Design

Be the Cat and Use Your Constraints

Take advantage of constraints • Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

In one of Aesop’s fables, a Fox and a Cat travel together. The Fox brags to the Cat that he knows a hundred ways of escaping a situation, while the cat constrains himself to only one. Suddenly, the Fox and the Cat are spooked by the sound of a hunter’s bugle and the unleashing of a pack of hunting dogs. The Cat uses their one way of escaping. They scramble straight up the nearest tree for survival. The Fox pauses to consider every possible scenario and gets caught by the dogs in the process.

Similarly, I was almost caught by the dogs.

After a few years creating within established guidelines for mobile software,  I got my first assignment for a website redesign. I froze. Mobile guidelines are fairly strict and support a series of built-in tools and interactions. They exist so that users associate interactions with the brand. Apple wants behaviors to be unified on an iPhone and Android wants a baseline experience for their users as well.

But a website could be anything!  How do I build for a platform where there are so many possibilities? To be honest, I didn’t even know where to begin.

Learn from Constraints

Aesop’s lesson in “The Fox and the Cat” is more popularly known today as analysis paralysis. The feeling of being able to do anything was keeping me from doing something. It wasn’t a very productive headspace to live in, so I talked to a co-worker with more web design experience than me. They pointed out that I was actually working with more constraints than I was giving the project credit for.

Schedule, resources, and budget constrained what I could do. Because of that, my limitless options were no longer limitless. A look at what the user expectations were for websites within that industry, confined by timeline and budget, gave me a strong direction on how to begin.

One of the things we’re enjoying at Rocksauce about design thinking is there’s simply no room in the process for analysis paralysis. The structured exercises and discussions keep moving forward toward solutions. As a result, we limit our options for the reality of the project. We’re all running up the tree, whether we’re cats or not. 

Trust the Design Thinking Process

At our free workshops, we take groups of strangers and see them come up with designs in industries that often have nothing to do with their fields. These activities fully illustrate the usefulness of design thinking. Everyone gets the same problem to solve and no one flounders with how to begin, because we equip them with design exercises and direction that inspire creative movement.

Because of design thinking, we avoid being caught by the dogs. We define the issue or problem, reduce the solutions to that issue through any known constraints, and pinpoint any fears that should be directly addressed in the solution. It’s all in one field-tested practice, not hundreds. In my own example, a confusing website needed to be clarified. I came up with ideas that fit within my allotted time frame and development budget, and I addressed fears by using as much clarity in language and design interactions as possible. To sum it up, design thinking was the right solution all along.

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