Your constantly-updated definition of Ideation and collection of topical content and literature

What is Ideation?

Ideation is a creative process where designers generate ideas in sessions (e.g., brainstorming, worst possible idea). It is the third stage in the Design Thinking process. Participants gather with open minds to produce as many ideas as they can to address a problem statement in a facilitated, judgment-free environment.

See how Ideation helps build solutions.

Ideation Sessions are About Finding New Angles

It's challenging to gain the perspective to find design solutions. To have productive ideation sessions, you'll need a dedicated environment for standing back to seek and see every angle. First, though, your team must define the right problem to address. Ideation, or "Ideate", is the third step in the Design Thinking process – after “Empathize” (gaining user insights from research/observation) and “Define” (finding links/patterns within those insights to create a meaningful and workable problem statement or point of view).

Before starting to look for ideas, your team needs a clearly defined problem to tackle – a focused problem statement or point of view (POV) to inspire and guide everyone. “How might we…?” questions—e.g., “How might we design an app finding cheap hotels in safe neighborhoods?”—help in reframing issues and prompting effective collaboration towards potential solutions. To bring people together to conjure ideas and bypass established frontiers, you need a skilled facilitator and a creative environment, including a prepared space, featuring posters of personas, relevant information, etc. Your team also requires rules – e.g., a 2-hour time limit, quantity-over-quality focus, ban on distractions such as phones, and “There are no bad ideas” mindset. By being bold and curious, participants can challenge commonly held beliefs and explore possibilities past these obstacles. Team members should take each other's ideas and build on them, find ways to link concepts, recognize patterns and flip seemingly impossible notions over to reveal new insights.

"It's not about coming up with the right idea, it's about generating the broadest range of possibilities.

-, An Introduction to Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE

Using Ideation to Build Castles in the Sky, then the Bridges

There are hundreds of ideation techniques to help you in your ideation sessions. You want an ideation technique that combines your conscious and unconscious mind—fusing the rational with the creative. It must match the sorts of ideas your team must generate and reflect their nature, needs and experience with ideation. Some crucial ones are:

Brainstorming – You build good ideas from each other’s wild ideas.

Braindumping – This is like brainstorming, but done individually.

Brainwriting – This is like brainstorming, but everyone writes down and passes ideas for others to add to before discussing these.

Brainwalking – This is like brainwriting, but members walk about the room, adding to others’ ideas.

Worst Possible Idea – You take an inverted brainstorming approach, emboldening more reserved individuals to produce bad ideas and yielding valuable threads.

Challenging Assumptions – You overturn established beliefs about problems, revealing fresh perspectives.

Mindmapping – You use this graphical technique to connect ideas to problems’ major and minor qualities.

Sketching/Sketchstorming – You use rough sketches/diagrams to express ideas/potential solutions and explore the design space.

Storyboarding – You develop a visual problem/design/solution-related story to illustrate a situation’s dynamics.

SCAMPER – You question problems through action verbs (“Substitute”, “Combine”, “Adapt”, “Modify”, “Put to another use”, “Eliminate”, “Reverse”) to produce solutions.

Bodystorming – You use role-playing in scenarios/customer-journey steps to find solutions.

Analogies – You draw comparisons to communicate ideas better.

Provocation – You use an extreme lateral-thinking technique to challenge established beliefs and explore paths beyond.

Movement – You take a “what if?” approach to overcoming obstacles in ideation and finding themes/trends/attributes towards reliable solutions.

Cheatstorm – You use previously ideated material as stimuli.

Crowdstorming – Your target audiences generate and validate ideas through feedback (e.g., social media) to provide valuable solution insights.

Creative Pause – You take time to pull back from obstacles.

Other methods for ideation include co-creation workshops (combining user empathy research, ideation and prototyping), gamestorming (gamification-oriented ideation methods) and prototyping. The beauty of ideation is its unbounded freedom, although structured environments are critical. If you get stuck, you have fallbacks: e.g., “breaking the law” (listing constraints to see if you can overcome them), “stealing” ideas (emulating applicable concepts from other industries), inverting the problem and laddering (moving problems between the abstract and the concrete).

Learn More about Ideation

We have a course on Design Thinking, featuring lots of hands-on tools for ideation:

Read some practical tips on effective Ideation:

The Nielsen Norman Group’s Aurora Harley examines Ideation challenges, benefits and more:

See Google’s take on approaching Ideation:

Literature on Ideation

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

Learn more about Ideation

Take a deep dive into Ideation with our course Design for the 21st Century with Don Norman .

In this course, taught by your instructor, Don Norman, you’ll learn how designers can improve the world, how you can apply human-centered design to solve complex global challenges, and what 21st century skills you’ll need to make a difference in the world. Each lesson will build upon another to expand your knowledge of human-centered design and provide you with practical skills to make a difference in the world.

“The challenge is to use the principles of human-centered design to produce positive results, products that enhance lives and add to our pleasure and enjoyment. The goal is to produce a great product, one that is successful, and that customers love. It can be done.”

— Don Norman

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