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Design Thinking ICM512

Deep Dive into The Ideation Phase

Tips and Methods for Making the Most Out of Your Next Ideation Session

Ok. Let’s say you’ve researched and understood your users in the Empathize phase and identified their challenges in the Define stage. Now what? Now, you go far and wide in ideating solutions to your problem-statements in the third stage of Design Thinking, Ideation.

In Ideation, you and your team brainstorm different solutions to your problem statement. Ideation sessions should encourage freethinking and invite as many ideas as possible. As Standford’s d.school describes it, “Ideation is your chance to combine the understanding you have of the problem space and people you are designing for with your imagination to generate solution concepts.” This article explores best practices for conducting a successful Ideation session and provides a few creative exercises to help you get started.

“Ideation is your chance to combine the understanding you have of the problem space and people you are designing for with your imagination to generate solution concepts.”

Stanford’s d.school

Tips for Conducting a Successful Ideation Session

Make the most out of your time and your creative energy by considering the guidelines below.

Before: Planning Your Ideation Session

Prepare your How Might We (HMW) Questions

Having a point of focus helps generate better ideas that will help solve your specific problem. Designing How Might We questions is an art form of its own. You can learn more about it here.

Consider a New Environment

Nothing sparks creativity like putting yourself in a new environment! Try going somewhere different for your Ideation session. Play some upbeat yet indistinct tunes and start generating ideas!

Determine which Ideation Methods You Will Conduct

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all, single method for sparking innovation. Fortunately, there are heaps of approaches to kick-start your creative thinking! It’s good practice to plan and prepare for which exercises you want to conduct before the Ideation session. A few options are shared further down in this article.

During: Conducting Your Ideation Session

Check any Judgmental Baggage at the Door

Ideation sessions should be inviting and exploratory—they aren’t the time to evaluate any idea’s validity. This can prevent people from feeling comfortable speaking out and reduce the value of the exercise altogether. Like IxDF explains, “It’s crucial that participants are feeling confident by being in a safe environment so they have no fear of being judged by others when they put forth any wild ideas.”

“It’s crucial that participants are feeling confident by being in a safe environment so they have no fear of being judged by others when they put forth any wild ideas.”

IxDF
Set a Time Limit for Each Ideation Method

By setting time limits, you are more likely to stay on topic and keep that creative adrenaline flowing. It invites rapid-thinking without leaving room for self-doubt or judgment.

Go for Quantity

Ideation is about going far and wide in what is possible. It’s not about finding the “one” perfect or right solution; it’s about exploring any and every possibility. This is where and how innovation happens.

Build a “Yes, and” Mindset

By following one’s comments with “yes, and…” you can cultivate a collaborative environment where people enjoy building off other ideas.

Make Tons of Doodles

Visuals—even little scrappy ones—are more compelling at conveying ideas than words alone. Don’t be afraid to use symbols and stick-figures to share your concept. Acknowledge upfront that your drawing skills aren’t what matters, but rather the idea behind your image.

Stay Focused

Just like in a meditation, our minds may tend to wander. When they do, bring yourself or the group’s conversation back to your HMW question and refocus your energy on solving that problem.

After: Evaluating Your Ideas

Once you have completed your Ideation session, step back and evaluate (and celebrate!) all of your hard and creative work.

Break Your Ideas Up into Categories

Create a list of categories that each one idea could potentially fall into, for example: easy, difficult, has potential, realistic, or outrageous.

Vote or Rank All Ideas

Hand out colored dot-circles to each participant. Each color can represent a category identified above. Each participant can then begin ranking or voting each of the ideas.

Select a Few Ideas to Explore Further

Based on votes, choose a few ideas to explore further.

Save All of Your Hard Work

Make sure you save and document every idea—you will likely want to revisit these later.

Now that you know how to prepare and conduct an Ideation session, it’s time to explore a few methods you can apply to your practice.

Ideation Methods for Groups and Solo Practitioners

There are many methods used to help generate ideas. Below are a few that work just as well for individuals as they do for teams.

