Brainwriting

Your constantly-updated definition of Brainwriting and collection of videos and articles
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What is Brainwriting?

Brainwriting is an ideation technique in which participants write their ideas in silence instead of speaking aloud. Participants then share their ideas and build upon them. Brainwriting levels the field and encourages introverts and junior team members to participate more equally in ideation sessions.

When a team begins its journey of idea generation and problem-solving, brainwriting becomes a powerful technique to guide them. This is not the usual chatter-filled brainstorming session. Instead of speaking, team members write down their thoughts; no interruptions and no fear of criticism. 

Brainwriting creates a safe space for all ideas. This quick yet effective activity, which you can complete in 15 minutes, often leads to an impressive array of ideas.

The benefits of this technique surpass traditional brainstorming. With it, you can reduce noise, promote equality, and foster an inclusive environment. Unlike oral exchanges, brainwriting does not favor outspoken individuals. It nurtures quiet voices and invites them into the conversation.

Brainwriting Vs. Brainstorming

Brainwriting

Brainstorming

6 people in a room come up with 3 ideas each. Once through, they pass on their sheet to the person on their right for new ideas.

Sitting in a room with a whiteboard to record things on, participants start jotting random ideas on it.

Produce more number of ideas in less time.

Consumes more time to come up with a single concrete idea.

No verbal discussion is required as people write their ideas on a sheet of paper.

Ideas are shared anonymously, reducing the chances of bias.

Ideas are shared anonymously, reducing the chances of bias.

Ideas are shared out loud, increasing the chance of bias, counter comments, and negative feedback.


Here at the Interaction Design Foundation (IxDF), we have seen the benefits of brainwriting firsthand. Our experience leading effective brainwriting sessions has given us a wealth of ideas to enhance our design thinking process.

Comparison table for differences between brainwriting and brainstorming.

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Brainwriting allows us to navigate the wide ocean of creativity. We follow a robust brainwriting process that encourages every participant to bring forth their most creative solutions.

The Brainwriting Process

A brainwriting session is a simple process that can yield a wealth of creative methods and ideas. While several variations exist in the brainwriting process, we’ll outline a general approach below.

Step-by-step visual representation of the brainwriting process.

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Preparation

Gather your team members and ensure they understand the brainwriting concept and process. Then, define the problem or topic for which ideas are needed. If it's a remote session, every participant should have paper, a pen, or a digital equivalent. Remote teams face no disadvantages.

Idea Generation - Synchronous

Every participant starts writing down their ideas about the defined problem or topic. They can jot these down on sticky notes or a sheet of paper and focus on quantity over quality. This should be a silent exercise that should take about 15 minutes.

Idea Generation - Asynchronous

Some people are better at idea generation on their own or over a longer period. So, you might want to consider an asynchronous idea generation step instead. Participants would be briefed and allowed a day or two to write down ideas. They would bring these to the idea-sharing session.

Idea Sharing

Once all team members have their ideas, they share them with the group. They can post the sticky notes on a board or share them digitally during a remote session. Each participant should read the ideas of others without any interruptions or discussions at this point.

Idea Review

Participants then take time to review the ideas put forward by others. They can add comments or build upon these ideas by writing their thoughts on paper or sticky notes. This process emphasizes the collaborative nature of brainwriting, turning it into a quiet, intellectual conversation.

Guidelines and Rules for Effective Brainwriting

 A checklist for guidelines for effective brainwriting.

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Follow these guidelines to ensure your brainwriting session is effective:

  • Silence is golden: For synchronous ideation, silence is crucial. This ensures that everyone's focus remains on their thoughts and ideas.

  • Quantity over quality: Encourage participants to write as many ideas as possible. This promotes creativity and boosts the total number of ideas generated.

  • Non-judgmental environment: The session should be a safe space where all ideas are welcome, regardless of how unconventional they may seem. You can save judgment and criticism for later stages.

  • Collaboration is key: Brainwriting is a collaborative process. Everyone reviews the ideas, provides comments, or expands on them. This collaboration enriches the final pool of ideas.

The brainwriting process brings together the power of collective minds. It creates a collaborative space where the loudest voice does not necessarily command the room. Instead, it promotes equality. Each thought is seen, each idea is heard, and each participant plays an integral role in the creativity game. 

