user experience

I made it out of clay…

painter Is every online product starting to look alike? Running low on product experience creativity?

Some Simple Advice

Break the mold of the average user experience. Think about the problem you are trying to solve from alternative design perspectives by introducing new methods of interacting with the product.


Most people will design their web application, interface, user experience, in the same old way, every single time. Pencil, paper, Photoshop, pen, storyboard, wire diagram, etc. So boring!

Make it out of clay!

A super-simple way to get yourself started on a new thought path is to change how you interact with the product during the design process. For example, change the medium (water color, paper mache…clay) with which you are designing and / or approach the online product from the paradigm of common, handy real-world products, remote control, oven, umbrella, etc. Imagine those products imbued with some or all of the features of the online product you are trying to create. How would those features be manifested in these different forms? How would the different forms the features and interaction with them?

Come on…Touch it

Shifting the interaction of you (the product or experience designer) with the product, changing from a computer monitor oriented paradigm, will, by its very nature, cause you to think differently about the problem and, maybe, find some new metaphors that can be applied to the design or interaction of the final product itself.

To tackle interaction design challenges I have used post-it collages, clay, created 3d working models, charcoal, etc. It helps to keep the creativity flowing when different mediums (other than Photoshop and your browser) are employed to see and truly interact with your interface as well as the user experience you are trying to create.

Enter the Real World

Take an existing product, in the “real world”, a CD player, a remote control, and shift the paradigm of your interface to those models. Yes, the end result may not be what you are seeking, but the journey that entails facing the different limitations and constraints imposed by the objects you are using as a guide are an excellent way to keep your mind fresh while you approach the problem from a variety of angles. And, once in a while, such a shift will present a really cool way to present that user experience that you hadn’t thought of before.

A (Paper) Widget

On an interaction design challenge I tackled previously, I found myself having to design a very small widget that required a great deal of information conveyance and required an enjoyable consumer experience. The 2 paradigm shifts I introduced that eventually lead to solving the interaction design challenge were…

Shift 1: I wondered what the tiny module would look like if it popped open like a CD player

…then I decided that, instead of mocking it up in Photoshop or other digital design tools, I would further introduce a different way of interacting with this widget, by…

Shift 2: creating a working 3D model… out of paper. (see photo of the model I built to the right)

Shaping it, crafting it, interacting with it, playing with it, viewing it from different angles and perspectives, having other people poke at it, all of which, in the end, led to a very cool consumer experience that also presented the user with the needed information.

For Example … Exercise


  • Re-design the opening and closing of a desktop window.


  • What if that window opened and closed like a clamshell phone.
  • What interface elements are on the top, outside of the phone.
  • What elements are presented on the inside of the phone?
  • What similar elements would make sense in the realm of my desktop window that could be made to fit the model?
  • What real-world elements exist that open and close that are very different from a desktop window?

Solution: Dive in and give it a try. I would love to hear and see what ideas people come up with.

Keep Exercising

Now, pick a completely different object that you interact with in the world. Try it out on one of your older (more boring) interfaces. If anyone comes up with anything interesting that they would like to share I would love to see them and post them on the blog.

Simply Put

As some parts of the holiday season wind down and others are just beginning, why not make it a New Year’s resolution, the next time you feel like you are stuck in a rut or need to inject new ideas, to break the mold and try making it out of clay!


Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy


  1. I never thought of clay, but what an interesting idea! I usually organize the hierarchy of a web site or marketing piece with post it notes, and work out the basic design on a sketch pad before ever getting near the computer. There’s something about putting pencil to paper that helps my creative side shift into gear. I’ve never thought about designing or organizing information three-dimensionally, but now I’ll be looking for an opportunity to do so.


  2. Great post! Very useful info, thank you for writing it. I wrote about it on my blog so hopefully a couple people will come over here and check it out. Keep it coming 🙂


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