12 thoughts on creativity

Blog post originally published on User Vision website.

Creativity has been a hot topic at two UX conferences I attended recently here in the UK and in the US.

It seems that as UX Professionals in an ever increasing complex world we can get caught up in everyday life and dealing with ‘business as usual’. Sometimes it can be hard to tap into our creative selves and come up with new ideas and perspectives on how to approach our work.

So what did I learn about how can we invite more creativity into our lives?

  1. Make time for creativity. Figure out when you feel the most creative during the day and allow yourself time to be creative during that period. For me, like a lot of people, this is morning time. Some reports say creativity is heightened in the morning because the prefrontal cortex is more active at that time.
  2. Practice makes perfect. Thinking creatively does not happen like a bolt out of the blue (unless you are Einstein), but rather it is like a muscle that needs to be trained. The more time you spend thinking creatively, the stronger that muscle gets.
  3. Create habits and routines to kick start the process. Repeated routines such as that morning cup of tea, listening to music, or meditating can help you get into a creative mood quicker.
  4. Get physical. Not only can exercise help you de-stress from everyday problems, it can also help get you into a more relaxed mental state which allows you to be more creative.imagination quote
  5. Turn the TV off. It is slightly ironic that in order for us to be more creative and come up with innovative ideas around technology, the advice is to switch off all that technology. As mentioned at the conference, it is no coincidence that the best ideas can come when you are in the shower, as there are no screens in there to distract.
  6. Be more “Single-focused”. Attention and creative thoughts can often be fractured by trying to focus on too many things at the same time. In fact, studies from the University of London show that multitasking can make your IQ drop temporarily. Switch off those notifications during your creative period.
  7. Don’t force it. Often new ideas and thoughts are percolating just below the surface in your subconscious and can be hard to reach. But keep with it. Giving yourself time to live with a problem can inspire new solutions. One helpful suggestion was to write down a list of questions you are interested in and keep it with you. This approach will keep thoughts bubbling around in the back of your mind and help surface those new ideas.
  8. Keep learning and build your memory. Learning and memory exercises can sharpen your creative muscles. Challenge yourself with puzzles, read more fiction, and get your brain working in new ways.
  9. Find new ways to organise your thoughts. You may not know yet how the dots are going to join up, but keeping up to date – and in particular, keeping abreast of new technologies – can disrupt old ways of thinking and stimulate new ideas. I use the tool Evernote to capture and record items of interest.
  10. Observe people and their habits. How do your customers use your products? Why do they do what they do? What else are they doing? Having a better understanding of how your customers engage with your products and how those products fit in with their lives allows you to spot areas for innovation.
  11. Do different things. As Einstein purportedly said: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you want to achieve different outcomes we need to change our behaviour and try new things. Making new connections or joining new networks can stimulate creative thinking. Be bold, try different approaches or strategies.
  12. Be kind to yourself. Don’t be so quick to shoot down your ideas. Turn off the self-criticism and let those ideas flow. The first idea may not be best one but it’s the start of the journey

Take a deep breath. It’s time to invent the Future.


Keynotes from:

  • Dan Saffer of Jawbone @odannyboy
  • Neema Moarveji of Spire @moraveji

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp



The Internet is watching you

With every digital move we make, someone somewhere, is monitoring that activity.

As consumers, we understand to some degree, that this is happening.  Sites like Amazon have been using personal data to make recommendations etc. for some time now. In fact, we are used to being asked questions when we set up profiles and want the information returned be personalised towards our preferences.  We expect sites to remember who we are and what we like.

picture of good v evil
From NJ on Flickr

But do we, as digital users understand how much of our personal information is being tracked and all the purposes it is being used for? And as UX professionals, where do we draw the line between using customer data to create a better user experience and using it to influence user behaviour?

Smart Data

Tracking user data across services and using it to shape the way users engage with products and services is transforming user experiences as we know them.

Take Google for example and how they mine data across apps and services.  Recently when I logged into Google maps the addressfield was pre-populated with an address a friend had recentlytexted me. And Bingo, this was exactly the address I was about to search for.  Google had put 2 and 2 together and come up with 5.

We can see more and more examples of this context related or ‘Just in time ‘data when the right information is presented to the user at the right time and in just the right context.  Often predicting what the user would like to do next and making it easier and quicker for them to do so.

This makes for a quicker more efficient user experience.

Targeted data

We know that User tracking allows companies to target advertising and marketing based on their users’ online activity such as browsing history and search.  Research we undertook at Paddypower showed us that when adverts were shown in context and were relevant to users’ interests, users were less likely even to register that it was an advert but rather saw the marketing as useful information.  A recent example I have seen of this is the Lynda.com. With LinkedIn’s recent acquisition of online training giant Lynda.com they are now able to target learners with more relevant courses based on data mined from users’ LinkedIn activity such as their network or what groups they follow.

Darker Data

Personal Data is big business.

As consumers we regularly input and share our personal information online.  This is generally done in good faith and we expect our information to be both safe and used in an ‘appropriate’ manner. We don’t expect the companies to re-use this information to blatantly retarget us and upsell their products or services. Or worse yet, we don’t expect them to resell or pass on our data to ‘marketing partners’ and/or others.  Take Facebook’s covert ‘emotional research’ project last year, were 1000s of users were unwittingly test research subjects without their knowledge and consent. This provoked an outcry against their unethical use of personal data.

Facebook comprised their users’ trust in their brand. A foolish move when Trust is such a strong currency online. Being upfront and transparent about data collection policies will be paramount in building future loyal customer databases.

Google data policy
Google Data Policy

How can data help us invent the future?

In the Internet of Everything, data will help us to:

  • Create seamless ‘technology ecosystems’; joined up smart experiences across different devices,  platforms and networks
  • Provide just in time, contextual data which will make products and services more pertinent and accessible
  • Harness the power of new technologies that will become more invisible and allow the user to focus more on the experience
  • Build brands that users can identify with, and trust

Not only can we as user experience professionals improve experiences, but smart data will allow us to re-invent those experiences so that they are more immediate, seamless and relevant to our users’ everyday lives.