Episode 4


Thoughts on creativity, innovation and intuition in design09 July, 2020

Show notes

In this week's episode I share my thoughts on creativity, intuition and introduce the terms 'Quantitative Design' and 'Qualitative Design'.


  • Welcome subscribers 👋
  • Introduce #QuickCuppa format 🍵
  • I talk about the Free Stickers giveaway, open to everyone! 😎
  • Share thoughts on creativity 👩‍🎨


The following doesn’t necessarily directly apply to UI design, but I think it’s important to keep in mind as I continue through this exploration into creativity.

  • Firstly, design can begin with the recognition of societal changes or trends. This involves listening carefully to users’ voices and needs. This can be called ‘demand-driven’ or ‘needs-led’ design.
  • Secondly, design can begin with discovery or development in science, technology or the arts. This can be called ‘genesis-driven’ design. Example being a new platform or media type: app design etc.
  • Thirdly, design can begin with the generation of a product idea aimed at bridging the gap between demand and genesis.
  • These three approaches are not mutually exclusive, and they can and usually are applied in parallel. Both demand and genesis are essential for design, and in actual cases of breakthrough design, the three approaches are often integrated.

Types of creativity in innovation

  • The first type of creativity is the out-of-the-box or outside-the-box creativity that generates ideas which depart from what is believed to be common sense (conventional, preconceived notions or ‘wisdom’). An essential part of this type of creativity lies in successfully eliminating preconceived notions, and breaking down the wall of fixation.
  • This term design fixation refers to the designer’s reluctance (or inability, in some cases) to consider multiple strategies to formulate and solve a design need. The design fixation phenomenon severely limits creativity and results in pedestrian design solutions. It is essential for designers to move past fixation to realise potential and create remarkable solutions.
  • 9 Dots Problem.
  • The other type of creativity is demonstrated in a concept of connecting seemingly unrelated ideas, knowledge or technologies. A typical example is the original Macintosh computer, a product of combining graphical user interfaces (GUI), at the time under development at Xerox, within a small form factor. Steve Jobs famously said, ‘Creativity is just connecting things’.

Video demonstrating the '9 Dots Problem'

Quantitative and qualitative design

Qualitative vs Quantitative

Data typeConsists descriptions and statements that are measured and expressed subjectivelyConsists of objective information that can be measured and expressed numerically
ExampleThis car makes me feel important, and the burgundy interior is soft and luxuriousThis car has 12 windows, eight wheels and the interior uses 100 metres of leather
Questions answeredWhy?How many, how much?
GoalsBoth formative and summative:
- inform design decisions
- identify usability issues and find solutions for them
Mostly summative:
- evaluate the usability of an existing design trend
- track usability over time
- Compare design with competitors or previous iteration through consistent metrics
When it is usedAnytime: during redesign, or when you have a final working productWhen you have a working product (either at the beginning or end of a design cycle)
OutcomeFindings based on the designer’s impressions, intuition, and experienceStatistically meaningful results that are likely to be replicated in a different study
Methodology- Few participants
- Flexible study conditions that can be adjusted according to the team’s needs
Think-aloud protocol
- Many participants
- Well-defined, strictly controlled study conditions
- Usually no think-aloud

Quantitative design

Mass produced and community-led design, which are iterative in nature and follow the trends and are seen as design ‘standards’. These aren’t radical, and as such are easy to replicate. They are safe, efficient, tested and validated forms of design. They are the outcome and formalisation of qualitative design, and they bring society or users, quantitative change.

Examples in UI would be things like ‘flat design’ or the overuse of Twitter’s Bootstrap or Google’s Material UI. I don’t mean to undermine the importance of quantitative design, on the contrary, I believe because of its battle tested existence it affords the user of these tools freedom to experiment within its boundaries, and free of the fixation often associated with qualitative design i.e. you can just get things done quickly and be safe in the knowledge that the end result will at least be cohesive in its aesthetic. These are powerful tools for prototyping products and ideas.