The output is a treasure of diverse ideas that might have remained unvoiced in traditional brainstorming sessions. 

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Variations of Brainwriting Techniques

While brainwriting is an effective tool for idea generation, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. It has several variations that accommodate different team sizes, dynamics, and objectives, each having unique features and benefits. Let’s look at two notable variations. 

The 6-3-5 Brainwriting Method

 The 6-3-5 brainwriting technique.

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

As the name suggests, the 6-3-5 method involves six participants who come up with three ideas each in five minutes. It yields a total of 108 ideas in 30 minutes.

The process starts with each participant writing down three ideas on paper. These are in response to the problem statement the group is addressing. After a five-minute interval, each participant passes their sheet to the next person. The recipient then reads the ideas on the sheet and adds three new ones using the existing ideas for inspiration. This continues until everyone has contributed to each sheet.

The beauty of the 6-3-5 method lies in its structured approach and the momentum it generates. As ideas pass from one participant to another, they spark new thoughts. It leads to a snowball effect of idea generation. This technique encourages building upon others' ideas while creating a sense of collaboration and collective creativity.

The Brainwriting Pool

 Visual representation of the brainwriting pool technique.

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

The brainwriting pool approach offers more flexibility compared to the 6-3-5 method. In this process, participants write down their ideas on individual sheets of paper. They then place them in the "pool" (a central location).

Other participants can pick any idea from the pool, read it, and use it as inspiration for their own ideas. This allows for a wider range of inspiration and encourages participants to think outside the box. Additionally, the brainwriting pool approach eliminates the pressure of coming up with ideas on the spot. That’s because participants can take their time to browse through the pool and select the ideas that resonate with them.. The process continues for a designated amount of time, and as a result, a diverse set of ideas builds up.

The brainwriting pool is particularly beneficial when a broad range of ideas is needed. It offers more freedom to the participants in choosing the ideas they want to build upon.

Advantages of Brainwriting

Visual representation of advantages of brainwriting.

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Brainwriting offers several notable advantages, making it an effective tool for creativity and problem-solving. Here’s an overview of the advantages that brainwriting offers.

Increased Participation

Brainwriting encourages every team member to share ideas. Brainwriting provides an equal platform for all, unlike verbal brainstorming sessions, where dominant personalities can overshadow quieter voices. Each participant writes down their thoughts, which creates an environment of inclusivity and results in a rich diversity of ideas.

Reduced Bias

In a traditional brainstorming session, the status or personality of the contributors might sway ideas. Brainwriting minimizes this bias. It focuses on the ideas themselves, not on who presents them. This leads to a fair evaluation of ideas based on merit and relevance.

Greater Quantity of Ideas

Brainwriting emphasizes the generation of a large number of ideas. Each participant can contribute multiple thoughts. It often leads to a significant collection of potential solutions.

Collaboration and Anonymity

Brainwriting's collaborative yet anonymous nature can lead to more candid idea generation. Team members may feel more comfortable sharing unconventional or radical ideas when focusing on the idea rather than the individual proposing it.

How to Overcome Challenges in Brainwriting

While brainwriting is a powerful tool, it may pose specific challenges. You can address these challenges through well-considered strategies to ensure a productive and positive ideation session.

Challenge 1: Limited Participation

Sometimes, participants may hesitate to share their thoughts due to fear of judgment or lack of confidence. This could lead to limited participation.

Solution: Foster a non-judgmental and inclusive environment. Remind participants that all ideas are valued, and the goal is to generate many ideas rather than perfect ones. Encourage participants to write freely and assure them that critique and evaluation come later.

Challenge 2: Sticking to Known Ideas

Creating a collaborative atmosphere in a brainwriting session can be challenging in remote settings.

Solution: Encourage divergent thinking. Prompts or themes can be provided to help inspire fresh and unconventional ideas. Stress that you welcome radical, out-of-the-box thinking and actively encourage it.

Challenge 3: Overwhelming Number of Ideas

With every participant generating multiple ideas, the quantity can be overwhelming, and managing them might be challenging.

Solution: Plan for idea organization. Create a system to categorize and prioritize the ideas after they're generated. You can use tools such as affinity diagrams to group related ideas and dot voting to prioritize them.

Challenge 4: Remote Brainwriting

Creating a brainwriting session's collaborative atmosphere can be challenging in remote settings.

