What Would Practicing to Warm Up Look Like For A UX Professional?

Jared Spool

June 22nd, 2011

In my recent article on how UX professionals can practice to improve their skills, I left out an important type: Practice to Warm Up

Many professional writers, before sitting down for the day to write their master works, will just bang out 750 words of no consequence, an activity called pre-writing. (Merlin Mann refers to this as “making that clackity noise.”)

Warming up is another type of practicing. When we warm up, we’re just getting ourselves — both physically and mentally — ready for work we’re about to do.

In baseball, before a new pitcher comes on the field, he warms up in the bullpen. Then, once on the field, he throws several pitches to the catcher, to warm up on the mound. Meanwhile, the rest of the team in the field is tossing the ball between themselves. The batters warm up “on-deck”, swinging the bat a few times, before stepping up to the plate.

Performing artists also warm up. In addition to tuning their instruments, they play a few bars or scales. Singers have voice warm-ups. Actors have acting warm ups.

What would warm-up exercises look like for a UX professional? I’ve been wracking my brain on this and don’t have any good examples.

I’ve never seen a UX professional do warm up exercises — they always just jump into the work. Is it the case that we don’t need the warm up? Or are we missing an opportunity here?

What warm up exercises have you done? What ideas do you have for warm up exercises?

14 Responses to “What Would Practicing to Warm Up Look Like For A UX Professional?”

  1. Avangelist Says:

    Maybe it would be looking in the fridge and cupboards analysing content then debating on whether Ketchup and Mayo belong in the fridge or the cupboard (Ketchup goes in the cupboard btw!)

  2. Shannon Mølhave Says:

    Not very original, but warming up for me is doing a “brain dump” of sketches. Quickly sketch out the most obvious and cliche layouts that first come to mind, then you can work up to more original ideas and better organization.

  3. Emiliano Horcada Says:

    Mmm… good point. I was thinking first something like “prototiping” or something like that, but to be true, that’s not warming up, that’s actually working.
    So, I think that for me warming up is reading blogs, some articles or even a chapter in a book. That starts my brain and turns the light bulb on to start working on other things.
    Well, that’s me.

  4. Paul Hart Says:

    I find myself doing several things before starting to do UX work. I’ve found them to be useful exercises to get me prepped for

    # Get up and take a breather for a few minutes outside for a change of scenery and to jog my thoughts.
    # Look at books, magazines or websites that may or may not directly relate to what I’m doing.
    # Get a fresh cup of hot tea.
    # Clear my desk.
    # Start writing down words that pertain to what I’m about to engage in.
    # Sketch out as many ideas for layout as possible in a short amount of time to get it on paper. I can refine later.
    # Talk to people and do a little rogue customer dev with them.

    Getting lots of sleep has always been very beneficial to how productive my creative time is. But that’s not always feasible!

  5. Dana Chisnell Says:

    I do a lot of pre-writing. That is, making lists about what I want to do and how I want to do it when I’m doing research. I describe the story of the research session and script things out. I also draw room layouts or diagrams of flow of sessions.

    But it occurs to me that this is all much more like pre-visualizing and rehearsing than actually practicing.

    Does interviewing seatmates on planes count as practicing?

  6. Vijay Prabhakar Says:

    Some things that I do.
    Get the brain into a happy state.
    (Watch something fun. Get rest/Eat/drink, etc to keep the mind stress free. Watch Jared’s talk. :)
    Explore different perspectives to the problem, and spend some time on not trying to solve the problem,
    but instead, having fun.
    Good prior reading on subject/domain always helps.

  7. Ian Everdell Says:

    I have to agree with what Shannon and Dana have already said, and echo the idea that what I do isn’t really practicing or warming up, but more outlining what I want to do when I get down to the real work.

    My desk is covered in sheets of paper with little 2×3 thumbnail sketches of wireframes, files are overflowing with document outlines with arrows and x’s to move things around in the doc, and my wall is papered with sticky notes.

    I guess that means that my “warm up” is really a brain dump into whatever format is most convenient for then assimilating that brain dump into a cohesive report/wireframe/IA/what have you.

    Perhaps, as Dana alluded to, the real practice comes in our jobs seeping into our everyday lives: watching my wife get angry at a website and asking why, writing blog posts and having discussions when there’s no client “deliverable” involved, and trying to help my mother understand how her iPhone works…

  8. Joshua Muskovitz Says:

    I think the analogy fails, because in all of those cases, they are warming up to their actual performance, which is judged from start to finish. In UX, there is no (or should be no) expectation that the first thing to come from the process will be of quality. It is the nature of UX for it to be iterative and exploratory; it is a “journey of discovery.”

