For me, brainstorming and creative thinking takes time. In fact, I need to temporarily let go of the concept of time in order to get my mind going. Otherwise, my mind thinks only about the time, shuts off everything else, and goes into what almost feels like a fight-or-flight response. Because of this, I am no good at timed exercises involving creative thinking.
To my luck, the first exercise of my Principles of UX Design course involved just this.
To kick-start the course, we were introduced to the Design Thinking process via an empathy exercise regarding the experience at QU (Quinnipiac University). With assigned partners and allotted time intervals, we took turns going through a series of steps which involved building empathy, deciding on a singular problem to define, and crafting potential solutions to it.
Although the time intervals were by no means strict, the mere thought that I was on borrowed time made this process challenging for me. I started to think whether this profession was too fast-paced for my scattered and perfectionist mind which likes to take its time to develop polished solutions. Nonetheless, I went in with an open mind because I always want to learn new ways of thinking. After all, in my point of view, my mindset is awful and I want to change it.
The first step was for my partner Eric and I to interview each other and find out more about our experiences at QU.
Unlike myself, who was an undergraduate at a different university and applied to QU two years after graduating, Eric applied to the online ICM program during his undergraduate studies as a junior on the QU campus. This made my findings on his perspectives quite interesting.
I ended up narrowing down the focus to Eric’s experience with the application process to the ICM program because there was some significant miscommunication on what financial aid he was eligible for, and he seemed very passionate about the subject.
Essentially, Eric was misled into believing that he was eligible for certain types of financial aid, for he was told by an admissions spokesperson that he could be. He would not find out until after applying, though, that the reality was that he was actually ineligible for most aid, including scholarships and grants. This frustrated him—and it would have frustrated me, too.
I could relate to Eric’s troubles because I have had miscommunications with colleges in the past; however, where we differed was that although my application process as an outside inquirer was indeed tedious, unlike Eric I did not experience any significant miscommunication.
Moving forward, once I obtained enough information, I created the problem statement:
The application process was a challenge for Eric because the information regarding financial aid was made unclear.
Then, I turned it into a ‘How Might We’ statement:
How might we ensure that potential prospective students, especially those interested in online graduate programs, receive all correct information regarding financial aid?
The next step was to ideate. I was to quickly brainstorm solutions in the form of ‘Lightning Demos’ and then refine them into deeper concept sketches. Though, I’ll be honest: my handwriting is sloppy and my hand-drawn sketches were messy, incoherent, and in ways incomplete, because once again I am a perfectionist and not good at drawing under pressure. This image is to give you an idea of what my “sketches” looked like on the spot:
Therefore, I will save my fellow readers the headache of trying to interpret my writing/drawings and present my refined drawings I made via Adobe Illustrator.
My refined sketches below better show my thought process, from brainstorming quick thoughts to fleshing those thoughts out via UI and UX improvements on the QU website.
Next, I presented the concepts to Eric (with doing more verbal explaining to make up for my horrendous drawings). He ended up liking my first concept sketch the best, and he offered useful and necessary suggestions. For example, he wanted there to be an additional link that addresses inquiring users who do not know about their program(s) of interest.
Prototype and Feedback
With the suggestions in mind, I modified the first concept sketch and then went ahead to construct the more-complete prototype:
I presented the prototype to Eric and overall, he liked how it answered the big questions he had back when he was inquiring about QU’s online ICM program. He also offered additional suggestions and ideas, such as having a contact financial aid form—or a link to the contact financial aid form page—below each of the pages in the prototype for additional questions.
All in all, this exercise was challenging for me due to the number of steps and the limited time. That being said, I did learn new insights on quick brainstorming. Hopefully, with some more practice I will eventually be comfortable enough to come up with innovative ideas (and hopefully draw more coherently) while on limited time.
For a more detailed look at the exercise, download the full PDF below. Enjoy!