Design Thinking – Ideate (Phase 4)

Ideating is a critical component of design thinking. Practitioners are challenged to brainstorm a myriad of ideas and to suspend judgment. No idea is to far-fetched and no one’s ideas are rejected. Ideating is all about creativity and fun. In the ideation phase, quantity is encouraged. Practitioners may be asked to generate a hundred ideas in a single session. They become silly, savvy, risk takers, wishful thinkers and dreamers of the impossible…and the possible.

You ideate in order to transition from identifying problems to creating solutions for your users. 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. Particularly early in a design project, ideation is about pushing for a widest possible range of ideas from which you can select, not simply finding a single, best solution. The determination of the best solution will be discovered later, through user testing and feedback.


Key to this efforts are a number of techniques that you may have heard of. Some of these will definitely be new to you. First up is brainstormingBrainstorming is a group creativity technique by which efforts are made to find a conclusion for a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by its members. This is a great tool but should be used with some rules to ensure fair play.

Simple but effective rules.

It really should be the position of the practitioner to enable these to ensure a creative and fulfilling session is completed. It may take a while for people to realize that this is not a normal meeting where they are defending their positions or afraid to speak up. This must be open:

  • Build on the ideas of others
  • Defer judgement
  • Stay focused on topic
  • Fair early and often
  • Be visual
  • One conversation at a time
  • Think USER centric
  • Go for quantity
  • Go for wild ideas


Brain writing is simple. Rather than ask participants to yell out ideas (a serial process), you ask them to write down their ideas about a particular question or problem on sheets of paper for a few minutes; then, you have each participant pass their ideas on to someone else, who reads the ideas and adds new ideas. After a few minutes, you ask the participants to pass their papers to others, and the process repeats. After 10 to 15 minutes, you collect the sheets and post them for immediate discussion.

Brainwriting is an alternative method to brainstorming that tries to encourage a more uniform participation within a group. Like brainstorming, it is designed to generate lots and lots of ideas in a short amount of time.

6-3-5 Method

This technique involves 6 participants who sit in a group and are supervised by a moderator. Each participant thinks up 3 ideas every 5 minutes. The ideas are written down on a worksheet and passed on to the next participant. The participant reads the ideas and uses them as inspiration for more ideas. Participants are encouraged to draw on others’ ideas for inspiration, thus stimulating the creative process. After 6 rounds in 30 minutes the group has thought up a total of 108 ideas. Not all winners, guaranteed but you may be surprised what you uncover while also creating the free and open environment.


The idea is to imagine what it would be like if the product existed, and act as though it exists, ideally in the place it would be used. Its going through an idea with improvised artifacts and physical activities to envision a solution. This User Experience Design (UXD) technique is ideal to design physical spaces (e.g. the interior design of a shop) but can also be used to design physical products or software.

Play with constraints:
Imagine if……….and then see how the challenge or solution starts to change.
Find out what is important. Examples might be:

Back to the past -how would they do it?
What if there was no gravity?
How would Superman do it?
Or a firefighter?

Find a good starting into Ideation:

  • Define a time frame and select the method (yes you can do several ones)
  • Do not try to tackle the whole challenge at once
  • Prepare a set of questions to work on one by one

You ideate by combining your conscious and unconscious mind, and rational thoughts with imagination. For example, in a brainstorm you leverage the synergy of the group to reach new
ideas by building on others’ ideas. Adding constraints, surrounding yourself with inspiring
related materials, and embracing misunderstanding all allow you to reach further than you
could by simply thinking about a problem.

There are other ideation techniques such as bodystorming, mindmapping, and sketching. But
one theme throughout all of them is deferring judgment – that is, separating the generation
of ideas from the evaluation of ideas. In doing so, you give your imagination and creativity
a voice, while placating your rational side in knowing that your will get to the examination of
merits later.

In order to avoid losing all of the innovation potential you have just generated through ideation, we recommend a process of considered selection, by which you bring multiple ideas forward into prototyping, thus maintaining your innovation potential. As a team, designate three voting criteria (we might suggest “the most likely to delight,” “the rational choice,” “the most unexpected” as potential criteria, but they’re really up to you) to use to vote on three different ideas that your team generated during brainstorming. Carry the two or three ideas that receive the most votes forward into prototyping. In this way, you preserve innovation potential by carrying multiple ideas forward—a radically different approach than settling on the single idea that at least the majority of the team can agree upon.

Next up: Prototyping

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