Analogies

Analogies are a powerful thinking tool that helps us process information by making connections between two seemingly unrelated things—like Forest Gump comparing life to a box of chocolates. As David Epstein explains in his book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (I highly recommend it), “Analogical thinking takes the new and makes it familiar, or takes the familiar and puts it in a new light, and allows humans to reason through problems they have never seen in unfamiliar contexts. It also allows us to understand that which we cannot see at all.”

“Analogical thinking takes the new and makes it familiar, or takes the familiar and puts it in a new light, and allows humans to reason through problems they have never seen in unfamiliar contexts. It also allows us to understand that which we cannot see at all.”

David Epstein from his book, Range

In design thinking, analogies help us form fresh perspectives and think about our problems differently, leading to unexpected inspiration and meaningful new solutions.


Analogies

Time Limit: 15-20 min.
How to do it
  1. Think of what your HMW statement (or elements of it) reminds you of outside of the problem or field.
  2. Create analogy statements based on those insights.
  3. Start exploring ways to bridge the two ideas together. 

Below is analogy sourced from Brainstorming UK that is a great example of how analogies can be used to explore new ideas.

Analogy: Running a business is like managing a theatre production.

Idea: A theatre production is split into two halves. Do we need to split our sales team into two sections: pre-sales and after-sales?

Brain Dumping

Brain dumping is a classic brainstorming exercise but done individually. As described by IxDF, “holding onto your own thoughts, unfinished tasks, or unexplored ideas creates mental blockages and prevents freethinking.” Brain dumping helps get all of your thoughts out of your head and onto paper instead.

“Holding onto your own thoughts, unfinished tasks, or unexplored ideas creates mental blockages and prevents freethinking.

IxDF
Brain dumping gets all those ideas and random thoughts out of your head and onto paper.


Brain Dumping

Time Limit: 3-5 min.
How to do it
  1. Write your HMW statement on a whiteboard or piece of paper.
  2. Using post-it notes or sheets of paper, write any ideas that come to your mind that might solve your problem statement. Don’t forget to focus on quantity, not quality, and suspend your judgment. 
  3. After time has run out, stick your ideas up on the wall, surrounding your HMW statement.

Challenge Assumptions

Challenging assumptions means not taking anything as a given. Like Albert Einstein said, “Assumptions are made, and most assumptions are wrong.”

Assumptions are made, and most assumptions are wrong.

Albert Einstein


Instead of assuming elements of the problem have to be a certain way, question it. By challenging the idea that people can’t fly, humans invented airplanes, hot air balloons, space ships, paragliding, sky diving, etc.

Challenge Assumptions

Time Limit: 10-15 min.
How to do it
  1. Write your HMW statement on a whiteboard or piece of paper.
  2. List any assumptions about the problem, process, technology, etc in one column.
  3. In a separate column, write down any questions that challenge any of the assumptions.

Mash-Ups

Developed by Ideo, “a Mash-up brings odd or unexpected things together to spark fresh ideas.” I’ve written an article in which I used the mash-up exercise in an Ideation session in detail. You can read it here.


Mash-Ups

Time Limit: 10-15 min.
How to do it
  1. In one column, list as many details related to your product or problem statement as possible (2 minutes).
  2. In a second column, choose an unrelated scenario and list as many details related to it (2 minutes).
  3. Look at both lists and start to cross-pollinate items from each one to create new ideas (2 minutes).
  4. Write or sketch any new ideas that derived from the cross-pollination.

Mind Maps

Mindmapping is a visual exercise that allows you to form connections between various thoughts and ideas related to your central problem.


Mind Mapping

Time Limit: 3-5 min.
How to do it
  1. Write your HMW in the center of a piece of paper or whiteboard.
  2. Start writing down any ideas or solutions that come to mind about that central concept.
  3. Once completed, step back and analyze any connections between thoughts or ideas and link them by drawing a line between them.

