How to find your visioneering pack and satisfy your creative explorer.
I’m a daydreamer. An observant artist-type whose reality is only slightly augmented by an overactive imagination — and a junkie for those creative highs that come from a promising idea.
Come Monday mornings, I commute the rabbit hole from Wonderland to Boston to work as a UX digital product designer. Over 13 years, I’ve taught myself how to stream this creative imagination through a structured thought process; even further now, I can filter creative outcomes into vision candidates that are grounded in commercially-critical business strategy.
In large organizations, User Experience Design (UXD) is typically separated from forward thinking, innovative efforts like skunkworks teams. UXD is often dedicated to enhancements that are needed in real time, or to products that will launch on the near-term horizon. Skunkworks focus on pushing the broader innovative boundaries, but are often unaccountable to timelines, a sense of urgency or bringing ideas to fruition.
I believe a new dedicated role can bridge innovative thinking with a real-time-to-market approach that fully bakes visions into tactical deliverables: the UXD Visioneer.
I am a UXD Visioneer.
How do you know if you’re a design visioneer? You’re someone who recognizes that a “visioning exercise” isn’t recess from your daily workload. Or playtime for the visual designers. You’re an explorer. And, most important that thirst for exploratory adventure is driven by the hunt for the right problem to solve.
Big corporations may not be the obvious choice for such creativity. But, design teams can often affect more change within the walls of large companies than the fleeting agency engagement. Whichever industry you find yourself in, get to know the lay of the land by wandering off road and get a little lost. Start observing what’s happening with users and identifying their emerging expectations, while spotting insights that have potential for exploration.
If you’re doing it right, the start of a visioning journey will feel like David Bowie forcing you to solve his Labyrinth, with no shortage of goblins, trap doors and riddles. In my experience, the first pass won’t deliver the golden egg. But, eventually, the accumulated visioning exercises will start to look like pile of related puzzle pieces — and if you’re paying attention, that’s when connecting the dots will start to reveal a path towards an innovative solution.
Find Your Visioneering Pack
I was once a lone design wolf that played well with others. I’d approach each project by absorbing the information, brainstorming proposals and working as a solo contributor. Somewhere around the revelation stage, I’d reach out for peer feedback and stakeholder guidance. More often than not, I’d leave those sessions having generated buzzing excitement, but ultimately empty-handed, without any actionable feedback to work with.
Why wasn’t I getting the substantial feedback I needed? My first mistake was wrongfully assuming that all parties involved in design, were able to exercise objectivity in-front of creativity. Visioneering can be seductive, and before you know it, your project critique is derailing onto a far-reaching Jetson’s-like tangent. Secondly, working solo wasn’t giving my projects the multi-dimensional substance that a vision needs to become a contender. In hindsight, I needed to find my pack.
What’s the secret to form an innovative, outcome-driven pack of visioneers? Be patient, but selective — even picky. The working chemistry will happen organically, and if it doesn’t, be brave enough to cut the cord. Hopefully, you’ll find a pack of people whose talents complement yours and most important collectively raises the bar.
The Pack Mentality
I prefer a small pack made up of bold strategists from business, UX design, technology and research. Ideally, each person has a primary discipline as their specialty and is savvy enough in a secondary discipline as a supporting strength. Ideally, the following disciplines should be represented:
The BEDTR Pack
- Business: Pushes the established business model and its guiding rules.
- Experience: User-focused through a lens of what’s best in terms of the company’s interests. Always scanning for signs of emerging trends, insights and usually have a strong sense on where to direct exploration.
- Design: Explores and experiments with varying concept systems and has an eye for better approaching how a system of information plays together.
- Technology: Supports visioning with recommendations on cutting edge or bleeding edge options, and has the foresight to predict what’s just beyond the digital horizon.
- Research: Offers course correction or recommendations. Validates insights and vision candidates with current study methods or creates net-new investigative approaches.
All disciplines are hands-on at each phase, but alternates between leading and supporting players. Here’s a high-level breakdown of how an effective visioning effort will play out:
1) Business and Experience start by getting a bird’s eye view of the lay of the land; mapping what’s currently being done within the respective industry at large, and against that, how their company stacks up.
2) Experience and Design function as a pair. Experience surveys surfacing trends, identifies underserved areas that could benefit from innovation and where boundaries could be pushed.
3) On the ground, Design starts exploring the terrain with varying concepts. From above, Experience can support, augment and help navigate.
With ongoing support from Research and Technology, the collective vision experiments will eventually form a picture of what’s possible.
4) With an informed picture of where and how to play, Research validates which of the spread are big ideas, and Business will weigh-in on which are in the best interest of the company. Finally, stakeholders decide which ideas to place their big bets on.
Transparency, Boundaries and Feedback
When it comes to sharing in-progress vision work, transparency is your friend. Post it on an internal page and keep it current. But when it comes to feedback, be clear on whose opinion matters and whose is heard out of courtesy. Large corporations often operate in a complicated hierarchical web overrun with too many cooks in each kitchen. Establish key stakeholders and set clear boundaries to set your team up for success.
When it comes to stakeholder feedback, guide constructive sessions. Keep the evaluation to an objective agenda: Is the concept answering to the business needs, adhering to the design principles and most important solving for the respective problem at hand? Adhering to familiar format will also help level set stakeholder expectations.
Without exception, I’ve always been susceptible to a type of creative burnout. When a new promising idea takes hold, that creative surge is all-consuming and powerfully enduring. I’ll ride that wave for three months before I find myself crashing. By that time, I’ve produced an enormous amount of work, but am left overwhelmingly exhausted and creatively burnt to a crisp. I’ve learned to embrace this beginning phase, and now I have the foresight to plan a few weeks off to recover (cue TV binging).
When a driven, highly-talented pack sets off visioning together, the collective yield can be magic. But here’s a hard truth — even if the accumulated work finally comes together as a miraculous innovative solution, your stakeholders just might not get it. I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it. My advice? First, do a thorough retrospective. If everything still points towards the proposed solution, try to repackage the selling points and reframe the pitch. If that doesn’t work, pack your bags explorer, it’s time to find yourself a new adventure.
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear in the comments about your own adventures with visioneering.
#uxdvisioneer, #designvisioneer, #uxdvisioneering