‘Constructive discontent’ is one of 30 techniques included in our PLAYBOOK, the free toolkit for creative thinkers.
WHAT IS CONSTRUCTIVE DISCONTENT?
Creativity is often about trying to generate new potential answers for a tricky problem or question. A good place to kickstart a flow of creative ideas is to experience the issue yourself and apply your unique perspectives and quirks to define the problem: find out what you personally don’t like about a thing and think of ways to fix those issues.
For example, let’s assume that you want to redesign a mug.
Poor yourself some coffee in it. Pick it up and turn it around.
Ask yourself what you like and what don’t you like about it. How does it feel? Is it warm? Is it comfortable to hold?
What would you do differently. Would you add flowers? Or maybe make it deeper, so you can drink more coffee?
This is a process often referred to as “Constructive discontent”. It is a way of finding your own dissatisfaction with an object or experience, and addressing that.
HOW TO USE IT?
To be most effective, the process is best broken down into two distinct parts. The first is a full ‘immersion’, really getting to use and experience the thing. The second is the ‘critique’, which both describes and reflects on the experience.
Full immersion in an issue means really getting to experience it and understanding it. Using the mug example, you would make a cup of coffee or tea, drink it, then wash it up. Experience how it holds its contents and retains its heat. How does it feel when you pick it up? Does the handle work for you? Does it fit in the dishwasher or can you wash it with a cloth? Does it fit on your shelf? Does the shape, colour and material suit your design style. How does it look alongside my other cups?
Of course, that is experiencing the cup as a user. What about a shop keeper who needs to put it on display or store it? What is it like for them? Or what about at the factory? How is it made? Can you stack 10 or 100 in the kiln at the same time? And what about at the end of its life? How do you dispose of it? Is it recyclable? Can it harm the people handling it… or the environment?
To really understand enough to your own opinions, you immerse yourself completely into the issue, and explore it from different angles if you can.
The critique should be a balanced review from your own perspective which draws out your likes and, importantly, your discontent.
You can download the constructive discontent worksheet and other useful tools below.
Think about how a film or book critic structures their review. First, they outline the genre and the plot. Then they talk about the key characters and the scenes that stand out. Finally, they describe what they liked and what they didn’t like. Following this tried and trusted format helps build a comprehensive perspective on the experience.
Genre & plot
describe the general context and purpose
Notable characters and scenes
describe users, motivations and key scenario
The good, the bad and the ugly
describe your likes and your dislikes. What gave satisfaction? What gave discontent?
There is no richer way to understand an issue than to experience it yourself. This first-hand reflective approach can provide a rich source of inspiration for improvements to any experience, whether it is a simple coffee cup or a complex train journey. The individual nature of personal perspectives can result in unexpectedly different potential solutions. This is an approach which many great designers take, reflecting their often quite unique answers to common problems.
Try it for yourself:
Try any of the following immersions and write-up your own Constructive Discontent critique of the experience:
The ‘constructive discontent’ worksheet is included in our free PLAYBOOK, a collection of 30 of our favourite tools and techniques. Download them all now in the PLAYBOOK.