Reflection on UX Australia Conference 2016 – Creativity and Collaboration

5 Common Misconceptions About UX

Sarah Tse

UX Consultant 

UX Australia is an annual event for UX professionals in the Asia-Pacific region. I attended my very first UX Australia conference in Melbourne this year. It was an eye opening experience. During the two-day conference, I attended over 15 presentations from UX professionals around the word. The opening keynote by Denise Jacobs about co-creation was particularly powerful, and has gone a long way to releasing me from my own fears of ‘creativity’.

First, she stressed that ‘Creativity is not equivalent to arts, it is the ability to bring something new, the ability to see and make new patterns’. I certainly was of the belief that creativity only belonged to certain types of people, like artists or designers. However, Denise reminded me artists are perceived as more creative because they are constantly bringing something new into the world. Being creative does not mean I must be artistic. To me it was one of the ‘aha’ moment in the conference, as I often tell myself I am not ‘that creative’ as I know little about operating adobe suits, or creative design. However, the way Denise defined creativity seemed realistic and achievable. I now believe everyone has to ability to be creative.

Denise mentioned a few tips to unleash creativity that I found useful. The first and the most important one was ‘Unblock the FEARS’. Denise referred to fear as ‘False Evidence Appearing Real’. Very often we have different fears, like fear of ideas being criticised, fear of being judged, fear of not being perfect, not being enough, and fear of making mistakes or not being up to certain standards of quality. This is where we get trapped by our own thinking. These fears become the mental blocks inhibiting us from seeing alternatives. We make assumptions and approach a problem from this premise, and thus limit our creativity to flourish. When I reflect on myself, I realise I am affected by these fears. As a consultant who is still building up my experience in UX consulting, I often second guess myself looking for the correct answer or making the right decision. However, in UX consulting, a lot of time there is not single correct solutions, it’s more about how to solve the problem that creates win-win situation, balancing the business and users needs. To mitigate the internal fears, Denise suggested to adopt an experimenting mindset, rather than an implementing mindset. An implementing mindset drives people to get it right and avoid making mistakes, on the other hand, an experimenting mindset allows us to freely explore different possibilities.

The second tip I found useful was around the concept of ‘CONNECT’. Denise talked about creativity being linear, where ‘more people results in more creativity’. We don’t need to have all the ideas, and we never do. Therefore, we should avoid keeping ideas to ourselves. Be generous and share your ideas with the team, as this will spark other brilliant ideas to flow. On the flip side, being able to listen is as important as sharing. Active listening is an important soft skill which allows us to connect with one another. By paying attention to the people we talk to, and relaxing our own agenda, we establish better connections with others, allowing creativity to flow.

Thirdly, the concept of ‘COMBINE’ is another way we can co-create. As we all have distinctive backgrounds and upbringings, we can complement each other, and stimulate diverse ideas. Different studies have shown diversity is a crucial element for group creativity. When people are brought together to solve problems in groups, they bring different information, opinions and perspectives. In user experience, professionals come from all walks of life and disciplinary backgrounds. We have UX practitioners who started as truck drivers to industrial designers, psychologist, archaeologist etc. This diversity enables us to better understand and empathise with our users, and design an interface that optimises the experience. By including diverse team members, we can acquire diverse ideas, leading to co-creation flow.

In order to facilitate connectivity and creativity in organisations, Denise mentioned a crucial tip, ‘CONSTRUCTS’. A constructive culture and workplace helps us to create collaboratively. For instance, a culture that enable people to ‘think out loud’ and let those seemingly stupid ideas to flow can spark ideas and creativity. As listeners, we should encourage our colleagues by accepting the offer and enhancing it with ‘Yes, and…’ rather than ‘no…but’. Also, creating physical space for collaboration, like ideas wall and collaboration desks will help with co-creation.

My biggest take-away lesson from Denise’s sharing was ‘Creativity and collaboration work hand in hand’. By creating a collaborative, diverse and constructive culture in our workplace, we are unleashing our ability to be creative. I am so glad Sitback Solutions is an organisation that encourage team work and thinking outside of the box. Despite the relatively small company size, we have a diverse culture where employees come from more than 10 countries. I believe this variety helps us to generate ideas from multiple angles and unleash creativity. Further, the relaxed yet productive working culture saw Sitback rank #18 in Best Places to Work in Australia (2016), and win Sydney Business of the Year (2016).