    That having been said, there are certainly rituals that people perform to encourage creative thought, banish extraneous mental noise, and so on. From the comments above, it would seem that “different strokes for different folks” applies. For me, I find that sitting on a conference table in front of a whiteboard works best. I have no idea why.

  9. Eirik Fatland Says:

    Using either tablet+Illustrator, or pen and paper, I sketch some really rough freehand sketches of some “fun” UI. It might be a hobby project, or some easy part of the current project, but never the difficult part I’m actually sitting down to work on. It needs to be UI work, something that employs the brain’s problem-solving muscles – just drawing doodles doesn’t do the same for me.

    I’ve practiced pre-writing, and often found that chunks of the 15-minute “bullshit” text could be copy-pasted into the final text with minor revisions – and these were often the best segments. I find the same with pre-sketching: important design problems are often solved there.

  10. Evan Wiener Says:

    Sketching is a good exercise to warm up. Sometimes limiting the format to something like sticky note as a medium works well to get ideas flowing with constraints to creatively work in.

  11. Dave Malouf Says:

    In the 1st article you stated something akin to, “doing a fake project” is not practice. I get the intent on the statement, definitely. But I’m not sure that your example above of writing 750 words a day is not an example of a fake project.

    I just mention this b/c every example I think of in some way or another can be called a fake project, depending on how you define project. So that is my qualify. But here are the things I do and teach my students to do in each area of design:

    Design Research:
    Observe and journal: Observe the world around you. Pick a topic of interest so there is some type of focus, and then observe. Use photography, sketching and narrative writing as capture tools of that observed world and finally find reasons to talk about it with others.

    Design ideation:
    Sketch. Sketch, sketch sketch and sketch some more. Don’t ever go through a week w/o having at least 100 sketches centered around an idea of interest. Keep to one idea (focus) per week. Not necessary to keep the same focus as design research, but why the hell not?

    HCI:
    Do a heuristic on something a week in your house. (do same thing as a cognitive walk through).

    UI Design:
    1. Deconstruct UIs to some principles or foundations that you are acquainted with
    2. Do Wireframes of stuff at the micro-level and then do WFs at the framework level (separately)

    But I do think that like many artisan crafts it is in the repeated doing of the whole that is more useful and practical than the repetition of the micro-steps in the process. Our work is more difficult to separate than even a builder or sculptor or even a watch maker. But even the watch maker does not classically practice just making gears. how it works is that the student ONLY makes gears as their sole job for years before being allowed to make a spring coil, or hands, or paint a face, before finally being able to build a watch. Because we do not teach our skills as singular it is hard to then break them down in any way. There is no batting cage or game of catch. Now, its not that we can’t do that …

    … Here’s an example I just used in my workshop at Frontiers of Interaction. I had students look at something simple as a chair and then redesign it if they thought about a different activity based on changing the length of time the person will sit in the chair and for what purpose/goal. The reaction from the many in the crowd was “This is too basic”. But my thought is, When did you ever do such an exercise? Considering almost none of us went to IxD school who do this job and I know it won’t be a part of a Graphic or ID class, I feel that we need to no just value these types of skill trainings, but also get over our pre-conceptions of our perceived level of experience. There are so few people who I feel are really experienced at the master level of IxD. I would have trouble thinking of more than a handful, myself (and no I’m not included in that list AT ALL).

  12. Avangelist Says:

    Really? Nobody wants to look in the fridge?

    These all seem like very strenuous tasks. What about playing 52 card pickup stacking in suit?

  13. shelley Says:

    @avangelist – i like the fridge idea! would have “liked” your comments if that was an option here :-)

    you could also organize your bookshelf by author. then reorganize by topic. then by color. then by width…

  14. Andrew Lamb Says:

    Warmup for me is taking 1-2min to re-orientate my thinking and perspective to say it’s not about me – it’s about the customer.
    I ask myself 4 questions
    1. Who is the customer?
    2. What do they need (to do)?
    3. What does our client offer?
    4. Being honest – how do the two line up?

    These 4 questions are on the back of our business cards and I often turn to them to get myself back in the headspace of prioritising and valuing the customer rather than me or even my client.

    That’s how I warm up.

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