Qualitative design

Qualitative innovation gives birth to products and new design language that can realize new lifestyles or lead to the creation of new cultures. For example, the smartphone and app design has led to entirely new ways of consuming content, interacting with friends and family, producing work or conducting business and communicating with colleagues. These changes have in turn had cultural impact, influencing the way we exist in society e.g. one can still consider being connected with friends/family/colleagues despite not physically being in the same location.

Another example from smartphones is the pinch-in/pinch-out manipulations on the screen to zoom in and out. This is not a manipulation that humans perform in the natural world, but we can perform them quite naturally. We have only recently come to adopt these manipulations as a result of technological development and UI design. Doesn’t this mean that the smartphone has not only realized convenience and operational efficiency but also broadened the scope of what feels natural for us, thus offering a new meaning to society?

As for an applicable example in UI design, we can look to bleeding-edge experimental interface design: neumorphism. Initially disregarded as a fad, Apple has begun the transition to this in Big Sur.


Neumorphism (aka neomorphism) is a relatively new design trend and a term that's received a healthy amount of buzz lately. It's aesthetic is marked by minimal and real-looking UI that's akin to a new take on skeuomorphism — thus the name. However it doesn’t seek to replicate the real world as skeuomorphism did - it seeks to give interfaces a life-like experience through the use of light, shadow and gradients: all used to emulate depth.

Will this new form of UI design influence the implementation of current and new technologies to create a tactile experience for the smartphone user? One can imagine a future where the screen becomes fully tactile and affords ‘blind’ interaction, much like that of traditional remote control, or a much greater societal benefit could be to allow the blind or those with visual disabilities to learn to use apps based upon tactile feedback; when in disability mode, there could be a fixed layout that can be learned with a high degree of accuracy. This is an exciting possibility, and one that I hope comes to fruition. This could be realised thanks to the three dimensional aesthetic which defines neomorphism itself.

Why is qualitative innovation design important, and why does it perpetuate? I believe that exploring and experimenting with UI design paradigms can awaken emotions and sensibilities within us; that without this form of qualitative experimentation would lie unexplored and unawakened i.e. qualitative shifts in design can affect user experience and engagement in ways currently unexplored, and ultimately lead to new forms of interaction that will eventually become natural or ‘second nature’ to society. My brief thought experiment on the societal benefit for those with disabilities is a good example of this.

Intuition or gut feeling

Intuition or gut feeling is said to play an important role in decision-making. Steve Jobs spoke of the importance of believing in one’s intuition, saying, "And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition".

What, then, is intuition or gut feeling?

A dictionary definition describes ‘intuition’ as ‘the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning,’ and ‘gut feeling’ as ‘a feeling or reaction based on an instinctive emotional response rather than considered thought.’

Many studies have been conducted on the phenomena of intuition and these studies discuss intuition in connection with things like analytical process, unconscious thought, decision-making, tacit knowledge, problem solving, expertise, and experience.

One can think of intuition as pragmatically touching on existing elements, you organically combine them in a flash of insight for a new discovery, compared to ‘expert intuition,’ which is effective in solving similar problems faster and faster by recognizing their patterns as you get better at your job. We can define ‘intuition’ as ‘that which enables instantaneous decision-making following patterns recognized based on one’s experience’.

Intuition is obviously not the ‘end’ in the creative process, it’s a constantly changing body of ‘knowledge’ and expertise. It is updated and its models refined by one's constant increase in expertise and knowledge through one's ongoing process of practicing one’s ‘art’. This feedback cycle is essential in becoming an expert or a ‘senior’ designer.

This isn’t to say that simply practicing one’s skill will lead to better intuition. We have to factor in external influences as well, and by this I mean exposure to trends and the collective visual landscape that we work in.

Intuition, expertise and trends are fundamentally linked and are the essential ingredients for creativity and good design.


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