Crazy Concept Ideation with Crazy 8s

More Ideas, More Iteration, Less Time

There's a myth out there that designers can convert briefs to pixel-perfect designs overnight, but in reality design is an iterative process. The more iterations a design goes through the more opportunities there are to chip away at the unnecessary, inconsistent and clunky and to polish the functional and the beautiful.

Early iteration puts us on the fast track to concept validation

Iterating frequently in the beginning of the process means we take less time in the long run getting our concepts right because making changes in pen and paper is faster than doing so in any other stage of the design process. (Pen and paper is faster than a low fidelity wireframe, which is faster than a high fidelity design, which is faster than the build—you get the idea). What better way to iterate quickly than with an ideation activity designed to rapidly produce a wide range of different ideas from a team of diverse minds?

What's So Crazy about Crazy 8s?

Crazy 8s is a group-based ideation process, or, in other words, a method of generating ideas. At Switch, what we choose to focus on in a Crazy 8s session depends on the project. Generally we choose components that are either high importance, require a complex UI that we need to think through carefully, or give us an opportunity to try something that will blow our client and their users away.

Because the scope of our projects is large and our designs are component-driven, we focus on a shortlist of individual components or interactions during Crazy 8s rather than full-page templates or trying to fit in every piece of the site.

Getting Started

Here's how it works. A group of people—in Switch's case, usually the designers and at least one project manager on the project—get together in a room to sketch out ideas in quick succession. To start, each person gets a sheet of paper divided into eight sections. Over the course of eight minutes, each person tries to come up with eight unique ideas for the component. It's not an easy task!

Sometimes we get stuck and don't make it to eight, or we end up with a number of ideas that are very similar, or maybe the ideas get just a little too crazy. The point is to push ourselves to think beyond our first, second, or even third idea so we can consider as many options as possible.

Talking Through Our Ideas

When the eight minutes are up, we stick everyone's sketches up on the wall and talk through them. Designers, front-end developers and project managers all have a unique perspective to add to our assessment of each idea, allowing us to look at things from the lenses of UX, visual design, development feasibility and client alignment.

Possible ideas for an activities filter and list from a recent Crazy 8s session

Once we've gone over all the ideas, everyone gets three stickers to stick onto their favourites. Sometimes there's a clear preference while other times there are parts of a few ideas that would work best combined. As we discuss our selection process, the session leader takes notes on what works from the popular ideas so we can bring them together during our next design phase.

After that, it's rinse and repeat for all the components and interactions we've chosen to focus on.

Refine and Revisit

Finally, once we've sketched out all the components and interactions, we review what we've talked about throughout the session to determine whether the popular ideas we've identified will provide a consistent experience for the users. For example, instead of using tabs in one location and an accordion in another, we can use the same design pattern in both locations to bring consistency to the user experience (as long as it makes sense to do so).

Our sketches up on the glass, grouped by component for us to review at the end of the session

Reaping the Benefits

Providing a venue to assess the validity of our ideas in a time- and cost-efficient way is one of the key reasons why we've started integrating Crazy 8s into our regular design process, but there's more to it than that. The number of concepts we have to generate without indulging in the trap of over-thinking forces us to look beyond traditional solutions. Furthermore, rapid group ideation like this brings more ideas to the table than a single person could come up with on their own. Oftentimes not only will individuals produce eight unique concepts on their own, but we'll get eight unique concepts from everyone, giving us dozens of ideas to dissect, pull from, discard and enhance.

These benefits mean we start with a solid foundation for our wireframing, helping us validate our concepts with our client's vision and the needs of their users before we begin our first UX or design deliverable.

In addition to the benefits to the client—and in the long-run, the user—the collaborative nature of holding this internal workshop lets everyone who takes part feel involved and take ownership of part of the project, even when they may not be the primary person working on it. When the team feels more connected to one another's work and understands the rationale behind design decisions, they can better support each other.

We hope this article shed some light on our design process here at Switch. A number of our upcoming new projects have benefited from Crazy 8s sessions, and once live we look forward to sharing them with you. Be sure to keep your eye out for our follow-up article following the journeys of some key components from ideation to deployment.

— Shaina Koval

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