A Beginner's Guide to Design Thinking : The Idea Generation Process

The Idea Generation Process

Now that you have gone through the Empathise and Define Modes in the design thinking process, you'll now focus on generating multiple alternatives to solve your design challenge. It's important to note that Design Thinking is a non-linear process and as such you might encounter overlaps between the ideation and define stages. Notwithstanding this overlap, the insights garnered from both stages can be resourceful to steer the generation of a repository of ideas, design concepts, and solutions to address your design challenge. 

What is Ideation?

“Ideate is the mode of the design process in which you concentrate on idea generation. Mentally it represents a process of “going wide” in terms of concepts and outcomes. Ideation provides both the fuel and also the source material for building prototypes and getting innovative solutions into the hands of your users.”  Stanford d.school  An Introduction to Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE

Why is Ideation Significant? 

Ideation is crucial to transition from understanding your customers and identifying their problems, to create solutions that satisfy their needs. This is the opportune time to leverage your understanding of your customers and the problem space and conceive a broad pool of novel and  “disruptive”  solutions that will change their lives. As Aurora Harley explains in Ideation for Everyday Design Challenges, your goal is to explore or generate a broad pool of ideas, “with no attempt to judge or evaluate them.”  

At this stage, your aim is to discover new angles and unearth unpredicted areas for innovation while suspending judgment. In essence, you're thinking outside the box, to drive innovation for your solution concepts. Moreover, your focus is more on quantity and not the quality of your ideas. Later, you'll determine the best solution through customer evaluation and -feedback. Furthermore, in the ideate mode, you want to go beyond “obvious” design concepts. By doing this, you'll achieve the following. 

  1. Create fluency (volume) and flexibility (variety)” in your solution concepts. - Stanford d.school: Introduction to Design Thinking Process Guide.
  2. Harness strengths, collective brainpower, creativity, and diversity of ideas from your teammates.
  3. Generate atypical, novel, and innovative design concepts that will inspire your customers and prompt a positive experience with your product or service.

Key Idea Generation Design Methods

Stanford d.school  explains the following as you begin the process of ideation. 

"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." Stanford d.school  - An Introduction to Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE 

At this stage, there are a plethora of creative techniques that you can exploit to generate novelty and innovation in your designs. Kindly see the list below, which is not exhaustive. 

  • Prototypes
  • Sketches
  • User Enactments / Roleplay
  • Scenarios
  • Storytelling
  • Storyboarding
  • Sketching
  • Mindmapping
  • Brainstorming
  • Bodystorming
  • Gamestorming
  • Cheatstorming
  • Crowdstorming
  • Brainwriting
  • Brain dumping
  • Co-creation workshops
  • Synectics
  • Creative Pause
  • Analogies
  • Provocation
  • Challenge Assumptions
  • Worst Possible Idea
  • Impose Constraints

I recommend that you explore in detail the list above to determine, which method is ideal for you and your team.

How to Organize an Ideation Workshop?

While an ideation workshop can be fun and exciting, you'll need to actively plan and prepare for this session. You may follow the guideline below to ensure the success of your workshop.

  1. You'll want to invite a diverse group of people, so they can bring their unique perspectives to the session.  Around 7-10 people should be ideal as too many people could be quite overwhelming.
  2. You'll need to create a clear outline for the session, including the overall goal of the workshop, an ice-breaker, the different activities, and the creative ideation techniques that will be leveraged. Preparing a list of how-might-we questions beforehand to address the problem statement would be optimal.
  3. It is highly recommended that you set a time limit for each activity of the workshop. 
  4. It is imperative to create a comfortable space where your “ideators” feel safe to share their creative ideas and perspectives.
  5. You'll definitely need to appoint a design facilitator to guide your team, impose constraints, set targets, and steer your team in the right direction. This person should also encourage the team to think outside the box and to generate as many unconventional and novel ideas as possible.
  6. You'll also want to assign note-takers who can visualize and record the teams' ideas along with their new insights and perspectives. 

What Happens Next?

Once you have completed the session, all ideas need to be collated, categorized, and refined so you can move forward into the prototyping phase. You'll definitely need to devise a selection criterion to pinpoint which ideas are most feasible and should be transported into the prototyping phase. To evaluate your design concepts, you may exploit affinity diagrams to group your designs. Or, as recommended by Rikke Friis Dam and Teo Yu Siang you could leverage the four categories method to organize your ideas according to their “relative abstractness, ranging from the most rational choice to the 'long shot' choice.” Another option you could exploit is to vote among your ideators to determine which top three ideas should move forward into the prototyping phase. In this way, you can preserve innovation and have sufficient ideas for evaluation in order to decipher the best concept to satisfy your customers' needs. 

Additional Readings 

  1. https://careerfoundry.com/en/blog/ux-design/what-is-ideation-in-design-thinking/
  2. http://web.stanford.edu/~mshanks/MichaelShanks/files/509554.pdf
  3. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/stage-3-in-the-design-thinking-process-ideate
  4. https://s3.xopic.de/openhpi-public/courses/1NcWQVnyTA0dLYw9kHLs4e/rtfiles/35m0Q8qXYjvHO7FHuwgVgg/bootcampbootleg2010.pdf
  5. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/ux-ideation/

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A Beginner's Guide to Design Thinking
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Kadian Davis-Owusu (PhD)
Kadian has a background in Computer Science and pursued her PhD and post-doctoral studies in the fields of Design for Social Interaction and Design for Health. She has taught a number of interaction design courses at the university level including the University of the West Indies, the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean (UCC) in Jamaica, and the Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands. Kadian also serves as the Founder and Lead UX Designer for TeachSomebody and is the host of the ExpertsConnect video podcast. In this function, Kadian serves to bridge the learning gap by delivering high-quality content tailored to meet your learning needs. Moreover, through expert collaboration, top-quality experts are equipped with a unique channel to create public awareness and establish thought leadership in their related domains.... Show more