What I learned from participating in a design jam
A couple months ago I participated in a design jam to revamp the website of a local nonprofit theater for children. I had participated in a few others before (Google wanted us to design a greenhouse app/service, which was pretty cool - plus they gave us crayons!), but I admit this was the first one where my coursework had sunk in enough to where I could incorporate that information. I won't go into too much detail, I just want to highlight a few reactions:
1) Design jams are fun! I love the ideation process. I love flexing my creative muscles and seeing the same from my teammates. It really reinforces my preference for team-based work (at least design) because brainstorming with a group allows for multiple perspectives and dissenting opinions that will lead to better planned, more thought-out designs.
2) Speed comes with experience. We only had 90 minutes or so to go through the entire design process and come up with a quick mockup. While my team finished our draft in the allotted time, we spent way too much time arguing (discussing) some areas of the design and were forced to rush the rest. The more we do these projects, the better we'll be at articulating our thoughts and the faster we'll be at iterating our design and adding and subtracting ideas. The contentious part was how to organize the IA of the site, which leads me to the next point:
3) User Research is important. Something as simple as a card sorting or binning exercise might have helped. Even if it was just among my team, and didn't include outside participants, it would have helped us ascertain what needed to be grouped together. We did examine other theater websites for some guidance, but there is enough variety that it didn't prove beneficial in the time that we had. Of course the actual team who works on this project can spend some time doing better and more user research to really figure out what is important to the theater, what information they want to convey to their users, and what information users value. This is important because even though we think we might know what a parent or teacher might want from a theater, we are not parents or teachers, and we are already clouding our judgement with bias.
4) I want to work on both design and research. There are a lot of beautiful designs out there, but many of them create horrible experiences for their users because there is no research to guide the design. I want to bridge that gap and make sure that designs are informed by solid research and are focused on the users.