Why Design Thinking Works: Design on the Fly

5 tips to Design on the fly

Any designer knows the first step in the design process is understanding the problem. What is the human need that a new design can solve? On a recent design event we were faced with exactly that question, though it came in the middle of the sentence, rather than the beginning. As new information emerged during one of the report outs, it became clear that the exercise we had designed for the next module didn’t address the true need, so we had to think fast to come up with new one that would. To use a tired business cliché, it was clear we were going to have to rebuild the plane while it was in the sky.

We don’t often find ourselves in this situation; our typical preparation period for a Collaboration Consulting event includes a deep exploratory period to understand the client need and work hard to make sure all the right people are in the room. This means the decisions they make will stick afterwards, but also that new information may only emerge as the end-users start playing with options. The design process relies on iterative loops, going backwards and forwards as each new model is tested, so we need to be agile and responsive, even if it means designing on the fly.

While it can be very uncomfortable to have to make major adjustments quickly, if it’s necessary and well-timed, it does not have to be stressful. By keeping in mind a few basic principles, a re-design on the fly can be easy and successful.

  1. We’re all in this together. Okay, you need to make some changes. Everyone wants this re-design to be successful and we’re all ready to help. Reach out to the people who have the information you need, ask them clearly and ask them quickly. It’s important to have a strong and flexible client sponsor helping you out in this scenario, especially if you need to move people around or use content-specific language.
  2. Communication is key. Listening carefully is vital to the process of a smooth re-design. Remember, good communication skills got you there in the first place, so rely upon them now to be able to think on your feet. Listen closely so you know when you’ll need to say yes, and when you might need to say no.
  3. Always support others. If, like us, you work as a team, really support each other. If you see someone struggling, reach out an arm to lift them up. Because design/re-design involves continuous collaboration, it’s important to create a safe, supportive space in which to interact and create, and make sure that everyone knows what they are going to do next before they leave the room.
  4. Keep it simple. You might have only a few moments to re-design before going live with what you’ve made. Now is not the time for an overly-complicated setup with lots of moving parts. Remember, you are responding to information you just learned, so take that at face value. The simplest designs are often the best, and definitely the easiest to pull off in a high-pressure, time-sensitive situation.
  5. Be comfortable working without a script. Whatever you had originally planned to do was probably amazing. However, nothing can match the sincerity, spontaneity and good feeling of a design that you iterated in response of something you just learned. It can be scary, but even a rough and ready design that serves the clients’ needs is better than delivering a perfectly trimmed one that didn’t quite fit.

In the end our re-design was exactly what the client needed at that point in the event, which led ultimately to a successful outcome. The power of design thinking is the ability to respond to the human need as it presents itself, regardless of your original plans, so all decisions domino from there. Whether you take the main roads or a scenic detour, reaching the destination is the best reward.

Innovation Arts is the globally recognised hybrid strategy and design consultancy known for its work with some of the world’s leading companies, as well as a range of global NGOs and public sector organisations. Named by GQ as the ‘management consultant of the future’, Innovation Arts has enjoyed over 12 years of helping business leaders to successfully navigate transformational change and organisational challenges within their companies.