Xero designer Charli Prangley explains her ideation process

This week we asked Charli Prangley, a marketing designer at Xero, how she comes up with her good ideas. Charli is a multi-talented creative who runs a YouTube channel for designers and owns a boutique fashion label, Liner Note Kids, as well as working at one of our country’s most iconic tech companies.

If you’d like to join Charli as a designer at Xero, the company is looking for new staff and you’re invited to apply here.

1. How do you come up with your good ideas? Where do you start?

I think the best way start is by reading the brief and talking to the client to work out what the problem is we’re trying to solve. Often clients will come to you with what they think is the solution, but I think it’s a designer’s job to start with the problem, and develop the best solution from there.

“It’s a designer’s job to start with the problem, and develop the best solution from there.”

I like to start the ideas process by getting everything that comes to mind down on paper, even if the idea seems really stupid it’s important to do that initial brain dump.

For a designer, I’m surprisingly terrible at drawing so my wireframes are often just scribbles that only make sense to me, but that’s okay! Researching plays a big part too, whether it’s seeing what the competitors are doing (so that you can do better than them!), looking at past projects, or even just browsing sites like Land Book or Pinterest for inspiration.

2. What’s the most important thing to have when going into the ideation phase of projects?

Tools to get ideas out quickly are super important in the ideation phase. You need something that can get the idea down quickly, and worry about finessing it later. The trusty ‘ol pen and paper are great for this, but due to my lack of drawing skills, I find it best to mock ideas up on the computer when I’m at the point where I need to share the ideas with the team and get feedback. I usually do this in Photoshop but recently I’ve started using Axure, which is a quick and easy prototyping tool that’s faster to use in the ideas phase than Photoshop.

3. How important is the environment you’re in to your idea / design process?

I think the design process needs an environment that doesn’t stifle creativity, and typical corporate offices aren’t very inspiring! Having my headphones on with music or a podcast playing generally makes a less-than-ideal environment okay for me, because I can get in my own headspace and block out conversations or whatever else is happening around me.

4. What do you do when you need to come up with ideas for a budget?

I prefer to think big first and then scale back to fit the budget as necessary. It’s always best to think about the ideal situation, then ask yourself ‘how can I fit this in the scope of the project?’ and look at areas you could scale back or changes you could make to it without losing the overall concept. Obviously you have to be realistic about it and not waste time trying to dream up ideas that are just way out of scope, but that’s why constraints are actually awesome for creativity: they give you a good starting point.

5. Who/what inspires your sense of design?

So many things! Design is not the sort of job you’re only involved in 9-5, so pretty much everything I see, hear, and do inspires me in some way. My teammates have a big influence on me. I work with a bunch of really smart and creative people and I’m always learning from them. I also spend a lot of time online and love looking at what designers around the world are up to either through their Dribbble or Instagram feeds, or perhaps just cool links that get shared on Twitter.

I also listen to the Sean Wes podcast religiously, which I find incredibly inspiring.

6. How do you get over mental blocks or that “blank paper” feeling

A blank page is SO daunting. I try and get something down straight away. Sometimes if I have no idea where to start with a wireframe I’ll write down a list of things I have to consider, or write down some questions, anything to get something started. I think it comes down to what I said before about constraints, if you know what they are and have them in front of you, they give you a place to start thinking. And if not even that works, I don’t try to force it, because I don’t think that’s productive. I’ll go take a break or move on to a different project and try again later.


If you appreciated this article by Charli, follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her channel on YouTube. Many thanks to Devon Moodley for the photo.

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