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5 Exercises That Will Help You Think Like a Designer

Source | INC : By Ayse Birsel

Designers are trained to think differently. How else can you take an old-fashioned idea like knitting and transform it into FlyKnit, a beautiful, cutting edge athletic shoe that eliminates waste by only using the yarn needed to make it (the designers at Nike must have had fun imagining that one). Or the Teavana teapot I use at home which never ceases to amaze guests because the tea comes out the bottom and not from the spout: it doesn’t have a spout! Here are 5 simple designer traits that, when used together, will make you think differently and break age-old preconceptions.

Don’t give up on a problem until you’ve come up with a solution

Designers believe they’ll come up with a better solution, no matter how hard the problem. This optimism drives their creativity. When you’re faced with a tough problem at work, remind yourself that constraints are also opportunities. If stuck, think whether you’ve seen a similar problem in another industry or context.

Steve Jobs did this when he took the magnetic power clip from Japanese rice cookers and applied it to Apple laptops. Very different industries (computers and cooking), same need (avoid a fall). So identify your problem and look for it in other contexts, and when you find it, use the solution as inspiration for your particular context. You’ll be cross-fertilizing your way to a solution!

Put yourself in the shoes of others

Designing often means solving problems that you don’t personally have–learning toys for toddlers, breast pumps for new moms, knives for chefs–without being a child, a mom, or a professional chef. You can only do this if you have deep empathy for the other person, the person who is in need.

Sam Farber, founder of OXO brand of handheld products, was inspired to create kitchen gadgets with a more comfortable handle after he saw how difficult it was for his wife to peel potatoes because of her arthritis. Be on the lookout for the pain points people experience throughout the day, imagine what they’re going through and think about how you could solve them.

Think holistically

Often, people think that they need to spend hours jotting ideas down on paper to come up with the best solution to their problem. But focusing on the problem creates a sort of tunnel vision, you can’t see beyond what you know. It helps to take a step back and see the big picture.

I give my students at School of Visual Arts (SVA) the following exercise: break chicken soup into its parts across emotion, physical, intellect and spirit.

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