Jeff Zych

Don’t let a linear design process snuff out your sparks of inspiration

Earlier in my career, I would follow the double diamond design process as a series of linear steps: define the problem, explore solutions, test & iterate, then build and ship.

If I had an insight that started with the solution, for example, I would go back to the beginning before following that spark of inspiration.

But the more times I’ve gone through this cycle, the more I’ve realized that this is a recipe for snuffing out good ideas. The creative process isn’t linear. Ideas can be sparked from anywhere. Any point in the double diamond is a valid onramp to a great idea.

The key is to make sure you check all the boxes: does it solve a real problem? Is it valuable? Is it usable? Is it technically feasible? Is it desirable?

You don’t need to check these boxes in any prescribed order (which is how I previously approached projects). They just need to be checked.

I’m know I’ve squandered a lot of good ideas as a result of getting a flash of inspiration, but then stopping myself from following that thread to go back to the beginning and try to define the problem, goals, constraints, and so on. This just stifles creativity.

Now I try to follow those sparks whenever they pop up, and loop back to other parts of the process when they’re relevant.

These ideas don’t always pay off. But that doesn’t matter. Sometimes they inform other projects. Sometimes they dissipate into the ether. At a minimum I will have had fun pursuing an idea I’m excited about and grown in some small way as a result.

Joel Califa wrote about this awhile back in his blog post, Your Work is Starstuff.

Ryan Singer also wrote about a similar idea in his post, Small Tools for Shaping. He has various tools to help him shape ideas, and he picks the best one for the job rather than following any prescribed, linear process.

So that’s my mantra of the moment: grab the sparks of inspiration when they strike. Don’t let a linear process stifle your creativity.

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