Good design doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It requires pollination; a sharing of ideas; inspiration. It requires exposure to the unique and novel. It requires illumination that will spark new thinking and explorations. It feeds off the natural social rhythms and cycles that send information from one group to another. All this is difficult to achieve in a homogenous and isolated environment.
A group that works together for a certain amount of time will begin to form a shared perspective and approach. While this commonality will improve cohesion and speed up generation, it will have an impact on design. Design will become more homogenous over time, and new problems will begin to be approached in the same familiar ways. New solutions and innovations become harder for the group to generate. To keep this stagnation from happening, people and groups need to be exposed to outside influences.
In my current office space people from wildly different corporate groups bump into each other all the time; they sit next to each other and start talking about their day. They raise awareness for the same charities, cheer on the world cup in the same room, attend the same trainings, and fight for the same last bit of cookies and cream ice on birthday day. In these interactions, ideas about work are shared, tid-bits from other teams are shared, learning about new tech and initiatives is passed on, and new perspectives on old problems are given.
To increase exposure to ideas, communication opportunities with other groups need to increase. This is one the reason companies engage in cross-functional teams, product fairs, offsite trainings and the like. The problem with these is that inspiration is hard to force because we can’t predict what will spark the imagination, or send some one down a new path. So even cross-functional teams have a tendency to drift towards conformity. A more effective way is to have open and consistent community channels and places; channels and places that increase the opportunity for serendipitous interaction, sharing, and knowledge.
As designers, we feed off new information. We love encountering a new perspective or discovering a solution we never knew existed. In order to create more innovative work, we need to make our own microcosms. Make sure you are regularly interacting with folks from other teams and disciplines. And make sure that it is time out of official meetings with set agendas; you need to let the topics be able to flow. Make sure you are reading emails sent by other teams, checking out other teams blogs, brown bags, or other events. Change where you usually sit; go to a breakroom on another floor. Open up your ecosystem and watch your inspiration grow.