Creativity and the many happily-ever-afters of user research

How creativity enables joyful ways of thinking and makes our world bigger than the keyhole we might be looking through.
Art by author,

Is creativity about the number of ideas we create or the quality of ideas we create?
My favorite and the simplest answer comes from Linus Pauling, a two-time Nobel laureate, who said,

The best way to get a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.

When solving problems, we often settle on our default solution or the first good solution we find, possibly missing out on a lot of fun, new perspectives, and opportunities. In contrast, creative thinking is about exploring the many “happily-ever-afters” rather than chasing after the “right” answer.

Exploring multiple ideas makes me understand the problem and solution space better, opens up my mind, and makes me feel less stressed.

Also, the more ideas we create or try out, the more novel our ideas. This is why we begin the Creative UXR course with an exercise for creating many ideas. Here’s a simple example:

Many ways of presenting a customer journey

We were going to present the results of a study where we had mapped a customer journey based on diary studies and interviews.

The default way of presenting the insights would be walking the team through the customer journey by presenting it from the computer.

After I had written down my default answer, I asked myself: What else could we do? Here are some of the possibilities that came to mind:

  • Print out the journey on a poster and walk the team through that journey.
  • Garden of insights: Create a “garden of insights” with an audio guide where people can physically walk through the journey and interact with the audio and video snippets for different stages.
  • Play Bingo: Present a short list of high-level themes from the journey. When presenting the detailed insights, people will shout out “Bingo” when they recognize a theme from the high-level list. The winner gets a small reward.
  • Send around a video of the presentation or a documentary.
  • Create a series of mini-podcasts with the customer journey results.
  • Create an “interactive” journey: physical or digital where people can press on the different buttons or scan QR codes and listen to/see artifacts summary and quotes, videos for that step/insight.
  • Invite people to coffee and Q&A sessions on the journey.

Why should we think about many happy ends?

This was a delightful way to exercise my creative muscles. Whether these ideas are feasible or not is the next step but just listing them out already has advantages:

  •  It revealed that it is possible to create different types of experiences during this presentation: pleasurable, memorable, engaging, healthy, multi-modal, asynchronous (not limited to a specific time slot and my availability), easy to follow up.
  • It also made it clear that for different audiences, I want different outcomes, and my presentation style to each set of the audience should be guided by the outcomes I want.
  • Lastly, even if I don’t use any of these ideas for this study, now there’s a basket of ideas for a future presentation already – being creative is like being in a time machine, you might get the answers before the questions :).

And this is how creativity enables joyful ways of thinking and makes our world bigger than the keyhole we might be looking through.

Your turn now. Wherever you want to be creative, think of more than one idea for the problem/project you are working on right now.

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