Imaginations and Daydreams

When was the last time you daydreamed?

At work?

For work?

It seems absurd. Childish and idyllic. Reserved for the creatives on the next floor.

Yet it's a mechanism we shouldn't shy away from as designers and developers.

Daydreaming can be a vehicle for fruitful imagination. To envision what we'll make, to think about the future, we need to first imagine it.

"To envision what will you be, you must remove yourself from the constant concern for what already is." (Scott Belsky)

Why the hubris?

Websites, apps, services. These might feel ephemeral given how often we switch, adopt, and drop them. Yet their effect is cumulative. Together they raise our expectations, refine our needs, and thereby alter our behaviors.

This outcome, the powerful transformation in behavior, is the backstory of our daydreams. Behavior is so human, so mock-ups and moodboards are merely the shell of that desired outcome.

Another reason it can be powerful is how it affects our process. Daydreaming and imagination lends itself towards optimistic thinking. Without optimism, we come up with fewer ideas. We stop exploring possible solutions. We put ourselves in the corner.

We need to be intentional and set ourselves up for optimistic thinking. In human psychology, being optimistic isn’t our default state.

"... two-thirds of neurons in the amygdala are geared toward bad news, immediately responding and storing it in our long-term memory ..." (Source)

Pessimism was our primordial survival mechanism to remember which berries were poisonous. Yet what once kept us alive can now hinder our ability to create.

There is a fancier word for all this: positive-constructive daydreaming. Here are some further readings on it: Brain Pickings, Business Insider

What could a positive-constructive daydream look like for design?

Here's one start:

"It's "autobiographical planning," Kaufman says, "the setting and anticipation of personally relevant future goals and mental simulation of possible future scenarios, including the emotional reactions of others and ourselves in response to the imagined events." (Source)

Here are some more specific examples, many of which will also naturally fill in an experience journey map.

How do you imagine your audiences finding or discovering your experience or brand?

  • What are they seeing?
  • What are they hearing?
  • Is there a lot of daylight and sunshine?
  • Or is at night when they’re in the comforts of their pjs?
  • Or are they riding a cab with one too many passengers zipping to the next bar?

How do you imagine they’d feel when they first load / start your product and service? How do you imagine they’d feel when they leave / close it?

  • Are they feeling anxious?
  • In a rush?
  • Are their hands full of groceries?
  • Do their feet ache from standing for hours?
  • Does the experience welcome them with subtle darker colors because you know they’re seeing this late at night?
  • Or are the colors and animation vibrant to get them excited about the festival?

How do you imagine the way they would tell their friends about it?

  • Are they pulling it out and showing it at a party? Or is group-texted to their close friends for a laugh?

Without positive-constructive daydreaming, we settle back into our primordial instincts. Pessimism and its most common symptom: worrying.

It may not be surprising to any of us how damaging worrying can be:

"Anxiety precludes you from exploring real solutions and real thought patterns that will come up with solutions," she says. "When you're in a positive valence, it primes an opportunity mindset, so you think of all of the good things that can happen. You're more likely to make decisions and take actions that will make that world likely to occur." (Source)

As we crystallize our designs with style tiles, moodboards, and the myriad of tools, take a moment to remember. We have to prime ourselves first for our best thinking.

So take a breath. Close your eyes. Daydream.

Filed under: Practice