An introduction to ideation
Ideation, also known as “brainstorming” or “concept generation,” is all about generating as many possible solutions to the problem you've identified. To do this you will:
- Generate as many ideas as you can, to explore a variety of potential solutions.
- Sketch or write a description of each idea.
- Brainstorm with other people for added inspiration and new points of view.
- Refine your ideas using your design principles.
As ideation progresses, you'll begin narrowing in on a handful of concepts that seem most promising.
Ideation can occur at any point during the design thinking process - although it typically occurs after analysis, once a problem statement and design principles have been identified.
But you don't have to wait for a formal ideation phase to capture your ideas. Throughout the design thinking process you should take notes or make sketches whenever a new idea strikes you, so that you don't forget about it.
What makes ideation successful?
1. Identify your problem statement
Before jumping into concept generation, it’s important to make sure you’ve identified your problem statement (“How might we…?”).
If you’re brainstorming with a group of people, make sure you start the session by sharing the problem statement with everyone. Clearly stating the problem will help set expectations and will help focus the group's efforts.
2. Capture your ideas
It’s important to capture your ideas as you go, so that you can continue refining them throughout the next stages of the design thinking process. Good rules of thumb are to:
Capture each idea on its own piece of paper.
Give each concept a clear, short title.
Create a quick and simple sketch to illustrate the idea.
Add a 1-2 sentence description alongside your sketch with further details, as needed.
You may also want to use arrows or colors to highlight and/or label the most important parts of the idea in the sketch. Here is a worksheet you can use to capture your ideas.
3. Plan time for group and individual ideation
Working with other people - such as team members, project stakeholders, or even users - can be a great way to bring multiple perspectives to an ideation session, and ensure greater diversity in the concepts generated.
It can be tempting to spend all of your time as a group brainstorming out loud together. However, mixing in time for silent, individual brainstorming before you begin sharing your ideas with the group can give everyone a chance to think more deeply about their own ideas.
4. Build off each other’s ideas
Look for ways to build off of ideas that you or your group members have already come up with. Review existing concepts and think about ways you might modify them, or consider a twist on the concept that could improve it in some way.
You may also find that, by paying attention to other concepts people are generating, you are inspired to come up with completely new ideas that you would not otherwise have considered.
5. Withhold judgement
Some of the ideas you generate might not be very good - but that’s okay! Part of ideation is exploring all sorts of potential concepts, most of which will never make it to the next stage of your design process.
It can be tempting to immediately dismiss "bad" or "impossible" ideas as soon as you come up with them - but try to withhold judgement. These ideas may inspire other, different ideas, or make you think about some aspect of the solution in a new way. If you threw them away immediately, you would miss out on that added inspiration.