13 Dec 2017
Ever been labelled as the ‘creative’ person in the room, but found yourself falling dismally short of anything that feels like an original idea?
Preach.
When you work as a designer (or any other creative) people assume you’re the go–to for all exciting new ideas and inputs. Unfortunately, that’s a stigma that’s not going to change any time soon.
Even if we educate people otherwise, establishing a mindful realisation around what creativity actually is, will only makes you look even more like a creative genius with all the answers.
So what’s the solution? Well, it’s elementary, you become an unstoppable creative force…
…At least, that’s what would happen in an ideal world.
But how does that even happen? How do you learn how to be a creative genius when the idea of creativity (in itself) seems shrouded in mystery? Where do good ideas come from and how do we have more of those incredible lightbulb moments?
Well my dear reader, that’s where this handy little pocket guide comes in. It’s a brief (but immediately useful) overview of my years of reading and experimentation around the subject of creativity.
Thankfully, being creative on demand isn’t as tricky as it used to be—and I have this guide to thank for that.
Whenever you’re in doubt or struggling with the creative process, visit this little guide and follow the corresponding ideas and techniques to improve your creativity process.
It’s made a monumental difference to my life (and my sanity too).

All you Need is ISIIVE

Spoiler alert: The entire creative process boils down to a simple little acronym — ISIIVE.
ISIIVE stands for:
  • Insight
    //Understanding the problem at hand
  • Saturation
    //Absorbing information and inspiration
  • Incubation
    //Allowing your mind to piece together ideas
  • Illumination
    //The cliché light bulb moment
  • Verification
    //Filtering solutions and making things work
  • Exploration
    //Moving deeper through ideas and solutions
ISIIVE is a culmination of theories taken from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Betty Edwards, both of which are authors I highly recommend reading from.
ISIIVE has been a shining light in understanding how the creative process works, and how to make the most of it.
It works without fail (dare I say).
As with all theories, ISIIVE isn’t rigid, you’ll find yourself moving through the process in your own unique way based on context and the task at hand.
However, once you’re conscious of the process itself (insert hammer shattering glass) you’ll notice it every time you start a creative task.

It Starts with Insight

Understanding the problem at hand (in great detail) is insight.
Before creativity starts, you need to ask yourself what you’re aiming to change, add value to or solve. Only after you’ve identified the problem are you able to begin questioning it and developing insight.
Insight is an analytical step, so don’t be disheartened if you’re not thinking or finding the answers you need right away. Instead focus on asking more questions.
The more questions you ask, the better your assumptions will be and that in turn will create greater insight into the problem at hand.
Realistically, there are no stupid questions, so if you’re curious about something, ask.
Let’s work through a typical UI/UX problem together using ISIIVE.
Problem
We need to design a checkout process that has a lower abandonment rate. At the moment, people are leaving the checkout process too early and this is affecting our revenue and scalability.
Example QuestionsRemember, the more questions you ask, the better your insight becomes. In the list below, you’ll see that the first few questions are relatively obvious, but become more interesting as you begin digging deeper.
  • Why are customers leaving the process early?
  • When are customers leaving the process?
  • How long do they spend on the process?
  • Is there an issue in the process which is jarring?
  • Is the process too long for customers?
  • Does the process make sense to customers?
  • Are the right customers going through the process?
  • Do they have enough information to finish the process?
  • Is there a problem with the payment methods in the process?
  • Is there a persistent error in the process?
  • Is the product too expensive?
  • What type of process are our customers used to seeing?
  • Is there a checkout flow our customers are used to?
  • Is our flow weird compared to standard checkout processes?
With questions, we start to seek answers and when we start to seek answers we can begin the process of saturation.

