IXD302 Week 8 Idea Generation

This week we began looking at our product pitch. The primary focus is this weeks lecture was on idea generation to help us come up with ideas for our products. The following options were provided to help to get an understanding of what our products could be.

  • Web Site (Something Substantial)
  • Native Application (Phone, Watch…)
  • Web App, SaaS
  • eBook
  • Printed Book
  • Cards
  • Physical Product
  • Packaging System
  • Game (app, board games)
  • Connected Products
  • Anything.

So essentially the sky is the limit. Having the option to pitch a product that could be anything can make it difficult to come up with ideas. Sometimes I find a few constraints to be helpful in these circumstances. To help us with this we covered a number of idea generation techniques in class this week.

Mind Mapping

Image of mind map

While I am very used to this approach to idea generation and include it as a starting point to all my projects I thought it might be helpful to find out a little more about the history of the mind map and different approaches to mind mapping.

I found a great medium article on the topic by Ashley Keller.

At the beginning of the post, Keller outlines how effective visual thinking methods such as mind mapping are as part of the creative process. This is because they help you to expand apon your initial concepts and arrive at new approaches and solutions.

The history of mind maps as idea generation strategies can be dated back centuries with the earliest mind map having been attributed to Porphyry of Tyros, a 3rd-century Greek philosopher.

The process of mind mapping includes generating words, images, numbers, analysis, abstract thinking and logical thinking to name only a few. Scholars and advocates of the technique consider mind mapping to be

“a more natural method for visualizing thoughts since the information is structured in a way that resembles how your brain actually works.”

This is an interesting perspective. I had never considered mind mapping in this way however when you consider the net-like structures of neural pathways in your brain it does make sense that I mind map would be a more accurate visual representation of how we think.

A few new techniques that can be applied to mind mapping have also been suggested in this article. There are:

Intervals- set 5 minute time frames to focus on only one subtopic of your mindmap after the primary subtopics have been added.

Pomodoro timeboxing- Create a mind map with listening to music/ ambient noise and mind map continuously for 25 minutes.

Incubation and reconstruction- after completing your mind map take a break and do a completely different activity then come back a create a second mind map. When you’re done compare the two.

Brainstorming

When considering brainstorming I wanted to look at what IDEO had to say about the technique as well as how they approach it. I think IDEO are a really exciting company to explore and learn from as their creative process is so effective.

They had a brilliant post on the topic with multiple video clips on how to brainstorm. They define brainstorming as an activity that helps you to generate more innovative ideas. It is described as a method of ideation that is core to the design thinking process.

ycles of divergent and convergent thinking.

The above diagram displays two parts of the creative thinking process that brainstorming helps with. The divergence stage in brainstorming pushes a team to go wide to find insights and generate new ideas. When this has been done the team can move to the convergence stage which narrows the team focus by defining ideas and synthesizing information.

This is a really great way to approach brainstorming as it encourages the team to really push boundaries and get very creative because its not the end result and its about coming up with something a little bit crazy. Brendan Boyle explains how to do this in the short clip below.

Some of the rules for brainstorming as highlighted in this post are highlighted in the below infographic.

rules for brainstorming

The above are great guidelines in my opinion for conducting a brainstorming session. By following the above rules you can create a safe space where people can explore ideas without going off on tangents. I also love how the diagram above displays a clear visual of how “diverge” and “converge” fit into the creative process. I have come across these terms before however I always struggled to understand what they meant and how they actually fit into the creative problem-solving process. I now feel a lot more equipped at approaching brainstorming and idea generation in general as I imagine divergent and convergent thinking comes into all idea generation techniques.

Visual Thinking

Moodboard

This is quite a broad approach. It basically entails creating a moodboard or inspiration and design associations. This can be done using Google Images, Designspiration, Niice and Pinterest. Designspiration and Niice are two resources that I was not as familiar with so I definitely intend to try these out in future projects.

Moodboards provide lots of visual stimuli that is meant to inspire you to come up with ideas and visual design approaches to a project. It was noted that this is potentially more useful at the interface stage, this is where I would usually incorporate a moodboard as well. However, this approach still has the potential to spark lots of ideas.

It is also helpful that the more you expose yourself to other peoples work and different types of design the better you will become as a designer. A mood board can provide inspiration and help to generate new ideas as well as affirmation of the ideas and choices you have already made. A moodboard can also provide guidance and help to direct your design and style choices as you progress through a project as well as helping you to communicate ideas.

Sketching

Sketching is a great way of getting your ideas on paper and bringing an early physical representation to life. A degree of sketching is absent-minded or a stream of conscious so it can be a good approach to get ideas on paper quickly. It can be something as simple as drawing words rather than writing them like in Sketchnotes. This gives you a visual point of reference to look back on and to help spark more ideas. It also helps you to appraise the idea so that it can be properly analysed. This also means that you no longer have to remember the idea as it is on paper to remind you. So you can move your brain to consider new aspects of the idea or something new entirely.

Other bonuses of this approach are that it’s quick, easy to edit and add to and you can do lots of iterations. It is also worth mentioning that an article on science direct has noted that sketching stimulates the participants to re-interpret each other’s ideas. This essentially means that when discussing ideas and sketches with others there is space for other teammates to interpret sketches differently than intended leading to further idea generation.

