Ideation Tips for the Left-Brained Designer


I admit that I am a left-brained designer.

Many people associate designers with people who are right-brained. You know, the team member who can easily sketch out 20 ideas on the whiteboard, or the classmate who is able to make beautiful picasso-like graphics overnight. If you are a right-brained designer, I applaud you and I hope that I can learn a thing or two from you.

But the designer profession, as broadly defined as it is today, is not reserved for only the right-brained individual. Yes, designers have to be creative, but they also have to be problem solvers which require a certain amount of logical and analytical thinking typically associated with left-brained thinkers. What I’m really saying is that a good designer will need to leverage both creativity and logical thinking to effectively pinpoint the problem, design a solution, and sell that solution to others.

So, what if you’re a left-brained designer, and you want to be a better idea generator?

I often find myself getting stuck during ideation exercises because I begin to analyze the idea before even giving it a chance. Over time, I’ve discovered ways to use my left-brain thinking to come up with ways to encourage right-brain activity. For example, rather than sitting there and waiting until a great idea comes to mind, I use strategies to get my right brain churning faster. Here are a few strategies that I default to when I get stuck.

1. Pretend that the product has magical powers.

This shouldn’t sound new to you, but I find that many designers rarely employ this method in the ideation process. I find this strategy to be extremely useful because I am able to focus on the user’s ideal experience without being bogged down by details like feasibility. Sure, the teleportation idea is a crazy one, but maybe there are elements of that idea that can be used or supported by other technology. Constraining ideas to those that are technologically feasible in the beginning stages will only limit the breadth of your stack of ideas.

2. Start Drawing a Concept Map

I never truly understood the value of a concept map until I took a Service Design course where we spent 3 weeks making them. Concept maps are awesome ways to brainstorm individually or in a group by connecting related things. Here’s an example of a concept map that my team created to come up with ideas for a new food service. This exercise brought out areas of the food experience that I would never have thought of had I just sat down with a pen and a blank piece of paper.

Concept Map for Food that my team created.

3. Start telling a story about the user.

This strategy can take form in many ways. If you are ideating with a group, it might make sense to turn this into a “Yes And” improv exercise where everyone takes turns telling the story by adding on to what the previous person said. If you’re ideating alone, you can write a story using words or sketch out a scenario. Regardless, make sure you start with a user, describe the problem that he/she has and tell a story about how this problem is resolved through some future experience with the product or service. It should be relatively short and doesn’t need to be grounded in details or a specific technology.

4. Fill out a Creative Matrix.

The Luma Institute popularized the Creative Matrix technique which I defer to when I’m trying to come up with wide-ranging ideas spanning many different technologies. The premise of this exercise is to come up with ideas that intersect a particular technology and area of opportunity. First, create a table and label the columns with any type of technology that may be relevant or trending (e.g. crowdsourcing, Internet of Things, Augmented Reality, etc.). For the columns, indicate areas of opportunity that you are trying to solve for related to your problem. Then, individually or in a group, come up with at least one idea for each cell of the table. I find that this method is useful for generating design ideas with concepts that are seemingly unrelated, but potentially viable.

A creative matrix that my design team and I completed with a client for our capstone project.

I think we all agree that ideation is one of the most exciting and magical part of the design-thinking process. If you’re a left-brained designer, don’t be discouraged if ideas don’t come easily. Rather, be strategic about how you ideate and do it often. Like most profession, the more you work on a skill, the better you’ll get at it.

Happy Ideating!

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