SCAMPER

Scamper is an acronym made up of a series of thought-provoking ideas that spark idea generation by encouraging you to consider the challenge from several different angles. Scamper stands for:
Substitute
Can I substitute or change anything in my problem to improve it? Think about materials, processes, rules, visuals, etc.

Combine
Can I combine two different things in my product to create synergy? What would happen if I merge A with B?

Adapt
What can I adapt to help solve my problem? Can I change something to make the product or process better? What ideas can I borrow from the product’s past or other ideas/products?

Modify, Magnify, or Minify
What can I modify by putting more or less emphasis on it, to achieve a better result? What can I make stand-out more or tone down?

Put to another use
This idea is more about discovering new uses for your product than changing it. Are new ways to use your product or could it appeal to another market?

Eliminate
Is there a way to simplify my product by eliminating something from it? Can i reduce effort, cut cost or eliminate unnecessary complexity?

Reverse
Can I rearrange or reverse something about the product? What would happen if I did this?


SCAMPER

Time Limit: 15-25 min.
How to do it
  1. Starting with your HMW statement, go down the list, and start asking yourself questions about the problem using the prompts above.
  2. Write down your questions, thoughts and ideas.
  3. After you’ve finished, revisit your findings and identify any worth examining further.

Sketchstorming

If you’ve ever played the game Pictionary, then you’ll already feel familiar with this exercise. Sketchstorming is a variation of traditional brainstorming or brain dumping exercises concentrating on the visualization of your ideas instead of using words.

As described by IxDF, “visuals have a way of provoking further ideas and providing a wider lens of thinking…The sketches should be as simple and rough as possible with just enough detail to convey meaning.”

Visuals have a way of provoking further ideas and providing a wider lens of thinking…The sketches should be as simple and rough as possible with just enough detail to convey meaning.”

IxDF


Sketchstorming

Time Limit: 3-5 min.
How to do it
  1. Write your HMW statement on a whiteboard or piece of paper pinned to a wall.
  2. Using post-it notes or sheets of paper, sketch any ideas that come to your mind that might solve your problem statement. Your thoughts are what matter, not the quality of your sketches. 
  3. After time has run out, stick your ideas up on the wall to surround your HMW statement.

I hope this information helps you get the most out of your next Ideation session! I’ve listed quite a few resources below in case you’d like to learn more about any or all of the methods. I also tried each and every one of these myself. Take a look at some thoughts on my personal experiences in the document below.

References & Resources

Ideation in Design Thinking: Importance of Approach by UXPin

Design Thinking’s Exciting Third Phase: Ideating by Workshopper

What Is Ideation In Design Thinking? A Guide To The Most Important Ideation Techniques by Career Foundry

Stage 3 in the Design Thinking Process: Ideate by IxDF

Learn More About Analogies

What Is Ideation In Design Thinking? A Guide To The Most Important Ideation Techniques: Analogies by Career Foundry

How to use the Analogy technique by Brainstorming UK

The Power of Analogies by Peer Insight

Analogies Template by Thief and Doctor

Learn How to Use Analogies (Article and Template) by IxDF

Learn More About Brain Dumping

Learn How to Use the Best Ideation Methods: Brainstorming, Braindumping, Brainwriting, and Brainwalking by IxDF

Learn More About Challenging Assumptions

Learn How to Challenge Assumptions (Article and Template) by IxDF

Learn More About Mash-Ups

Ideation Method: Mash-Up by Ideo

Learn More About Mind Mapping

Ideation Techniques which are the Heart of Design Thinking: Mindmapping by IxDF

What Is Ideation In Design Thinking? A Guide To The Most Important Ideation Techniques: Mindmapping by Career Foundry

Learn More About SCAMPER

Learn How to Use the Best Ideation Methods: SCAMPER by IxDF

How to Generate Ideas Using’ SCAMPER’ Creativity Tool? by TheUXBlog

SCAMPER: Improving Products and Services by Mindtools

Learn More About Sketchstorming

A guide to sketch storming – a design game for ideation by UX for the Masses

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