Solution: Leverage digital tools. Several online platforms allow for real-time collaboration and idea sharing. These can replicate a physical brainwriting session's dynamic and offer advantages like easy categorization and permanent records.

A positive and inclusive team environment is crucial for overcoming these challenges. It ensures all participants feel valued and heard, which boosts participation and idea generation. With proper strategies, brainwriting can unleash creativity, leading to innovative solutions that enrich the collective goal.

Technology for Remote Brainwriting

In this digital and remote work environment, using technology to facilitate brainwriting has become necessary and advantageous. Digital tools allow for remote participation and offer features that can streamline and enhance the brainwriting process.

Digital Tools for Brainwriting

Several online platforms enable virtual collaboration, making them suitable for remote brainwriting sessions. Here are a few recommended options:

  1. Google Jamboard: This digital whiteboard platform allows team members to create and share real-time sticky notes. It's a simple yet effective tool replicating brainwriting's physical process in a digital environment.

  2. FigJam: FigJam serves as a versatile digital tool designed for team collaboration. It goes beyond mere brainwriting and extends into diagramming meetings, and agile workflows. The tool also integrates with Asana, Jira, and Github, making it easier to turn brainstormed ideas into actionable plans.

  3. Miro: Miro offers a more feature-rich experience, providing an extensive toolkit for brainstorming and ideation sessions. Participants can add sticky notes, draw, create flowcharts, and even vote on ideas. It's an excellent choice for more complex brainwriting sessions.

  4. Microsoft Whiteboard: Similar to Google Jamboard but integrated with the Microsoft ecosystem, this platform offers real-time collaboration. It has features like sticky notes, drawing tools, and image uploads.

Benefits of Remote Brainwriting

Despite the challenges, remote brainwriting offers several benefits in today's digital age:

  1. Flexibility: It allows team members to participate regardless of location. This ensures all voices are heard, even in distributed teams.

  2. Accessibility: Digital tools often come with features that increase accessibility. These include adjustable text sizes, color differentiation, and compatibility with assistive technologies.

  3. Record Keeping: Online platforms automatically save the work and create a permanent session record to revisit later. This eliminates the risk of losing ideas and allows for easy sharing and reviewing after the session.

  4. Efficiency: Digital categorization and voting tools can streamline the review and prioritization process. This way, you can easily manage a large number of ideas.

Integrating technology into brainwriting sessions has never been more relevant. These virtual platforms facilitate innovative, inclusive, and practical ideation sessions as we navigate the evolving digital landscape.

Brainwriting in Different Contexts

Brainwriting's versatility makes it applicable in various contexts, from business and design to education. Its flexibility allows it to be adapted to different problem-solving scenarios, providing a powerful approach to idea generation across domains.

Business

Brainwriting can address countless challenges in the business world, be it strategic planning, marketing innovations, or process improvements. 

For instance, a company might use a brainwriting session to generate ideas for a new product launch. Team members from different departments could contribute diverse perspectives. It can lead to various promotional ideas that combine sales strategies, advertising creativity, and customer engagement tactics.

Design

Brainwriting helps in creating user-centered design through innovative solutions and creative designs in the design field. 

  • In service design, it helps develop streamlined processes focused on user needs. 

  • In product design, brainwriting stimulates the creation of functional and aesthetically pleasing products that resonate with consumers. 

  • In graphic design, it can generate fresh and engaging visual communication concepts. 

  • In interaction design, it encourages the ideation of intuitive interfaces that foster seamless user interactions.

For a quick introduction to user-centered design, see this video by Don Norman, the pioneer of UX design.

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Every designer has a unique perspective and ideas that they can write. Brainwriting creates a collective pool of creativity that the team can work with. 

For example, a design team could hold a brainwriting session to develop new solutions or introduce features to solve users’ problems  and improve user experience. As the team shares and builds upon these ideas, it can converge on a design that merges the best elements from each concept.

Education

The education industry can benefit significantly from brainwriting. Teachers can use it to generate lesson plan ideas, educational strategies, or methods to increase student engagement. Meanwhile, students can use brainwriting to work on group projects or to generate creative solutions in problem-based learning scenarios. 

For example, during a class project, students could hold a brainwriting session to develop ideas for their project topic, research methods, presentation strategies, and more.

In each of these contexts, the core principle remains the same:

  • Every participant writes down their ideas.

