Throughout my graduate program I was fortunate enough to study systems thinking, a way of solving problems laterally. Systems thinking encompasses creativity and real-world application - combining theoretical and technical systems with critical thinking. Through this methodology, individuals have the ability to examine issues, solution processes, and the ways in which these components are connected.
Systems thinking can be recognized through User Experience. After all, several UX principles align with major aspects of systems thinking:
- Interconnectivity: How issues relate to one another, identifying patterns within related issues, and knowing how feedback loops affect a system
- Perspectives: How different viewpoints perceive problems and generate solutions
- Boundaries: Determining the scope and scale of a project, how solutions fit within and beyond a multitude of restrictions
In our UX roles, we wear many hats to engage with different aspects of our job or to facilitate different thinking processes. This essentially allows us to better understand and tackle problems. Dr. Edward de Bono proposed a framework referred to as the Six Thinking Hats - where participants or team members embody six different personas to represent six different processes of thinking. Of course, you don’t need something on your head to understand the thoughts happening in it, but it is an essential tool to assign different critical thinking perspectives at different times.
Dr. Edward Charles Francis Publius de Bono published Six Thinking Hats in 1985. This body of work represents a usable, practical, and coherent philosophy for the masses. The information system presented in his work provides revolutionary tools to help problem solvers organize our thinking processes. The six hats, each a different color, represent six distinctive functions: roles our brains can play. Mentally putting the hat on, taking it off, or switching hats allows individuals to better focus their thoughts, remove biases, and find solutions more efficiently.
So what are these hats and how can wearing them elevate our UX processes?
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Blue Hat: Managing
Blue hats guide your thinking process from start to finish. This hat is the manager of every other hat, facilitating and upholding the entire process. Its wearer is asked to consider big ideas, to determine objectives, and to structure the other hats to work towards a productive solution. Although this role is often assigned to managers, you don’t need to be one to wear this hat. The managing process revolves around organization - anyone can organize themselves. Wearing this hat means you understand your goals and you have the ability to prioritize aspects of the process to reflect the team's current needs.
White Hat: Facts and Information
As a UXer, you will wear the white hat - this hat represents information. You’ll be asked to consider what you already know and what can be factually represented through user feedback, statistics, data, and boundaries. It’s not just known knowledge that matters to the white hat, you also need to consider what isn’t known yet and what still needs to be learned. Knowledge is ever changing. As humans we are constantly learning from one another, growing from our personal experiences. The white hat should mirror this fluidity and be revisited in each step of the process. This will allow you to continually evaluate your own knowledge while determining room for improvement. Although facts are always important, there needs to be room for emotions too…
Green Hat: Creativity
Once you're aware of what you know and what you need to know - it's time to incorporate the green hat! This hat stands for new ideas and alternative solutions. The wearer of this hat is asked to consider new perceptions, explore new thought processes, and to express new concepts to the team. This hat may be the most fun to wear, but wearing this hat for too long may allow a person to lose the reality of the situation at hand. In light of this, the new ideas proposed need to be structured, sorted through and evaluated.
Yellow Hat: Positivity
De Bono’s yellow hat follows the traditional representation of being bright and optimistic. The yellow hat encourages us to explore positives, seek the value and benefit from each proposed solution, and asks us to determine the best case scenarios of each potential idea. It’s always easy - perhaps sometimes too easy - to appreciate your own work without a critical lens. Optimism is a driving force for motivation and troubleshooting efforts. However, it’s always beneficial to have a different, more critical perspective…
Black Hat: Critical Judgment
De Bono’s black hat represents negativity, wearing this hat means you're looking at the situation from a more negative, critical view. This hat inherits the role of devil’s advocate - even if it goes against the individual's favorite ideas, designs, and word (phrasing). This perspective is an opportunity to grow the team's senses. We acquire a more honest perception as to how something might not work; spotting difficulties and danger, even predicting where things can go wrong. Most importantly, this hat promotes a judgment-free space to offer constructive criticism without offense. Criticism is a powerful tool, but only when used in balance with creativity and encouragement.
Red Hat: Feelings and Emotions
Red has always been a symbol for emotion and passion. Putting on this red hat means embracing emotions and ego, expressing gut reactions and initial feelings, following your hunches while sharing feelings ranging from confusion to love to hatred. At the end of the day, UXers are still users. We often forget to consider our own emotions - this hat allows us to consider our own feelings and passions when working on a project. De Bono recommends keeping red hat sessions short. This allows the session to stay focused - encouraging self-awareness without enabling an emotional rant.
Every team is different. Find a process that works best for your own! When you start a new project and wear your “colored hats” for the first time, think about your thoughts and prioritize the organization of your process. There are a plethora of benefits provided by this method, and De Bono highlights that his hat system can help you and your team by:
- Holding critical meetings without emotion/egos/making bad decisions
- Avoiding the easy yet mediocre decisions by knowing how to dig deeper
- Increasing productivity by being more effective
- Making creative solutions the norm
- Maximizing and organizing each person's thoughts and ideas
- While achieving a solution quickly with a shared vision
As professionals we should always strive to improve ourselves and learn how to work efficiently in group settings. When I started my UX career at Key Lime Interactive, I saw much of the Six Hats method reflected in the company’s values. Without referring to this method, they often wear many hats to engage in various aspects of their job, to facilitate different thinking processes, and to understand or tackle project related problems.
Regardless of the role you play, keep these 6 different perspectives in mind. These “hats'' will allow you to collaborate with an effective, productive team driven to deliver optimal solutions! If you are in need of a team who embodies these principles or would like general assistance on your next UX project, contact us today! My fellow Key Limers and I would love to extend a helping hand!
Techwell Insights: How Six Thinking Hats Can Help with User Experience Testing
Designorate: What are the Six Thinking Hats? And How to Use Them?