Skip to main content

4 Steps for UX Designers to Increase Creativity in Difficult Times

Published by Marissa Thompson

1. Embrace uncertainty 
2. Redefine success 
3. Leverage limitations
4. Entertain crazy ideas

Like a tsunami, the effects of COVID-19 unexpectedly flooded our lives, leaving a wake of disruption. Despite this, like a flower that blooms in the sidewalk, now is an amazing time for creativity and growth in the field of UX.

People’s needs have changed, upsetting long held models for how we work, shop, receive medical care, and interact. Mandated social distancing has caused people to turn towards digital solutions. In many cases current systems are inadequate to meet demands. Shoppers looking for online grocery delivery have had difficulty finding available spots and Amazon Prime customers are experiencing shipping delays.

This is where UX designers and researchers can seize the opportunity to create new or better solutions. In this article I will offer four suggestions to help you, as a UX designer or researcher, come up with creative solutions during this difficult time.

1. Embrace uncertainty

The first step to generating creative solutions is to reframe uncertainty as opportunity. There is a sense of safety in habit, but you have to move past the routine in order to realize available possibilities. In some ways you now have a blank canvas to re-define your goals, plans, and ways of working. To embrace uncertainty, you can write a list of the things that have changed. Then ask, how are people’s needs different? What new opportunities are here? These steps can help you systematically discover new areas for growth and change.

2. Redefine success

Because of COVID-19 we are all making adjustments. We can’t do things the same way that we did before. As you begin to find new ways to solve problems realize that innovation and creativity are messy. In the creative process you can’t expect to get things right the first time. As Seth Godin, entrepreneur and author of over 18 books on business and marketing put it, “perfect is the enemy of good, and it is better to ship something that is good enough...than to ship nothing.” We are all working to re-define expectations. If something doesn’t quite turn out right the first time, it’s okay. Learn from your mistakes and try again.

3. Leverage limitations

Limitations can actually help you to be more creative. There is an old proverb that says necessity is the mother of invention. Jack Foster, a creative director with over 40 years of experience and author of “How to Get Ideas,” explains that limitations and restrictions can actually help people be more creative. Limitations force us to look at problems differently and come up with new solutions. Remember that:

  • Placing restrictions on a project forces you to discover new ways of thinking.
  • The first ideas are often the worst.
  • Innovation comes from making connections between seemingly unrelated things.

Try making a list of the limitations people are facing; next to the list take some time to write possible solutions. Try to think of solutions that might not be obvious at first. Getting a group of people together to brainstorm can also be a great way to get new ideas.

4. Entertain crazy ideas

The fourth strategy for being more creative is to entertain crazy ideas. A design sprint is a method used to create new products. Google has laid out a framework with several exercises for conducting design sprints. In the exercise Crazy 8’s each team member folds a piece of paper into 8 sections. They have one minute to sketch a different idea in each section. Participants are encouraged to come up with all kinds of ideas, even ones that seem unrealistic. When describing this exercise Google says that “weird, impossible, and impractical ideas often give way to truly inspired ones.” When working to solve a difficult problem in a creative way, don’t throw out the crazy ideas, at least not in the beginning. They may provide the groundwork for innovation. In his book, “How to Get Ideas,”Foster explained that most people can’t come up with creative ideas because they think that there is just one right solution. In most cases, that isn’t true. Be willing to go out on a limb and try out a crazy idea. It might lead to something amazing.

UX designers and researchers are inherently problem solvers. As experts who specialize in understanding people’s needs, limitations, and difficulties especially when interacting with technology, UX designers and researches are well positioned to invent post-COVID-19 solutions. Fields that will be most affected include telemedicine, online shopping, remote collaboration, education, entertainment and others. As you embrace uncertainty, redefine success, leverage limitations and entertain crazy ideas it may surprise you what new ideas you are able to come up with.  


Additional Resources
How to Get Involved to Fight COVID-19

The COVID-19 Think Tank is a community project established to create a platform to confront and help solve some of the challenges emerging worldwide during the current coronavirus pandemic.

Resources for How to be More Creative:

Book How to get Ideas by: Jack Foster

Book Orbiting the Giant Hairball by: Gordon MacKenzie

Other Sources

Seth Godin’s Blog

Google Design Sprint Kit

Marissa Thompson

Marissa Thompson is a Research Associate at the User Experience Center. Prior to joining the UXC, she worked as a Freelance UX/UI Designer where she collaborated with various companies to create web apps, software, and website designs. She previously worked as a Graphic Designer at Stander Inc. where she managed brand guidelines, created packaging, POP displays, catalogs, trade show booths, and other marketing materials.

Marissa holds a Bachelor's of Art in Integrated Studio Art from Brigham Young University-Idaho with an emphasis in Illustration and Graphic Design. She is currently pursuing her Masters of Science in Human Factors in Information Design at Bentley University. 


Let's start a conversation

Get in touch to learn more about Bentley UX consulting services and how we can help your organization.