6a. Prioritization and refinement


Prioritizing and refining your ideas

Hand holding a pen

As you generate potential solutions you will find that you soon have dozens of different ideas, many with different levels of detail and scope. Some of your concepts may speak to high-level qualities of a solution, and some may be ideas for specific features you want to include. Both are okay!

During the ideation stage of the design thinking process it can be valuable to focus on divergent thinking - going broad and generating as many concepts as possible. The next step, however, is to begin refining and prioritizing your ideas, so you can focus your attention on the strongest concepts moving forward.

As you work through selecting your best ideas, don’t worry about the ones you’re “leaving behind” - you can always come back to these ideas later on and explore them further if needed.

Three techniques for building upon your ideas

Introduction to the activities

There are several activities you can do with your existing ideas to turn them into a smaller set of stronger concepts. Let's take a look at a few techniques you can use.

Combining like ideas (aggregation)

Look across all of your ideas and identify those that have similarities. Could these ideas be combined into one larger concept? If so, go ahead and create a new concept sketch for this new combination idea, and set aside the original concept sketches.


Combining unexpected ideas

Select two of your current concepts at random. What would happen if you combined these two ideas? Does considering these two ideas at once inspire you to come up with an entirely new concept? Sketch any new concepts you come up with.

Picking the top 3 (feasible, fun, favorite)

Look at all of the concepts you’ve generated so far, and pick out three: the most feasible (most likely to succeed), the most fun, and your personal favorite. What is it about these concepts that makes them feasible, fun, and favored? Look for a way to incorporate those attributes into other ideas you’ve generated. Could you possibly come up with one big concept that is feasible, fun, and favored all at once?

How to refine your ideas using your design principles

Using your design principles to refine your ideas


Once you have a large set of ideas to work with, the next step is to refine your top ideas using your design principles.

Take a look at the design principles you generated during your research analysis, and potentially added to during your consideration of the broader context (analogous problems, relevant trends, and existing solutions).

Select 3-5 of your top concepts. Working with one concept at a time, look for ways to revise the concept so that it addresses as many of the design principles as possible.

Match the different techniques for refining and building upon existing ideas to a statement describing their value

  • Combining like ideas
    Helps you to identify similarities in existing concepts and use those to create larger, hybrid concepts
  • Combining unexpected ideas
    Helps you to find new or surprising connections between different concepts as a source of inspiration
  • Picking the top 3
    Helps you identify what’s appealing about specific concepts so you can expand upon those attributes
  • Design principle refinement
    Helps you advance concepts with an eye toward requirements generated during your user research and analysis

Try it out: Combine your own unexpected ideas

  1. Try combining two unexpected ideas from your existing set. Can you combine these two ideas in a meaningful way? Does considering these two ideas at once inspire you to come up with an entirely new concept?
  2. Share a description of any new ideas you came up with in your problem-specific learning group, and discuss how they emerged from the two unexpected ideas you attempted to combine.