Unpacking Assumptions

Imagine you're a designer (if you are, this will be easy) working in a busy advertising agency or magazine or similar. And imagine someone jogs over to you and asks you to produce "a picture of a footballer" for some project or article or other and then walks away without giving further information. They're busy, they need is as soon as possible. Just get on with it. 

What to you do? Do you a) provide them with an image of a proto-David-Beckham in a gleaming white strip, one foot atop a soccer ball set against a simple background of grass and sky? Or do you b) amuse yourself by unpacking the assumptions to provide half a dozen images that fit the brief but go off piste...

  • A caricature of Stanley Matthews
  • A drawing of an NFL player doing the electric boogaloo
  • An old photo of Diego Maradona coming out of rehab
  • A CCTV footage still of Chris Kamara waiting for his order in an Indian takeaway
  • A framed quilt showing Pelé as Dickens' four Christmas ghosts arranged as a family crest
  • An impressionist rendering of an Aussie Rules footballer being stretchered off the oval

All pictures of footballers. All not what was required because the person laying down the brief made too many assumptions. 

And while this was done to irritate someone who couldn't be bothered to outline what they *actually* wanted, the principle of unpacking assumptions can work wonders for generating new ideas and spotting new angles on something. Look what's happened when we unpack the assumptions of what a 'picture of a footballer' should look like and start making more dots around the idea. We end up in weird and wonderful (mainly weird) places. 

Unpacking assumptions lets us see how many moving parts a given challenge is made of. It lets us pick them up and turn them around in our hands. It shows us that even within the most simple, straightforward of things are many, many dots that can be joined in strange and brilliants ways. 

Whatever you're doing, unpack the assumptions first. You'll be amazed where it takes you.