Then Comes Saturation

The process of researching and discovering potential ways to solve the problems is saturation.
During saturation you’ll be looking for as much information as possible to solve the problem, and to answer the questions you’ve created during insight.
How do you find information? Research, research and research.
A typical saturation process will involve digging, reading, googling and creating a pile of notes related to the problem in question.
The idea of saturation, is to fill yourself with potential new ideas. Whether that’s through competitor research, creating a Pinterest board or saving a metric ton of PNGs, it doesn’t matter.
What matters, is that you’re conducting relevant research with quality resources, as garbage in, garbage out applies here.
The better the information you saturate yourself with, the better your final outcome and ideas will be.
Example saturation methods
  • Competitor research—what are other people and businesses in the industry doing and why?
  • Topical research—if it’s e-commerce, what are other e-commerce sites doing?
  • Visual and conceptual research— looking through inspiration sites for interesting new ideas (Behance, Dribbble, LAPA, DS)
  • Asking friends—have they seen or had any ideas for this problem before, if so how have they solved it?
  • Asking internet—you’d be surprised how many clever people exist on twitter, reddit and other social sites.
  • Reading online articles and publications—is there any high-level research or interesting insights that could be used here?
  • Offline reading —some of the most valuable design information you’ll ever read can only be found in books, check them out.
  • Revisiting past work—have I solved this problem before? If so, how? Are my solutions contextually relevant?
There’s no time limit on the saturation process other than the time limit you impose on yourself, saturation could be quick or it could be exhaustive.
But, the hint is in the name. Your goal is to learn as much as possible to allow your brain to create new high–level ideas and insights.

Incubation Makes Magic Happen

Often referred to as selective forgetting, incubation is the little rift in time where your brain creates high–quality connections (and ideas) using the information it’s been fed during saturation.
For incubation to take place, you need to step away from the problem—literally.
Take a walk, switch tasks or grab a bite to eat. Incubation cannot happen if you’re rushed off your feet and working your mind overtime.
Ever wondered why your best ideas come to you when you’re about to sleep?
Incubation.
For most of us, sleep is the only time we allow ourselves to stop being busy and incubate ideas. Want good ideas? Respect the process of incubation.
Whether you’re a freelancer or a full-time designer, giving your mind space to think is incredibly important.
Remember, incubation doesn’t need to take hours or days. Anytime spent thinking will move you in a positive direction towards your goals.
Quick ideas for incubation breaks
  • Go for a 30–minute walk
  • Go for a workout
  • Go for lunch or dinner
  • Grab a coffee
  • Sit down and doodle
  • Wash dirty dishes
  • Sweep or vacuum the floor
  • Take a shower
  • Have a power nap
  • Cook lunch or dinner
  • Smell the roses
Whatever you do, allow yourself to consciously step away from the problem.
Yes, you’re busy and yes, there’s deadlines, but I promise that the 30 minutes you’ve spent giving yourself freedom to think will pay 10x in dividends in the future.

Illumination is the Conscious Magic

Spoiler alert #2: the ‘aha! Moment’ isn’t real.
At least, it’s not a stroke of genius as much as it’s a culmination of all the hard work you’ve put together to get to that moment.
Through insight, saturation and incubation, illumination is created.
Why do clever people tend to have lightbulb moments? Because they’re masters of their field and are able to see what is and what isn’t an original new idea.
Depending on how complex the problem you’re solving is (and how much incubation has occurred) will often define how long it’ll take to reach illumination.
Are you able to rush the illumination phase? Yes and no.
If you’ve followed the above process subconsciously, then they’ll be no need to rush (it’ll happen). If you’re using following the above process consciously then yes, you can speed up illumination by focusing on the problem at hand after a short incubation phase.
Example illuminations for the previous insight
Remember the checkout problem we’re solving? Well, now we’ve been through the process, here are some example ideas that we could’ve come up with:
  • We could implement pay with Amazon to reduce the need for the customer to enter additional details
  • We could collect less personal identifying details to speed up the process and reduce friction
  • We could create a one-click checkout for existing customers or account holders from payment gateways
  • We could incentivise users who’ve been on the site for a certain amount of time with a discount code
  • We could allow users to return to the checkout process if they abandon their cart by saving their progress
  • We could add fun animations and illustrations to make the process more bearable and exciting
  • We could create an illusion of a shorter checkout through staggering the larger steps into smaller bitesize steps
  • We could get customer to add some of their delivery information when they add an item to their shopping basket
  • We could get gather some personal details from Google if they’re signed in to their gmail account
  • We could checkout with Stripe or Paypal to shorten the process, mimicking some competitor sites.
Illumination is the part of the creative process that’s most memorable and the part that’ll make you look like a creative genius, so theoretically you could stop here and still look like a super hero.
But, the reality is that it’s still your job to make these creative ideas work, because after all—ideas are easy ;).

