Saturday, August 18, 2012

Design Principles for Tools that Support Creative Thinking

I recently read an academic paper about design principles that should be considered if you want to build tools that support creative thinking.  Creative thinking is kinda important.  I'll summarize and interpret what I thought were good points in a sort of random, note-like style.

Features you should have in your user interface:
  1. Rapid discovery of your content through search, navigation, etc. (most would agree)
  2. Visualization of the model you're composing to improve understanding.  You should be able to see and navigate your model.  This implies that you should be able to see the connections between all parts of your model.
  3. Enable users to easily create alternatives and make productive choices (creativity is about options wherever options are valid in the model!)
  4. Fast evaluation of alternatives (presumes the ability to create and visualize alternatives)
  5. Rapid prototyping.  Ability to try stuff out (quickly sketch out the concepts of the domain). Prototype the concepts of your domain. 
  6. It should be easy to change all aspects of the design (as long as those changes are valid).  Can we call this model liquidity?
  7. Pleasurable and fun (Jonah Lehrer adds a fascinating insight to this concept in Imagine:  How Creativity Works--pleasure stimulates the right brain and results in more remote associations which are key to innovation.  Another words, there's a deeper reason for making productivity tools fun.)
  8. Easily share your content for feedback
Many creative thinking tools are composition tools:  they allow you to compose something whether that something is artistic, an abstract model of something physical (architecture of a house), or an abstract model of an abstract thing (a business model)

When developing tools, the criteria should not be just usability (easy to learn,  easy to do)  because
the tools that people use strongly affect their course of action and their thought processes.
--for good and for ill.  Incidently, the debate about the effect of the internet on our minds begins with this assumption and explores the depth of the Internet's influence.  See Nick Carr's The Shallows for a history of tools and their influence.

If you can't be useful, at least don't be harmful.  The authors of Design Principles for Tools to Support Creative Thinking cite a study that showed some composition tools (CAD tools used by architects) are actually obstructive to the creative process.  We have to seriously ask the question, "Is our tool harmful?"

Low threshold, high ceiling, wide walls.  A tool should have a low threshold (novice can use), a high ceiling (experts with sophisticated products can use), and wide walls (you can do a lot of things with the tool--lego bricks can create anything brickable).  To have wide walls, you have to select the right primitives.



1 comment:

  1. I REALLY like this. Well said. "Low threshold, high ceiling, wide walls. A tool should have a low threshold (novice can use), a high ceiling (experts with sophisticated products can use), and wide walls (you can do a lot of things with the tool--lego bricks can create anything brickable). To have wide walls, you have to select the right primitives".

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