Ideation

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

- d.school, 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: /courses/design-...

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 ֱ 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 Thinking: The Beginner’s Guide .

Some of the world’s leading brands, such as Apple, Google, Samsung, and General Electric, have rapidly adopted the design thinking approach, and design thinking is being taught at leading universities around the world, including Stanford d.school, Harvard, and MIT. What is design thinking, and why is it so popular and effective?

The overall goal of this design thinking course is to help you design better products, services, processes, strategies, spaces, architecture, and experiences. Design thinking helps you and your team develop practical and innovative solutions for your problems. It is a human-focused, prototype-driven, innovative design process. Through this course, you will develop a solid understanding of the fundamental phases and methods in design thinking, and you will learn how to implement your newfound knowledge in your professional work life. We will give you lots of examples; we will go into case studies, videos, and other useful material, all of which will help you dive further into design thinking.

This course contains a series of practical exercises that build on one another to create a complete design thinking project. The exercises are optional, but you’ll get invaluable hands-on experience with the methods you encounter in this course if you complete them, because they will teach you to take your first steps as a design thinking practitioner. What’s equally important is you can use your work as a case study for your portfolio to showcase your abilities to future employers! A portfolio is essential if you want to step into or move ahead in a career in the world of human-centered design.

Design thinking methods and strategies belong at every level of the design process. However, design thinking is not an exclusive property of designers—all great innovators in literature, art, music, science, engineering, and business have practiced it. What’s special about design thinking is that designers and designers’ work processes can help us systematically extract, teach, learn, and apply these human-centered techniques in solving problems in a creative and innovative way—in our designs, in our businesses, in our countries, and in our lives.

That means that design thinking is not only for designers but also for creative employees, freelancers, and business leaders. It’s for anyone who seeks to infuse an approach to innovation that is powerful, effective and broadly accessible, one that can be integrated into every level of an organization, product, or service so as to drive new alternatives for businesses and society.

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