A long time ago in an office far, far away, a conversation during our weekly design chat turned to how we could work on developing our UI skills. Then, an idea struck…
At Inktrap our design philosophy has always been to make sure everything we create has a purpose, that it is useful and looks great too. Although this is something that we all believe, it’s easy for visual creativity or the artistic element of design to take a back seat where we become so focused on function. As designers, we get excited by bold colours and interesting shapes and sometimes within product design we don’t get to flex our artistic muscles as much as we would sometimes like to. We believe design should always be about the user but there are times we want to design for ourselves just for the sake of trying things out and experimenting to see what might happen.
Freedom to fail is really important to us. Even though we have clients who are open to being challenged and pushed in new ways there will always be an element of caution in the work. Most of our clients are either starting a new business venture or only a few years in, so it makes sense to not take huge risks with their UI styles.
When we remove the client or real users from our work we’re provided with space where we can experiment for the sake of it. It gives us the opportunity to ask ourselves ‘what would we create if we had no one to impress’ and this is a great challenge as a designer because we then start tipping into becoming an artist.
Though there is plenty of scope for us to improve our UI and general product work, it’s easy to design in a vacuum if we only look towards styles and visual aesthetics that are already in our industry and area of design. It’s even easier to rely on our tried and tested styles and approaches. Many may think ‘if it ain't broke then don’t fix it…’ which can be true, but if as a design team we want to progress and move forward that means we need to actively challenge ourselves.
Usually, our projects are a minimum of 2 weeks long. Which is a really nice chunk of time, it allows us to get our teeth into the business and user problems but quickly enough so that the client gets something tangible at the end. Having a longer period of time enables us to have a holistic approach to the project, but it is possible to overthink things — e.g should I use this shade of blue, or should I use this purple instead. Having a short task each week meant we would have to be decisive and focus on progress over perfection.
It’s known that although designers can generate amazing visual work sometimes we’re just not that good at communicating what we’ve done and why. There can be a variety of reasons for this and presenting your work well is something all designers should practice more. Sharing our work together means that we can learn from each other about design decisions in addition to learning how better to present our ideas.
At Inktrap we want to try our best to create a space where everyone feels that they can be honest and open. That means we need to create connections of trust between ourselves. Feedback can always be difficult, that’s why we believed providing feedback on low stakes work is a great place to start. Making something we aren’t overly precious about means it’s easier to receive critical feedback.
Sometimes it can be hard to think of ideas on the spot, that’s why we usually have our best ideas when we’re away from the computer and away from the task at hand. These ideas can easily be forgotten, and IDEO's Tom Kelley’s likes to have a dry wipe maker in his shower just in case. Ideas saved for later are a great way to spark inspiration when it feels like the idea barrel has run dry.
Once we defined the benefits of conducting the workshops we set about creating their structure. Though we loved the idea of having open briefs we realised we needed to set some restrictions to keep us focused, so we made a set of rules. These rules weren’t concrete but were there to give us guidance as we got comfortable with undergoing a challenge like this. The rules were…
- We have 30 mins to design. Rough and ready, nothing needs to be neat or polished.
- All design work ends up in Figma. You could do something on a sheet of paper or in Illustrator, Photoshop etc. if you wish, but bring it back into Figma for ease of presenting.
- We will each have 1 min to present our designs, then 5 mins for us all to discuss the work and provide feedback.
- Everyone must keep it fun!
And we followed those rules! As with everything, our on-paper-plan was different from the reality of these workshops. Some weeks were more frustrating than fun and once we got into the flow of things, we didn’t need a rigid one minute for presenting and five minutes of discussion.
The design team gathered virtually on a Wednesday morning and we had a go at our first Wonderful Weekly Workshop. Using a random chooser I selected a design style and a thing we were going to redesign in said style. We began on a tough one. Facebook and renaissance art!
It was excellent!
It was a real test of our design skills and a challenge to get us thinking in a completely different way. It was interesting to see how some designers stuck with a modern UI but added flavours of the renaissance style — colours, curves, and fonts — and how other designers completely re-thought the application of Facebook to a renaissance setting, using portraits instead of statuses.
After creating our designs, we reviewed the work we had done. The design team found the art style of renaissance particularly hard to apply in a modern web design setting but still had fun giving it a go. We really enjoyed it as a break from the week that was both fun and beneficial. There were, naturally, some initial reservations on how actually useful this was going to be for our design skills but everyone was open to continuing it.
We discussed what could be improved in future workshops. The main thing we learned was that the purpose of these workshops needed to be clear. The goal wasn’t to create a beautiful, perfect piece of work, but to test ourselves and push the limits of our comfort zone. We also found it hard to talk about the work we did and vocalise our reasonings for certain design decisions, so we decided the facilitator should ask some questions to jump-start the discussions about our own work.
The first session was such a success that we decided we would make it a weekly workshop, and so the Wonderful Weekly Workshop began! It’s now been 12 weeks and we plan to continue it onwards and upwards for as long as we feel it’s fun and beneficial.
The design team enjoyed it so much and spoke about the workshops in meetings, making other members of the team want to get involved, so we expanded the workshops to a company-wide challenge.
Different things we’ve made so far;
- Facebook & Renaissance
- McDonald's & Art Nouveau
- Mobile OS & 90s Websites
- Twitter & Neumorphism
- A Cash Machine & De Stijl
- Poster & Swiss Style
- Google & Post-Modern
- Notes App & For Toddlers
- Festival Poster & Deliberately Inaccessible
- Art Deco & e-commerce site
- A merch shirt for your favourite place & using only your favourite colour
After about 6 weeks of working on our UI, one of our team had the idea that the prompts could be developed from just art styles into something more UX focused. The idea we had was to also have user groups or UX issues as our prompts. These could be something like “for children”, “for the visually impaired”, or something sillier “with no text at all”. These turned out to be excellent prompts too. Rather than getting us to focus on the visual design of our work, these UX prompts had us thinking of our designs in a different way. We had to keep the user or the issue in mind and make quick decisions to serve their needs. These prompts also ended up being some of the most fun ones!
The more workshops we did, the more we realised how great it would be to put all of the products to redesign and the styles we had into a home-made generator where we could randomly get a prompt each week. Our designer Rachel Brockbank spent some time working on collecting 100-ish products, features and graphics to be redesigned or designed, and a bunch of different style prompts that were UI focused, UX focused and more general visual design-focused.
We starting off with just the generator and a ‘new prompt’ button, but we realised that if we wanted to share our workshop idea and prompt generator with the world it would need a bit more context.
We set about making a little website to house our generator — check it out for yourself!
We love these workshops, and we’d love for you to love them too! You can do them with your whole team or just on your own to test your design skills. If you do give it a go, please do let us know and share your wonderful designs with us!
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