by Tim McMullen

Have you ever tried to tackle a project for a client and felt like your mental tank was empty? Maybe you felt like you just didn’t have enough dots to connect to solve the problem. It happens! That’s why I want to share my favorite form of research — tankfilling. It’s called tankfilling because it transforms any blank stare into a full tank of dots to connect to solve a problem.

We developed the tankfilling process to gather as much information as possible about the topic at hand. For example, say you’re a designer working on a loyalty app for a retailer. You’re about to start tankfilling for the project. Let’s take a look the process:

Step 1 — Obtain the Obvious

First look for information in evident places. In this case you would head to the Webby Awards, or an online search for retail applications and retail loyalty programs.

Step 2 — Dig a Little Deeper

Next gather information from some less obvious sources. Take a look at the applications on your phone that are outside of the realm of retail loyalty programs. Talk to the people around you about what apps they use. You want to study and uncover the different components of the applications

Step 3 — Analyze Desired Actions

An even less apparent direction is to look at actions. You want your target audience to perform a certain behavior, so you want to study where they are already eliciting this behavior. Maybe you want them to check into your app. Ask yourself: What other places are they checking into, and what can I learn from that behavior? What can I learn from those applications?

Step 4 — Look to Left Field

The last place you should look is one that a lot of creatives have fun with, and one that I think needs to be done more often. We call it left field inspiration. It can be anything from going to a museum to practicing meditation. For this example it might mean releasing yourself from the challenge — stop thinking about what it is you’re trying to solve. Find whitespace and approach the topic with a fresh perspective. This will help you create a lot of new dots in your head.

When you go through this process you are approaching your objective from all angles. When it comes time to solve the problem, you will have a lot more dots to reference and bring to life. That’s tankfilling! And if you do it well, it’s going to help support your peak performance.

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