  • Everyone's ideas are valued equally.

  • You leverage the collective creativity of the group.

You can tailor the brainwriting process's specifics to suit the context's unique needs and characteristics.

The versatility of brainwriting lies in its ability to accommodate different problem-solving scenarios across a wide range of fields. It stands as a testament to the adaptability of this ideation technique and its capacity to promote innovation in diverse settings. Therefore, brainwriting isn't just a tool; it's a flexible strategy to unleash creativity and encourage collaborative problem-solving.

The Future of Trends in Brainwriting: AI-Assisted Digital Tools

Brainwriting is a dynamic evolving process. The technological advancements and innovative ideation techniques point towards exciting future trends in brainwriting methodologies.

Remote Brainwriting and AI-Assisted Digital Tools

The digital era has unlocked the potential for remote brainwriting, making this collaborative process more accessible and efficient. Even tools like Google Spreadsheets can be harnessed for brainwriting. The immediacy of idea sharing on these digital platforms enables participants to draw inspiration from others' thoughts in real time. 

As technology advances, we can expect even more sophisticated tools to enhance the brainwriting process. These may offer features like instant categorization, advanced collaborative capabilities, and AI-assisted idea generation.

Studies suggest that digital brainwriting can significantly improve idea generation. This highlights the potential for further advancements in brainwriting tools and platforms. As technology evolves, we can see smarter platforms that offer features designed specifically for brainwriting. For example, these could be AI-based idea categorization or automatic transcription for verbal brainwriting.

The future of brainwriting is indeed exciting, with technology paving the way for enhanced collaboration, innovation, and efficiency. As we adapt and evolve these methodologies, brainwriting proves to be a valuable and highly cost-effective idea-generating technique. It promises to remain a potent tool in our creativity arsenal for collaborative idea generation. 

Learn More about Brainwriting

If you're interested in learning more about brainwriting and other ideation techniques and iterative approaches, consider joining us in our journey of exploration and learning. 

Take the Design Thinking: The Ultimate Guide Course to learn how to use this and other ideation techniques.

If you're starting your UX journey, join our beginner UX courses today. 

See Agile Alliance’s Brainwriting: The Team Hack to Generating Better Ideas.

To go deep into the world of design, enroll in one of our UX/UI courses today. 

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Literature on Brainwriting

Here’s the entire UX literature on Brainwriting by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Brainwriting

Take a deep dive into Brainwriting with our course Creativity: Methods to Design Better Products and Services .

The overall goal of this course is to help you design better products, services and experiences by helping you and your team develop innovative and useful solutions. You’ll learn a human-focused, creative design process.

We’re going to show you what creativity is as well as a wealth of ideation methods―both for generating new ideas and for developing your ideas further. You’ll learn skills and step-by-step methods you can use throughout the entire creative process. We’ll supply you with lots of templates and guides so by the end of the course you’ll have lots of hands-on methods you can use for your and your team’s ideation sessions. You’re also going to learn how to plan and time-manage a creative process effectively.

Most of us need to be creative in our work regardless of if we design user interfaces, write content for a website, work out appropriate workflows for an organization or program new algorithms for system backend. However, we all get those times when the creative step, which we so desperately need, simply does not come. That can seem scary—but trust us when we say that anyone can learn how to be creative­ on demand. This course will teach you ways to break the impasse of the empty page. We'll teach you methods which will help you find novel and useful solutions to a particular problem, be it in interaction design, graphics, code or something completely different. It’s not a magic creativity machine, but when you learn to put yourself in this creative mental state, new and exciting things will happen.

In the “Build Your Portfolio: Ideation Project”, you’ll find a series of practical exercises which together form a complete ideation project so you can get your hands dirty right away. If you want to complete these optional exercises, you will get hands-on experience with the methods you learn and in the process you’ll create a case study for your portfolio which you can show your future employer or freelance customers.

Your instructor is Alan Dix. He’s a creativity expert, professor and co-author of the most popular and impactful textbook in the field of Human-Computer Interaction. Alan has worked with creativity for the last 30+ years, and he’ll teach you his favorite techniques as well as show you how to make room for creativity in your everyday work and life.

You earn a verifiable and industry-trusted Course Certificate once you’ve completed the course. You can highlight it on your resume, your LinkedIn profile or your website.

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