. It gives everyone in the room an equal voice. Get each person to place their sketches on the wall. Ask them to explain what they have sketched to the room. Allow for a bit of conversation by the team about the ideas presented.
📸 This photo, taken during a Crazy 8’s session of a project manager walking the team through the ideas she created.
Once all the images are up on the wall. Hand everyone three sticky dots or a coloured pen. Get each person to place a dot beside the design they like the most. They can use all three dots on one design or spread their votes over a number of designs. This should take a couple of minutes to complete.
Once the vote is done, the team should see which options are worth taking forward. This may be one, three or four options. Usually, the designer will take these sketches and start to iterate wireframes & mockups.
👋 Thats its folks
The AO.com design team have found sketching and Crazy 8’s to be a powerful tool in helping us design new features, ideas, and concepts. It’s helped us leverage everyone’s experiences to generate ideas that we simply wouldn’t have thought of without them. We’ve used this technique to create one-off designs, improved existing features & navigation, and for transformation projects.
We’ve found that the team involved in these workshops will get a warm fuzzy feeling towards the project because they have contributed to its direction.
Hopefully, within all the sketches that have been completed in your own session, you’ll have found the best way to solve that problem.