More Specific And More General

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What is More Specific And More General?

More specific and more general is a creative ideation method which designers use to get new perspectives on projects. By shifting their view from an abstract, general concept to a more specific item—with constraints to define it—and vice versa, they can gain vital insights to consider their design problems in new ways.

“It is better to solve one problem five different ways, than to solve five problems one way.”

— George Pólya, Mathematician noted for contributions to number theory, probability theory and more

Zooming In and Zooming Out Helps You Think All About

It’s easy to get stuck on a design project. If you’re thinking about a general/abstract concept—such as designing an ecommerce platform—you might struggle to consider everything you’d need for the platform to work with various types of webshops. However, you can force yourself to get fresh angles on your project when you shrink your design space to focus on something concrete by adding a constraint (e.g., pretending it’s now a bookselling platform). Suddenly, you’ve gone from a hazy view of a platform to a well-defined one where you’d consider more definite design choices, such as:

  • A library-style search function.

  • A filter for subjects/genres.

  • A featured section on new/popular releases.

Now, going back through this list of items that are relevant just for a bookstore, you remove the specific bookstore references (so you’ve got a search function, a filter, etc.). These generic functionalities could apply to any type of webshop. However, if you substitute in another type of webshop (e.g., one selling kitchen appliances/parts), you could explore what would be relevant there. From that, you’d see which functionalities work for different webshops (e.g., search filters) and those that only appear for niche products (e.g., filters for energy-saving ratings).

This design creativity technique helps you explore your design space progressively in two directions. So, for example, imagine you actually were tasked with designing a bookselling platform. You might struggle to design a high-powered filter that helps users find book titles from one search box—instead of having to use several to filter the topic, author’s name, approximate year published, etc. Then, you’d need to stretch to get some inspiration for the way ahead. So, you’d step back and seek a big-picture view of search boxes/filters generally. Then, you could get specific again, adding constraints (e.g., the platform’s only usable on mobile devices). Eventually, you might cover every possible way of envisioning your platform and maybe create a highly useful and original product.

How to Use More Specific and More General to Envision Serious Possibilities

If you have an open design problem and need to get a more concrete overview and go in a more specific direction, try these steps:

  1. Choose a specific type of the item you’ve got in mind (e.g., a bookselling webshop) and consider how you’d design it and which design choices it’d need to be successful.

  2. List all of its functionalities – e.g., library-style search function.

  3. Revise the lists to remove the industry-specific references you made in step 2, so you end up with generic ones.

  4. Repeat the exercise with different types of industries/businesses until you’ve got a long list of functionalities that could all work for your design.

  5. Reorder the list according to priority – Functionalities that show up twice or more for different webshops (e.g., “Search”) are more important ones.

If you have a specific and concrete design problem, try these steps to get some distance and gain a creative edge (Note: You probably won’t get a finished solution from this; it’s more to help you work your way towards something you can fine-tune):

  1. Step back and consider the problem more abstractly. Consider different ways to design (e.g.) search boxes instead of just ones to use for a bookstore.

  2. Consider solutions in totally different design spaces – e.g., other types of stores (e.g., kitchen appliances) or even suitable physical objects (e.g., relevant things you find around your home/office).

  3. List the functionality of each item you find (e.g., a coffee filter) and what makes it work – E.g., coffee filters strain coffee-infused water for drinking and trap grounds for discarding.

  4. Make the functionality you’ve described for the item more abstract – E.g., a coffee filter first mixes the relevant components and, second, filters out the relevant content.)

  5. Try to apply this functionality to your design project – Consider how you’d create a filter/search box that has two steps. Would it be to (1) mix the relevant components and (2) filter out a relevant mix?


  • Try this technique in a group and see if you can create mockups or act out aspects of your idea (e.g., a service).

  • Thinking concretely forces you to notice details, so be sure to note all the aspects of your idea that work—and which don’t.

Overall, try to follow your imagination wherever it goes and note all the features it gives you from various new views of your design problem.

Learn More about More Specific and More General

Take our Creativity course, Creativity: Methods to Design Better Products and Services

Read this Scientific American article for further insights An Easy Way to Increase Creativity

Literature on More Specific And More General

Here’s the entire UX literature on More Specific And More General by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about More Specific And More General

Take a deep dive into More Specific And More General with our course Creativity: Methods to Design Better Products and Services .

The overall goal of this course is to help you design better products, services and experiences by helping you and your team develop innovative and useful solutions. You’ll learn a human-focused, creative design process.

We’re going to show you what creativity is as well as a wealth of ideation methods―both for generating new ideas and for developing your ideas further. You’ll learn skills and step-by-step methods you can use throughout the entire creative process. We’ll supply you with lots of templates and guides so by the end of the course you’ll have lots of hands-on methods you can use for your and your team’s ideation sessions. You’re also going to learn how to plan and time-manage a creative process effectively.

Most of us need to be creative in our work regardless of if we design user interfaces, write content for a website, work out appropriate workflows for an organization or program new algorithms for system backend. However, we all get those times when the creative step, which we so desperately need, simply does not come. That can seem scary—but trust us when we say that anyone can learn how to be creative­ on demand. This course will teach you ways to break the impasse of the empty page. We'll teach you methods which will help you find novel and useful solutions to a particular problem, be it in interaction design, graphics, code or something completely different. It’s not a magic creativity machine, but when you learn to put yourself in this creative mental state, new and exciting things will happen.

In the “Build Your Portfolio: Ideation Project”, you’ll find a series of practical exercises which together form a complete ideation project so you can get your hands dirty right away. If you want to complete these optional exercises, you will get hands-on experience with the methods you learn and in the process you’ll create a case study for your portfolio which you can show your future employer or freelance customers.

Your instructor is Alan Dix. He’s a creativity expert, professor and co-author of the most popular and impactful textbook in the field of Human-Computer Interaction. Alan has worked with creativity for the last 30+ years, and he’ll teach you his favorite techniques as well as show you how to make room for creativity in your everyday work and life.

You earn a verifiable and industry-trusted Course Certificate once you’ve completed the course. You can highlight it on your resume, your LinkedIn profile or your website.

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