Connections

Making connections

Another approach to idea generation is the connections approach. This provides a set of limitations to help guide you to an outcome. As I mentioned at the beginning to much freedom can make it difficult to come up with ideas so I was intrigued by this approach. Connections introduces a set of parameters such as identifying a human need, a target audience, a genre and a medium that leads to an idea (potential categories and options for these parameters are displayed above). An example of this was provided in this weeks lecture:

Education + 24-34 + Platform game + Amartphone = A casual game for language learning aimed at young professionals who have to words and assemble sentences to progress to the next level.

The language learning idea as presented above is just one potential outcome when carrying out this approach you would generate lots of potential ideas using the parameters. There is also the option to remove a parameter. e.g. if having a set device was too restrictive and you were able to generate lots of ideas when this parameter was ignored you would simply remove it. You have the choice to use as many parameters as you like to help you in the idea generation process. Once you have selected the parameters you’re going to include you would choose an outcome at random and then start generating.

This is an approach that I think sounds really interesting and has a lot of potentials to get you thinking outside the box in the initial stages of Idea generation.

Associations

This approach uses random associations to help you come up with new ideas. One approach is to use a random word or image generator and then take between 30 seconds to two minutes to generate ideas, then pull up the next word or image and go again.

Alternatively, you can mash two ideas together. This can be done by generating a list of different elements e.g. technology, society, laws etc and then writing examples around each element.  An example of this was

Technology = Phones, Laptops, 3D printers

Society = Trains, Cars, Schools

This was an approach we used in our idea generation session along with brainstorming which I will look at in more detail in another post. This is also another great way to help guide your thinking when attempting to come up with new ideas.

Worst Way

The Interaction Design Foundation describes Worst Possible Idea’s as an ideation method that encourages team members to come up with the worst solutions in an ideation session. This is described as an inverted search method and is supposed to boost confidence, encourage creativity as well as help team members to challenge their assumptions and gain insights bringing them to a great idea.

The process is relatively simple:

  1. Come up with as many bad ideas as you can.
  2. List all the properties of the worst ideas.
  3. List what makes the worst of these so bad.
  4. Search for the opposite of the worst attribute.
  5. Consider substituting something else in for the worst attribute.
  6. Mix and match various awful ideas to see what happens.

The main idea behind this approach is to take away any fear of team members feeling silly or embarrassed about putting forward an idea. It is encouraging that people do this in brainstorming however as suggested by the Interaction Design Foundation this may not be enough to reassure team members. By completing changing the playing field and actively trying to come up with the worst possible ideas no one can look silly as bad ideas are the aim of the game.

When the bad ideas are deconstructed powerful insights can be gained which can act as a solid foundation when moving to the next phase of the ideation process.

The worst way can also be approached by brainstorming unintended negative consequences of a product. An example of this might be

Gaming devices encourage children to spend a lot more time alone

Now that you have identified a problem with streaming services you can now start searching for solutions to this specific problem. An example solution for this problem might be incorporating a multiplayer feature in the gaming device.  I think this seems like a really interesting approach particularly if you’re working with a new team or if you’re struggling to come up with any unique and creative solutions to problems or in our case products.

 

What if…? How might we…?

This approach is basically re-phrasing the questions we are asking ourselves or our team when trying to come up with ideas or solutions to problems. During the course of discovery research, we should learn more about the problems we are trying to solve in our product or service or in our case by our product. This helps to prevent people from presenting their preferred solutions rather than actually considering solutions that are directly related to the problem as highlighted in a Nielson Norman Group article on the how might we…? question. An example of this might be:

How might we encourage people to renew their car insurance with us via our new app?

Tips on how to write good how might we questions include:

  • Starting with the problems or insights that have been uncovered.
  • Avoid suggesting a solution in the how might we…? question.
  • Keep the how might we…? question broad.
  • Focus the how might we…? question on the desired outcome.
  • Phrase the how might we…? question positively.

I think the what of approach is a great idea to come up with new ideas and put a slant on current products. An example of this might be:

What if you could turn learning how to make investments and buying stock into a game?

Again I think this is an excellent approach. I particularly like the how might we…? question. It is interesting to note that this was an approach first introduced by Procter & Gamble in the 1970s and has now become a popular design thinking technique used worldwide and has been specifically adopted by IDEO. I think this approach is a great way to ensure you’re coming up with solutions to the specific problems you are trying to solve.

Inspiration

There are multiple ways to go about finding inspiration. It can be as simple as going for a walk or reading about a completely different topic or even watching an interesting documentary. By changing the setting or focusing on something else for a while you can put the problem to the back of your mind. This allows your sub-conscious to do the thinking.

You can also try breaking the problem into smaller pieces like considering the Who, What, When, Where and How of the problem. Smaller questions are great as they open up the conversation and lead to new threads of thought and overall more rounded discussion which should hopefully lead to bigger and better ideas.

Osborn Checklist

Osborn’s Checklist is an ideation technique created by Alex Osborn. It brings together and changes the existing elements of an idea to help create something new. This is done through a list of comprehensive questions devised into a checklist usually identified by the acronym SCAMPER:

  • Substitute (What can be swapped out for something else and how will this impact the product?)
  • Combine (What can be combined and how will this impact the product?)
  • Adapt (What can be adapted and how?)
  • Modify (What can be modified?)
  • Put to other uses (What other uses can the product serve?)
  • Eliminate (What can be eliminated?)
  • Rearrange and reverse (What can be rearranged or reverse?)

This is a great approach for making new products as it allows you to start with something that already exists and turn it into something completely different.

Overall I think all of the above have the potential to be very helpful techniques and tools to help me come up with an idea for my product. I also think the above techniques could be very helpful in the iterative stages of any project and am excited to experiment with them as I take on new projects hopefully as I move into a working environment as well.

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