From the Designer's Corner

Matt Umbriac, your job seems to involve a lot of observation of clients. How can we become better at understanding people's needs?

This is easily one of the most difficult tasks for a designer. Great designs often address a need or solve a problem that, prior to its conception, was not even known to exist. One great way to approach this is to closely observe a specific task that you feel can be made more efficient. Film someone performing this task, do it yourself, and document each step of the task in great detail. Then use this information and brainstorm on how steps can be eliminated from this process. If you can design an object or create a process that completes the same task in fewer steps (and less time!), you’ve just made the world a little bit better.

Make friends and stay in consistent contact with potential clients whenever possible. If you have sales people in the field, have them to report their discussions with customers back to you on a regular basis. Ask them what your company can be doing better. What do they want/need that is not currently available? How can you work together on addressing these needs? Perform surveys to identify opportunities in the market. Keep a close eye on your competitors and similar companies even if they occupy a different market segment.

Where do your designing ideas come from? Any tips on how to become more creative?

Ideas for new concepts can come from countless sources and inspirations. Very rarely does an idea just pop in my head for a new design, and I imagine that is the case for most. Typically, in my position, I am given a problem to solve or an existing design to improve. Vaguer objectives require more preliminary research/brainstorming before actually beginning to develop concepts. Constraints are, for the most part, very helpful. They may bring about obstacles, but they also help to focus your ideas rather than starting with such a broad scope.

Creativity is, I would say, something you are born with. You won’t just wake up one day and feel more creative than the last. You can, however, change the way you think to help get the ‘creative juices’ flowing. I like approaching a task with a method we used in college known as ‘mild to wild.’ When you first begin a project, do not limit your imagination – anything goes. Some initial concepts will be mild, meaning the technology exists and you know the idea can be materialized with fairly simple materials, processes, etc. Other concepts will be wild, meaning they challenge reality and push the boundaries of what is possible. The completed design, more often than not, is somewhere right in the middle. What are some challenges you face when you work with your team members that may not have the "creative mindset"? How do you overcome those challenges?

This is a challenge I face on a nearly daily basis. Efficient collaboration is a necessary component in completing a project. No one person can possibly understand every facet of developing and implementing a product or system. This goes back to one of our previous conversations where I mentioned that a designer must keep an open mind and be willing to listen to and learn from others. The more diverse the team, the less likely you are to overlook certain aspects of a design.

When disagreements occur, and they will, never bring assumptions or opinions to the table. Have factual information to back up your theory and use real-world examples. Leave emotions out of it and never let is escalate to a point where it obstructs productivity. You also have to understand that people without a “creative mindset” likely cannot fill in the blanks of a concept, so to speak, and need ideas presented in a clear concise manner. A napkin sketch might get the ball rolling in a team of designers, but it takes more than that when you bring in colleagues of other disciplines.

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