Cross Your Arms to Learn the 5 Steps of Creative Design

Are you creating a new product, writing an article, designing an advertisement or making a website?

Please cross your arms. Now, cross them the other way — the way that feels funny.

Human-centered design is all about creating designs for the first way that you crossed your arms, the way that feels natural. This means that a designer studies the user and creates a design to work in a way that is natural and doesn’t require a user to learn a new way to cross their arms.

Step 1: Observing

Get to know your target user by spending time with them and observing their habits and behavior much like an anthropologist would study people in a new culture.

Step 2: The Next Big Thing

You watch the target user going through their daily activities with an open mind to the problems, obstacles and hitches they encounter. Avoid the tendency to focus on the issues related to the product that you are designing because observing with a wider focus enables you to see product or design ideas that were not part of your original objective — i.e., the next big thing like the iPhone.

iphone the next big thingStep 3: Testing Your Design

Next, brainstorm as many possible design ideas that will improve your user’s way of doing things. You reserve judgement and push for as many ideas as possible.

Then, later (let the session percolate in your subconscious a few days), you pick the best designs from your list and built them as prototypes for testing with the users. Apple is famous for this testing approach when they video taped people using prototypes of their Macintosh operating system. The video even showed test subjects flipping off the computer in early tests of the Apple software.

Your design must fit the needs of the user, or else the user will change your design to fit their needs such as when confusing controls in a nuclear power plant were replaced with beer-keg handles.

Step 4: The Power of Marketing

When your design is finished, it is your duty to use the power of marketing (books about sales & marketing) to spread the word and change the world. If you designed a better way of teaching, it is your obligation to get the word out to help the millions of students who suffer (e.g., low self-esteem) from the old ways of teaching. Now that you have built it, you cannot expect them to come — you must go to your users and sell them on your new and better way.

Step 5: Getting the Word Out

Getting the word out means knowing where to find your users. The robber Willie Sutton knew where to find what he was after when he said, “I rob banks because that is where the money is.” Next, put your message into the language of the users just as Martin Luther (the creator of the The Protestant Church) did when he translated the Bible from Latin into the language of the people to popularize religion. Finally, deliver your message.


Remember, the first step in design and marketing is to get to know your target user. Follow the Naive American saying, “Great Spirit, help me never to judge another until I have walked a mile in their moccasins.”

Native American ChiefOr, from the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from their point of view . . . until you climb into their skin and walk around in it.”

When applied to sales, this concept was expressed as, “If you listen, your customers will tell you what it takes to sell them.” by Tim Connor in his book “Soft Sell: The New Art of Selling.”

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