It begins with sticky notes: everyone in the room has been given five minutes, maybe ten, to scribble their ideas down, a few minutes more tacking them up on the wall, and then talking through each one—an example might be a suggestion for a new feature or a product. Another ten minutes is then spent grouping all these stickies into categories (for reasons beyond my comprehension). And most of the time there’s ten or more people in that room, which is always a very bad idea.
But here’s the thing: nothing good has ever come out of a design brainstorm. If they work for you, that’s neat—please tell me how to make them better. But before you do, think for a little bit about what shipped because of all those brainstorms.
I’ll bet not a single damn thing.
From my experience the best work has always come out of incredibly small teams; one, two, or three people working intensely close together. That’s when the best work takes place—in all that friction between small batches of friendly antagonists—not this “design thinking” nonsense that is a practice rife throughout Silicon Valley.
There are infinite books, blog posts, podcasts, and TED talks—each ranting about how vital these sticky notes are to the survival of our species. But these meetings are not much more than ego-propellent; designed for managers to feel as if they’re contributing to something useful, and for ex-designers to sell a bunch of joyless books.
How do you fix design brainstorms? Break them! Cancel the dang meeting, kick a bunch of people out of the room, and then give your team the autonomy to do the right thing. Ignore the growing industry of con artists and snake-oil salesmen. And don’t invite the Big and Important Design Person who has an embarrassing Twitter bio to speak (I’m a recovering digital nomad. Previously: Design Architect at Twitter, Chief Design Wizard at Square, Genius Inventor of the Hashtag). Ignore everyone that is trying to sell you the latest trend of putting sticky notes on a wall and calling it Extreme Design Thinking™. It doesn’t work.
What works is caring intensely for small teams instead.
(Wow, I really need to go for a walk huh.)