The Workshopping Skill

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How do you cultivate a wildly productive generative engine of design creativity. Especially one detached from your ego?

Design in this case means coming up with plans and specs for the thing you are making that fits the resource constraints. And the process of workshopping designs is where a designer coming up with multiple design solutions for the same problem and iterates upon them to better fit the constraints.

Steps in the workshopping process

  • Step 0: Play the game. Talk to folks in art, engineering, qa and production. Try to understand their concerns and issues.
  • Step 1: Write down your list of constraints and goals
  • Step 2: Come up with an idea that you believe in absolutely. That solves all the constraints. And delivers wonderful value. You’ve done it!
  • Step 3: Now put that intense passion aside! Socialize the design. Listen to misunderstanding. Come to terms with its flaws. What resonates? What do people start automatically building off?
  • Step 4: Do it all over again! Pick a new SEED, something out of all those chats that resonated with people. Build an entirely new solution around it.
  • Step N: Do this many more times! Until you’ve got a robust, doable idea that excites folks.

Easy, eh?

Tips

Some tips I’ve found that help do this well.

  • Be bold: Early on each new design can be wildly different. Cover a broad design space so you are working from a plentiful space.
  • Be safe: Cultivate a group of people you can share crazy ideas with in a safe fashion. If you don’t feel safe, you’ll struggle to be bold.
  • Be sure to fall in love: You need to sell this idea and provide design leadership around it. This could be the idea you ship! You should feel the Thrill when you describe it.
  • Take each idea two to three steps past obvious: First, think of the obvious thing. Now think of the next step beyond that.
  • Learn to fall out of love: Be comfortable putting your passion to the side. You can always make more beautiful ideas. You are infinite generative fire. No need to be precious. No need to get defensive.
  • When ideas start to converge, don’t settle for Frankenstein’s monster; a series of random parts stuck together by consensus. You want synthesis, not composition. A good idea’s elements supports the whole. A good idea generates more solutions, not more problems.
  • Make space: This process takes time. Give yourself the space to iterate.

Practicing the process

There are also things to practice. This is a skill you get better at over years.

  • Being faster: How quickly can you solve the constraints, fall in love, get feedback and do it all over again?
  • Being broader: Are your ideas crazy enough? Are you letting your brain be unhinged?
  • Listening: Does your listener’s face light up? What prompted them? Write that down! Can you riff off it? It could be a new seed.
  • Elegance: Solving more constraints with fewer pieces. Can you quickly come up with tight solutions to big problems? Learn to draw the goldfish with single stroke of your pen.
  • Converging: Knowing when to stop. Knowing when you’ve found the unifying thread.
  • Collaborating: The best ideas often involve a game of tennis where you bounce ideas off key collaborators. And you learn with each pass until something clicks.

Who created the final result? It doesn’t matter. Game design is a team sport and we are in this together.

– Danc.

(This was originally a Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/danctheduck/status/1550224208566767616)

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