Using the Network as a Design Tool

 I’ve got a lot more thoughts on this, and I’ll be working them up to share with the whole class soon enough. In the meantime I’d like to try them out on here, with a UX/UI focus.

In a tutorial yesterday I was working with Andy Chu to help establish a strategy for both finding a live brief, and for developing and informing the brief through network research, micro-projects/experiments, and evaluation.

This is often a much more solid strategy than looking for a ready-made brief: It’s more likely to mean that you’re really involved in developing the brief, that it’s something you feel invested in, and that you’re able to develop the skills that you need as an expert-level designer.

Andy has started making good steps in developing his professional network, attending a few professional events over the last week: a Birmingham Innovation Centre presentation, a UX MeetUp group, and a Maker Monday—all free events, and some with free food ;-) We reckon he’s made about 10 reasonable professional contacts, and at least one or two of them are interesting starting points for briefs.

None of these are real briefs yet—they’re mostly just ideas, but they provide a starting point for development.

Here’s an example: One of the people Andy met has a plan to develop an app/service to connect medical professionals and patients. Andy had some initial thoughts on the kinds of situations where this makes more sense (long-tern care patients for example).

With something like this it’s important not to rush to a brief, but to spend some time looking at the broad ‘market’. Think about the different Live Network categories—course team, researchers, practitioners, companies, and customers—and how each of those can give you more information on the market/problem you’re looking to explore and address.

About thirty minutes’ work yesterday afternoon established a bunch of useful connections:  A User Research PhD student who’s part of the UX MeetUp group, an established UK company creating healthcare apps that let patients see a doctor on their phone, a job description for UX product designers in healthcare that describes clearly the process they use in creating solutions, a regional website that lists new solutions/ideas for the healthcare market (along with clear requirements and links to the people involved), and some obvious university connections in the Health faculty that could become “clients” or advisors on a live brief. This could easily become a ‘team’ to help Andy create and develop a brief for the healthcare market.

Of course, Andy might decide that he doesn’t want to specialise in the healthcare area, but that’s ok. It’s much better to start work and later try something different than to sit around waiting for the ‘perfect’ brief. Any brief that lets us develop our professional skills is a good brief, and the more real we can make it, the better..