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Creative Ideation and Co-creation

Today I am inspired by...the concept and practice of Co-creation.

So I signed up for an 8-hour workshop on Creative Ideation.

Of all the intriguing workshops offered at Big Design this year (Axure Essentials, Rapid Prototyping in VR, Co-create with Yoga, and UX Field Research), it was Leading Creative Ideation that beckoned me. And so I registered.

Here’s what the workshop promised: "Crack your head open and release a surge of creative ideas with engaging activities that promote clarity, inspiration, and buzz within your organization. We’ll cover methods and facilitation tools to ensure you run fruitful brainstorming sessions, leading your team to more and better ideas."

Though ideation is a regular part of my job as a conversion optimization director, it is sometimes just me, sometimes too rushed or sometimes uninspired, so I knew this critical phase of the design process would benefit from more deliberate focus, inclusiveness and structure.

Even though I was inspired in the moment, later I didn't want to do it. In fact, I nearly switched to a different workshop because it occurred to me that this workshop might involve a lot of improv and role-playing, both of which I actively avoid in life. (Little did I know it would not only include these, but also bodystorming. Deliver me.)

I decided to give myself no option to retreat and forge onward in this disagreeable territory outside my comfort zone in the pursuit of expansion and growth.

The day of the workshop, I arrived to a packed room and met our creative ideation leader Steve Calde, Managing Director at Cooper. As soon as he began speaking, I knew I'd made the right decision.

It was instantly affirming to hear familiar client challenges and design war stories. I could relate. Even more amazing to hear it from a veteran of one of the top human-centered design agencies in the country.

Aside from the group therapy benefit, the workshop description had promised I'd walk away with many skills, including knowing how to choose the right ideation tools and methods to achieve desired outcomes. But, the promise I was most enamored with was, learn to: "Set the right tone, making it safe to take risks."

I'm in the business of A/B testing—which really means systematic risk taking—but just because I do it all the time, doesn't mean it is easy. Every time I launch a test of an alternative design, I run the risk that results may actually decrease. Of course that risk can be mitigated, but risk none the less. So, this is something I grapple with regularly.

And when I heard the phrase "normalize risk" my heart was happy, and I knew it would become a key phrase in my lexicon from now on. Taking it even further, the discussion moved to the importance of establishing an organizational culture that accepts, and even embraces mistakes. For it is often only through messy, unpredictable, even "un-project-manageable" efforts (and/or mistakes) that we generate innovation.

I made a mistake. I'm awesome!

“Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.” —Neil Gaiman

The Practical Application of Ideation

As the workshop progressed, we were charged with ideating on how to improve the experience at an airport using the stimulus method. (I know that practical, deliberate, bounded ideation seems like an oxymoron, but that's the whole point of the workshop, so let's carry on.) I chose these words as my stimulus and wrote them on my trusty index card: playful, uplifting, enjoyable. (What could be further from the current reality?) We then shared our ideas as a team, and I explained that I envisioned the airport experience as one filled with delight and pleasant surprises.

My idea was triggered by a memory of a check-in experience that actually did have a pleasant surprise. Once on a flight from Atlanta back home to N.C., I was in line for the TSA check-in, approaching the area where the agent checks your ID and boarding pass. This is usually not only an annoying delay, but also strange and uncomfortable as you know you are being assessed in the moment as a potential threat. This particular flight, the TSA agent was unlike any I have encountered before or since.

I noticed many people smiling ahead of me. I sensed a positive shift in mood, yet I didn't know why. As the next passenger handed over his ID, she reviewed it, then handed it back with an approving nod, and loudly stated, "Lookin' good, Stanley. Lookin' good." Everyone in earshot chuckled. Next she proclaimed, "Smart suit, William!", and on it continued with an affirmation for each and every passenger..."Happy Birthday, Kate!", "Doin it right, Devan." Every single person was smiling, and no one was thinking about how long the wait anymore. There was even a sense of eager expectancy to see what positive comment she would bestow on us when our turn arrived. It was a profound shift from waiting in line for scrutiny, to awaiting a compliment. This moment in time came back to me as I sat in my creative ideation workshop, and inspired me to envision a an airport experience filled with delight and surprise, as I encountered that day.

I followed this fantastical notion to explore what an airport would be like if the experience was playful, uplifting, enjoyable:

  • All the staff are thrilled to see you.

  • The physical space is filled with vibrant, happy colors, comfy chairs and fresh flowers.

  • It smells like cotton candy.

  • There are passenger advocates, all wearing sky blue shirts to be easily identified, who circulate the area ready to listen and address any complaints on the spot.

We then began sketching our ideas. I drew a simplistic image of my concept conveying smiling staff with clouds and rainbow painted on the wall. Next we were to co-create by passing our sketch to have others add to it until it had circulated our team. I was so surprised when my sketch returned to me. I had sent my little sketch out into the world, and this is what was returned to me:


Martinis while you wait!

It had been elevated by my teammates with the addition of:

  • natural light

  • amazing smells wafting about

  • coffee & pastries

  • fine art on the wall

  • friendly faces

  • a jazz pianist wearing a top hat

  • and martinis!

How incredible—and inspiring—to to see how others enhanced my idea!!

We went on to merge all of our ideas, ultimately bodystorming a full customer experience integrating a technology piece that would bridge the gap between the physical and virtual world. (I won't reveal any details of the tech concept here, as it may already be prototyped and nearing production by one of my esteemed team members.) As a team, we co-created something phenomenal.

In the end, it was a good day, and I spent it exactly where I needed to be: immersed in creative ideation and co-creation. Two things I will foster much more in the future. And mistakes. I will endeavor to embrace more mistakes (even my own, which will be the hardest to do) in pursuit of something learned, something different, innovative, and altogether better.

Thank you to Steve for leading us, and to Crispin, Laura and Brenee for sharing this co-creative, and inspiring, experience with me. :-)

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