100 User Experience (UX) Design and Evaluation Methods for Your Toolkit
This is the 5th in a series of 100 short articles about UX design and evaluation methods. Today’s method is called metaphor brainstorming. Metaphor brainstorming is a powerful complement to traditional brainstorming. You can use metaphor brainstorming to explore ideas for the conceptual model for your product, to uncover missing requirements, generate visual metaphors for interface icons, or generate alternative design solutions.
Method 5 of 100: Metaphor Brainstorming
Metaphor brainstorming is a technique that I first encountered at a CHI conference tutorial that described visual thinking. One of the exercises involved the use of metaphor brainstorming to generate design ideas, attributes of products, and potential requirements. The concept of metaphor and its application in interface design (e.g, the computer desktop, windows, file cabinets, timelines, and rooms) fascinated me and I became a strong advocate of metaphor brainstorming as a way to “think outside the box”. I’ve been using this method for over 20 years.
"A metaphor is a word, sound, image, or a physical or virtual concept that helps people understand a system and that describes one thing in terms of another."
From this definition we can define a user interface as a “desktop”, an online store as an “art gallery” or a powered-down state as “hibernation”. We can apply the physical concept of “friction” to the fluidity of a user interface. The use of metaphor is so embedded in our design thinking that we often fail to realize how much it influences our design decisions.
When to Use:
Metaphor brainstorming is useful when:
- You want to explore ideas for a conceptual model.
- You want to investigate some general issues that might face users and designers of a new product.
- You want to define branding attributes or branding “personality.”
- You are generating requirements for a system.
- Choose a topic for the metaphor brainstorming session.
- Provide a short briefing on the use of metaphor in design and provide some examples to prime your audience. Provide a set of ground rules on brainstorming.
- Assign homework related to the topic. You might ask people to write down some ideas or to look through magazines or do a Google Search for metaphors.
- Brainstorm a set of metaphors where the basic question is: What metaphors might give us ideas about…..?
- Let’s say you were interested in improved security for your product.
- You would ask “What security metaphors might provide ideas or insights about how to improve security in our product?
- Your brainstorming might yield metaphors like: vaults, keys, locks, overhead surveillance, passwords, challenges, image recognition, laser beams, facial recognition, background checks, biometrics, and motion sensors. These source metaphors can then be analyzed and deconstructed to see how they can be applied to your project.
- Choose a set of the metaphors that you generated in your first session and then conduct a deconstruction session where you break the metaphor into objects, attributes, and processes or tasks. Let’s say that you were asking a question about storing large amounts of information that you also want to make accessible and your brainstorming yielded the word museum. If you “deconstruct” museum, you might come up with the following list.
- From this list you might take promising concepts and see if they prompt ideas for features, requirements, or product attributes.
- Take the data from the deconstruction session and use it to generate ideas for possible product requirements and attributes.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
+ Metaphor brainstorming is a variation on group brainstorming so participants can grasp the general procedures quickly
+ Metaphor brainstorming is fun. Participants can express ideas from personal areas of interest as well as work areas.
+ Metaphor brainstorming can be used to generate organizing metaphors for a product (e..g, the desktop, rooms, trees), images for icons, requirements, and features.
- The method is not documented in many easily accessible places. The UPA Body of Knowledge Preview site has a short entry on metaphor brainstorming.
- There is some mental inertia when people first try this method. It is helpful to show some examples of the results of the metaphor brainstorming and then the metaphor deconstruction.
- The method is much easier to demonstrate than write about. : )
Alexa. Creativity for Left-Brained People: http://www.adaptivepath.com/blog/2009/04/22/leftbrainedcreativity/
Righi, C. (2001). Building the conceptual model and metaphor: The “3X3”. In R. Branaghan (Ed.), Design for people by people: Essays on usability (pp. 213-219). Usability Professionals’ Association, Chicago, IL.
What’s Next in the Series?
The next UX method posting will describe “Future Workshops”, a technique for identifying current problems with a product or process, generating a vision of the future, and then evaluating ways to get to that future vision.