Verification is Our Sanity Check

This is the part where your ideas live or die, literally.
Up until now, we’ve focused on the creation of creative ideas, but we’ve not focused on evaluating them—why?
Because creative ideas come from a safe place free from judgement.
Being pre-maturely judgemental halts the process. It makes things stilted, staggered and prevents your best ideas from having the chance to come to life.
Some ideas start as ugly ducklings and need a little time to grow before they become beautiful swans. By judging these ideas too soon, we stop these ideas from manifesting and ultimately, that leads to potentially great ideas being cast aside.
This isn’t to say you should be precious of your stranger ideas, but instead, be mindful that verification is the only part of the process where your ideas should be objectively judged.
Once you have a set of ideas, then it’s time to validate those ideas against the original problem you’re looking solve, and whether or not they solve the problem at hand.
Verification on our ideas listHere’s what an objective verification process looks like based on our previous ideas list.
  • We could implement pay with Amazon to reduce the need for the customer to enter additional details
    //Has potential, we’d need to pay additional fees to Amazon but it’s likely most of our users have an Amazon account
  • We could collect less personal identifying details to speed up the process and reduce friction
    //Again, good idea, there’s no need to collect this information for marketing purposes if we’re not making sales
  • We could create a one-click checkout for existing customers or account holders from payment gateways
    //Doesn’t solve the immediate problem, we need something more global and beneficial for all users
  • We could incentivise users who’ve been on the site for a certain amount of time with a discount code
    //Devaluing the product isn’t necessarily a fix for the checkout process, if a user hasn’t converted after x minutes then value proposition issue
  • We could allow users to return to the checkout process if they abandon their cart by saving their progress
    //Seems intrusive but could work, this is more of a job for the marketing team to test and feedback on though
  • We could add fun animations and illustrations to make the process more bearable and exciting
    //Could work, there’s no harm in adding this in if there’s an appropriate use case for this and it’s not time–consuming
  • We could create an illusion of a shorter checkout through staggering the larger steps into smaller bitesize steps
    //Has potential, but we’d need to do a lot of testing here to get it right, this could be something for later down the line
  • We could get customer to add some of their delivery information when they add an item to their shopping basket
    //This is an interesting idea, if we implement this correctly, it’ll also create an investment effect towards the purchase
  • We could get gather some personal details from Google if they’re signed in to their gmail account
    //Not sure if possible or even how to go about this in a way that isn’t seen as a dark pattern
  • We could checkout with Stripe or Paypal to shorten the process, mimicking some competitor sites.
    //Similar to Amazon, this could work. Paypal wouldn’t require too much additional tweaking to add to the existing checkout flow
Already, it’s clear that verification sets apart the stronger ideas from the weaker ideas.
From here, we’re able to take the better ideas and move them into the final stage of the creative process.

Exploration Creates Abundance

This is where the ideas we’ve verified as possible and plausible solution are implemented.
This process is exciting and often leads to the evolution of new ideas. Why? Because on paper, every good idea could work if it meets set criteria.
Unfortunately (and fortunately) during implementation you’ll run into a whole host of problems that previously never existed.
Now, additional problems aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Creativity tends to thrive under constraints (as long as they exist for the right reasons). So look at the additional challenges during exploration as a way to continue improving your ideas.
Let’s say the most obvious challenge to implementing this solution, is that it’s an extra step for customers to take before the checkout—so, what can we do to make this additional step worthwhile?
  • Implement a system that offers free delivery to the locations of users that bounce the most.
  • Implement a system that offers free delivery to all users once they’ve entered their postcode.
  • Implement a system that checks their postcode, offers free delivery and then autocompletes all address information (as much as possible during the checkout process).
Do you see the evolution of ideas? It’s interesting that from such a simple problem, we’ve managed to create an entirely unique solution which is likely to deliver interesting results.
Exploration never ends, and in a way, the entire ISIIVE process is incredibly circular.
Exploration will bring about new and exciting ideas, as well as new and exciting problems to solve (which ultimately restarts the process).