We’d all like to believe that inspiration will miraculously strike us right when we need it. But the reality is creativity often needs the right kind of encouragement.
In the design thinking process, the ideation phase encourages creative thinking that will lead to a user-centered solution. The goal is to ensure each participant feels comfortable challenging assumptions and sharing their own ideas.
What is ideation in design thinking?
Ideation is a creative technique that focuses on solving a problem statement through collaborative thought experiments. A good ideation session will yield a wide variety of potential solutions and leave each participant feeling positive about their contributions.
How do you encourage creative ideas?
The last thing you want to hear in a brainstorming session is crickets (metaphorically speaking, of course). Everyone in the room should be throwing out their ideas, regardless of their practicality. You never know what crazy scheme might lead to the perfect solution after a little refinement.
Design thinking also embraces non-linear problem-solving. This means it’s okay to let ideas simmer and then regroup later if nothing that you’ve thought up so far seems like it’s going to work.
Setting the scene
Before you start spitballing, it’s best to implement some guidelines to keep you and your team on track.
Set a time limit: Creativity is mentally taxing, so try not to let a brainstorming session drag on. Avoid burnout by taking 5–10-minute breaks every 60 minutes to give everyone a chance to recharge.
Create a no-judgement zone: Creative thinking requires vulnerability. Nothing kills the mood like snarky remarks or eye rolls, so set ground rules and make sure your team understands that all ideas are welcome at this stage. For example:
- Criticize the idea, never the person.
- Use respectful language.
- Invite everyone to participate.
- Encourage questions about anything.
Go for quantity: Throw everything at the wall until something sticks. Shoot for a high number of ideas, even silly ones. Encourage even the silliest of ideas to keep the creative juices flowing and harness that energy to get your team thinking up as many possibilities as they can.
Focus on the problem statement: Get a group of creative people in a room and discussions can quickly veer into tangents. Once you have a good number of ideas, pause, take a break, and then circle back to evaluate which ideas actually tackle the problem you want to solve for the user.
Use visual aids: Not everyone absorbs information in the same way. Try using visual aids such as charts, images, or diagrams when explaining ideas or concepts. This can help ensure everyone has the same level of knowledge going in. Having a visual breakdown of the customer journey can also help keep everyone focused on the problem that needs to be solved.
You’ve got a team, you’ve got some guidelines, now what? Here are some ideation activities to get the ball rolling:
Mind map: Mind mapping uses word association as a starting point for gathering your thoughts. Using a whiteboard or sticky notes, write down the problem statement, and place it at the center of your workspace. Slowly add topically related words, issues, and ideas around it.
Storyboard: Use the customer journey to set up a timeline on a whiteboard. Get your team members to jot down potential solutions (or snags) and add them to the storyboard where they would sequentially make the most sense.
Find the worst possible idea: Sometimes a change in perspective is all it takes to find the right solution. Have your team come up with bad ideas that would be the most inconvenient/unsafe/impractical to implement. This style of “reverse brainstorming” can help highlight the biggest pain points for the user.
Ready, Set, Ideate!
For creative professionals, there’s nothing quite like finding your flow state and generating a ton of ideas. Once you notice your team is building off each other’s suggestions to make something truly great, you’ll know you’ve hit your stride. Keep ideation best practices in mind and don’t be afraid to try different styles of brainstorming to keep things fresh.