Saturday, July 4, 2015

How to Design Like an Imagineer

The Artistic Engineer with Mouse Ears
In my previous post I outlined the steps of Design Thinking, in the context of Imagineering:
  • Identify specific customer needs with Storytelling
  • Generate ideas with Blue Sky Brainstorming
  • Test and Learn about ideas with Rapid Prototyping
  • Pay attention to the details
  • Plus it up to exceed customer expectation
In this post I'm going to reveal a way for almost anyone to develop the traits of an Imagineer or at least figure out how many of them you may already have.


If you do a web search on "How do I become an Imagineer?" Google will currently return about 5400 results, some of which are actually written by former Imagineers, like Bob Gurr, who said;

"You have to have an inherent internal drive within you that has always encompassed a range of characteristics that I think most successful Imagineers were born with. Characteristics that one might not be able to purchase in college."

Bob then went on to say that the Imagineers he has known have had three things in common;

1) Permanent curiosity about everything
2) Fearless creativity
3) The ability to clearly express themselves in words and drawings.

Let's look at each of these and one way to learn them;

Permanent Curiosity about Everything

"The most important characteristic is to be permanently curious about everything, especially about stuff you don’t know, and stuff that does not seem relevant at the time."

Bob's advice to be permanently curious about everything is significant. This is one of the core principles of deep creativity. The more raw material (ideas) there are to work with, the greater the number of possible combinations. In addition, the hidden links between seemingly unrelated things (the ambiguities and unknowns) often contain the seeds of break-thru creative solutions.

One example of this is IDEO's Deep Dive Process.  Developing deep relevant knowledge is also the first step towards what Bloom's Taxonomy calls the Creating phase, where information can be put together in innovative ways. Walt Disney exhibited this sort of behavior constantly. It is also a fundamental trait of babies and children.  That is why DT recommends adopting the mindset of a novice.

Fearless Creativity

"Not being afraid to show others a dumb idea. Maybe it will lead to something practical."

Dozens of authors have written about the importance of overcoming fear. In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review David Kelley commented:

"Students often come to Stanford University’s “” to develop their creativity. Clients work with IDEO, our design and innovation consultancy, for the same reason. But along the way, we’ve learned that our job isn’t to teach them creativity. It’s to help them rediscover their creative confidence—the natural ability to come up with new ideas and the courage to try them out. We do this by giving them strategies to get past four fears that hold most of us back: 

1) Fear of the messy unknown
2) Fear of being judged
3) Fear of the first step
4) Fear of losing control.

Express ideas in both words and drawings

"Imagineers have the ability to clearly express themselves in words and drawings."

Visual Thinking - the ability to conceptualize in both images and words - is a key aspect of creativity. Artists and engineers both use their abilities to create images. It is the merging of these two skills which creates the Storyteller, who uses words and images to connect on a deep emotional level with the audience. This is something Disney has excelled at for decades and is also key element of Design Thinking.

Focus on the user at every step of the value chain

This one is so powerful it should probably have been stated first. Great Design, which seems like magic to the customer, comes from responding in a deep, empathic way, to guests' unexpressed needs. Its what enables the "How did they know I needed that?" moment of delight. This focus is often targeted at the end user, but the truth is the process starts with the very next person in your value chain - the person you deliver your work product to. Skip them - or anyone else - along the way and the quality of the end product will be reduced because someone's needs were overlooked or ignored.

So, how can you buff up your creativity toolbox and at least act like an Imagineer? Simple! Use the same methods to enhance your creative process. Fortunately, there are sources you can turn to for lots of free high quality guidance, provided you are willing to call the toolkit by a different name;

Human Centered Design Toolkit - (IDEO) 154 pages 34.4 MB pdf download

Use our Methods - ( - "a collection of methods for folks new to design thinking."

Creative Confidence - Excerpts from the book

Rapid Viz - (Download/buy) The classic introduction to rapid drawing techniques

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