One of Design’s greatest super powers is to ask “what if” and produce concepts that visualize this quandary.
When we require Design to justify its work with the Big 3 — business priorities, roadmap scope, and data — we marginalize this super power and relegate Design to a reactive role. Yes, the Big 3 should drive most of Design’s work but not all of it. The most magical outputs sometimes come from the most unjustified inputs.
Here are a few ways you can create space for What Ifs.
1. Set aside time once or twice a year for the entire team to gather and explore What Ifs together. A week is usually sufficient. To some extent you will need to leverage the Big 3 to justify the “time off” with your peers, but with enough notice it can be received as well as a hackathon (which is essentially an engineering What If).
2. Don’t use the word “sprint”. Come up with another term to describe What If time. With my previous team I asked them to use “Design Jam” for divergent exploration with an unknown outcome and “Design Sprint” for convergent acceleration toward a known outcome.
3. Challenge your team to spend time on What Ifs as a more routine part of their job. It doesn’t need to be a ton of time. It might be as simple as asking in design critique “hey have you explored how you might design this for the user if X constraint were removed?”
4. If you are a Design leader it is your privilege and responsibility to help your leadership peers understand this super power. You are at a disadvantage as a business if you’re not leveraging it.
Because EVERYONE is designing with the Big 3 as their rationale. And the companies where What Ifs are actively being explored? That’s where the real innovation is happening.