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Ideation: Getting The Ideas To Flow

Sometimes new ideas come easy – other times it can feel like a true battle to summon creative ideas to the surface. Luckily there are many strategies that one can use to come up with new ideas and creative solutions to problems. In the Design Thinking approach, the process of coming up with new ideas is called ideation. Ideation pushes us to combine our conscious and unconscious minds, summoning thoughts from our imagination and partnering them with our rational thoughts from the restricted, natural world. Ideation begs us to dream beyond the scope of what we would normally perceive, into new realms with new possibilities. But how do we crack open access to these deeper recesses of our minds to unlock innovative thinking? Those who study and utilize design thinking methods offer us many new strategies to achieve exactly those goals.

Braindumping, Brainstorming, Brainwriting, Brainwalking
These strategies are very similar at their core, meant to generate the largest number of ideas possible. Braindumping is typically an individual activity – where one empties all thoughts onto paper without restriction or judgment. The other three strategies work well with collaborative groups. Brainstorming is a process by which people gather around and share ideas, often using Post-its or a white board to capture everything in a way that is visible for the group. Again it’s important to reserve judgement and allow all ideas to flow freely, as crazy as they may sound. Brainwriting is a process by which individual braindumping occurs for a set amount of time, and then those lists of ideas are passed to another person, who then builds upon what is already there. Brainwalking is similar – except that rather than pass a piece of paper around, the individuals involved move around the room to different stations, often using large pieces of paper taped to the wall to record their ideas.

Mindmapping, Concept Mapping, and Cognitive Mapping
These strategies all focus on making connections from one idea to another. In all approaches you typically start with an idea or concept in the middle, and from there branch off with related ideas, or nodes. As you continue to build upon your map, a web of relationships begins to take shape. As you study the connections, new ideas often begin to emerge. This is a great way to organize ideas even after a brainstorming session, categorizing and demonstrating meaningful relationships.

Sketchstorm, Bodystorm, Gamestorm, Crowdstorm
These approaches all build upon the concept of brainstorming, but incorporate other elements meant to get the individual out of their comfort zone and approach the problem using slightly different tools. Sketchstorming involves drawing out your ideas, while bodystorming asks you to act out the problem to find solutions. Gamestorming adds in game elements to encourage participation, while crowdstorming invites members of the target audience to draw on their experiences to generate solutions to their own problems.

Vision Boards, Collages, Photo Studies
Sometimes words can only get us so far. Turning to images can often open up new patterns of thinking and allow different ideas to emerge. Collage and vision boards both pull from stacks of images, often taken from magazines, to connect ideas, show patterns, or create a visual story or concept. Photo studies rely on photographs to construct the full picture of a problem – handing a camera to members of your target audience and focusing them with a specific question to address can yield visually stunning but also quite fascinating results!

In addition to these strategies for ideation, there are also different ways of approaching a problem that force out of the box thinking. A few of these approaches include:

  • Challenge Assumptions
    Step back and rethink everything you think you know about a problem. Are there some things you are taking for granted, that may not necessarily be true?
  • Engage in Provocation
    Take everything you already know about a problem, and then inject unconventional thinking patterns to see things in a new light
  • Take a Creative Pause
    Walk away from the problem for a bit. Do something completely different, and return refreshed and renewed to look at the problem in a new light.

The next time you are faced with a problem and find yourself struggling to come up with new solutions, consider trying out some of these techniques and approaches. You might be surprised what these design thinking methods for ideation reveal!


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