Convergent Thinking

Your constantly-updated definition of Convergent Thinking and collection of topical content and literature

What is Convergent Thinking?

Convergent thinking is an ideation mode which designers use to analyze, filter, evaluate, clarify and modify ideas they have generated in divergent thinking. They use analytical, vertical and linear thinking to find novel and useful ideas, understand the design space possibilities and get closer to potential solutions.

“The best way to have good ideas is to have lots of ideas and throw away the bad ones.”

— Linus Pauling, Nobel Prize-winning chemist, biochemist, chemical engineer, peace activist, author and educator

Convergent and divergent thinking

Convergent Thinking – the Other Side of the Ideation “Coin”

After design teams generate as many ideas as possible in the divergent thinking part of ideation sessions, convergent thinking helps them systematically see whether their ideas might work as real-world solutions. The structure is to:

  1. Sift through ideas.

  2. Group them into themes.

  3. Find common threads.

  4. Decide on winners and losers.

Convergent thinking helps tighten your focus when evaluating each idea. For example, if your design problem concerns users with errands, one idea might be an app for users to control their cars remotely to send/collect goods. You’d then examine it through three lenses:

  • Desirability – “Would users want this?” (Or would they fear accidents, hacking, theft, etc.?)

  • Viability – “Could a brand mass-produce and support it?” (Or would it be unsustainable/too expensive?) 

  • Feasibility – “Is it doable?” (Or would security, sensory and emergency-backup features take years/decades to perfect?)

Then, considering state-of-the-art technology and other factors, you might abandon this idea as impracticable or shelve it for future consideration.

See Ideas in a New Light with Convergent Thinking

Convergent thinking isn’t a clinical process that automatically results in optimal solutions. Rather, you need a careful, creative mindset to:

  • Look past logical norms (which we use in everyday critical thinking);

  • See how an idea stands in relation to the problem; and

  • Understand the reality/dimensions of that problem. 

As you work more insightfully, you can begin to understand the idea in the context of what’s going on in the problem domain. And only with an accurate understanding of the problem can you determine the best criteria to judge an idea with. Otherwise, it’s easy to overlook the problem domain’s complexity and apply just your existing knowledge (e.g., “It looks like something that a mega menu could help with.”). Some dimensions of it may be unlike anything you’ll recognize. By studying problems and ideas on their own terms, though, you can avoid misidentifying them with assumptions.

Thinking convergently helps overcome many obstacles, even if alternative ideas can also cause problems. Sometimes, a clearer understanding might show you the best solution straightaway. Or you might use that understanding to generate new ideas and newer understandings. Whether you’re fine-tuning novel ideas through thought-provokingly fresh lenses or suddenly finding yourself inspired to work on a prototype to test, convergent thinking helps advance your creative process. That’s why it’s vital in a design process such as design thinking.

© Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

How to Use Convergent Thinking to Find Novel and Useful Ideas

Some techniques to help you focus creatively are:

  • Externalization – You sketch ideas to make all the tacit knowledge and underlying assumptions about your project visible and then identify that knowledge (including its limits) to help understand the problem domain.

  • Three-Way Comparisons – You compare three similar products to see how each differs from the other two.

  • More Specific and More General – You place some temporary constraints on your project to get a more specific overview to help you generate ideas, and you stand back to get a more abstract overview.

  • Embrace Opposites – You find overlaps between different categories or opposites to spot new design opportunities.

  • Multiple Classifications – You compare aspects of items using a matrix to widen your inspiration, spot market gaps, analyze trends and rules and examine related qualities.

  • Teasing Apart, Piecing Together (TAPT) – You break down an experience into its elements, reconstruct it with a better understanding of what’s involved and re-imagine it in a new context.

Learn More about Convergent Thinking

Take our Creativity course featuring convergent thinking and many templates: https://www.interaction-design.org/courses/creativity-methods-to-design-better-products-and-services

This SEEK blog nicely shows how convergent thinking fits into ideation: https://www.kaylaheffernan.com/blog/2017/5/8/design-thinking-101the-double-diamond-approachpart-ii-of-ii

Read about convergent thinking at work in Prism Studio’s ideation process: https://blog.prismstudios.io/divergent-and-convergent-thinking-in-the-ideation-process-b2e76b607cf2  

Literature on Convergent Thinking

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

Learn more about Convergent Thinking

Take a deep dive into Convergent Thinking 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.

All Literature

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