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The Most Innovative Thing I’ve Done

June 6, 2013

The most innovative thing I’ve done would have to be designing the BYU’s Center for Teaching and Learning website (ctl.byu.edu).  Now, I have to admit that designing in this case was a loose word.  I oversaw a lot of the design, but only designed parts of it.  Of course, looking at great design firms, like IDEO, most of their design work is done as a team.  Can they claim that their work is theirs?  Yes and no.  And maybe all of our innovate work has been that way–we can’t claim all of it, even if we did all the work ourselves.  We gather so many ideas from other people that nothing we do is completely our own.

I believe there were two main processes that made the project so innovative.  The first was to use divergent and convergent thinking, and the second was to use rapid prototyping and evaluation of each layer of the website.

Most ideas, in my experience, get shot down before they even have a chance to blossom.  So to avoid that we first gathered ideas through divergent thinking (gathering as many ideas as possible) and then used convergent thinking to narrow down which ideas to use and how to use them.  To gather as many ideas as possible (and be as divergent as possible) we included as many people as possible.  About 50 employees from the Center for Teaching and Learning, broken into six groups, brainstormed for an hour collecting ideas.  I believe we had about 400 unique ideas from all of us by the end.  We initially believed we would narrow down those ideas (convergent thinking).  Interesting enough, not many of the ideas had to be cut; most of the ideas did not conflict with each other.  Instead, the biggest challenge for our convergent thinking was deciding the priority of each idea.  Some of the ideas received prime time space on the website, and others were left to the background.

Instead of arguing between the team on what ideas to use and how to use them, I believed we should test them and let the data decide (an idea I got from Contextual Design).  That’s when rapid prototyping came into play.  We took our ideas, drew them out, and tested them on people.  One example was our large drop-down menus.  To figure out the menu, we had professors come in and show us how they would organize the categories.  Their view of the structure helped to inform our final structure.  The results became more intuitive for those professors.

We used this process of building and testing on each of the different layers of the website.  We tested the design of our home page, we tested our navigation structure, we tested the functionality of each page, we tested (or edited) our writing, and I wish we had tested even more.  We could have tested the content directly on our readers, the strategy, and so many more layers (see Andy Gibbons’ design layers for more layers that can be tested).  Unfortunately, every design project has some constraints, and it was time to get the project done.

Every innovative project has some amazing processes that made it happen.  Often if we stop and look at that process we are more prepared to do something innovative in the future.   Even writers have these processes mapped out.  I was able to hear some of Brandon Sanderson’s processes on Monday in our local library.  Interesting enough his number one suggestion for improving writing was just to write.  Everyone has to practice and writing is no exception.  I’d have to say that being innovate is the same.  We  do innovating projects and we get better at being innovative.  Practice, practice, practice.  For some reason everything always comes back to practice.  There is just no secret way around the basics.

 

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