A guide to the application of design thinking to your naming process.
Design thinking is a practical methodology to bring customer-centered thinking into any design process. Developed by IDEO, it’s gained traction in all kinds of corporate settings. While it’s most frequently used in product design, I’ve been applying it to many web design, writing, and naming projects over the last few years of consulting. This outline is a starting point for you to set up a session that I would normally lead myself, so you know, I’ll be taking credit for any success that comes of this, while you will be held accountable for any and all failure.
- Come to an app name that evokes the functionality of your application, while remaining relevant and engaging to your users.
- Find an available app name, without major conflicts in both app stores.
- Name your app something you actually like.
“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” — Tim Brown, President and CEO of IDEO
THREE PHASES OF BRAINSTORMING
Pull out your big whiteboard. In this phase, it’s time to get every word out of your collective brains. The single most important thing to focus your team on here is that every idea has possibility. This is not the time for anyone to call out why something might not work. Every single thought gets written down. If you can get more than one person up on the whiteboard at a time even better. If not, make sure that whoever is up there has the temperament to keep the energy up. The words that make it up on the board do not need to be complete thoughts, correct in any way, or even make sense.
You might try breaking it out into columns like this:
Actions (taken with the app)
These might not be the right buckets and even if they are you shouldn’t feel limited by them. Anything is fair game. The most important thing to do here is have some fun and get excited about things other people suggest. Think of the golden rule of an improv group and never say “no” to an idea on stage.
Pro tip: Caffeine and booze (in moderation) can’t hurt here.
Here’s where the thinking starts. Now you can take all of the building blocks from the previous phase and start putting together actual name ideas together. It’s still good to keep things light here too, but a little “that might not work” can make it in. Start making lists!
Try things like combinations of real words, shortening things, and just making shit up. There’s not a lot of apps out there with more than one word names, so you might want to keep it short. This is also the right time to reframe the conversation around what you know about your audience. Can you imagine them saying these ideas out loud? Is this something they will need to refer to when they make presentations of their own? In general, what’s their level of tolerance for something that feels overly marketed. Will they react poorly to something too polished?
Get this list down to ten, then four. Then stop. If you’re feeling good about all four proceed to the next phase. If not, it might be back to the drawing board.
Pro tip: Depending on how this goes and who you’re working with there’s a good opportunity for a breakout session here. You might ask everyone to work solo for an hour and come up with some of these. Sometime this work actually comes out better with a pen and paper by one’s self.
Now it’s time to get critical. With your shortlist of four (this number is not set in stone,) start your Google engines. Search the app stores, see what comes up in general Google searches, and definitely check out some domain sites like GoDaddy.com. It’s very likely that URL availability will be a driving factor in your choice, but keen in mind mind that the use of a “.com” domain is no longer as important as it once was. I always do a trademark search, the USPTO is the only resource for this and learning how to use it is a key part of assessing the viability of your name. Search through the list that comes up and look at all of the live trademarks. If there’s someone operating with the same name, and in the same space (meaning software), your idea might be a non-starter. This is no replacement for legal advice, but it can help to cut down those expenses by stopping you from spinning your wheels on something that an intellectual proportion attorney would cut from your list anyway. What you really want to avoid is pouring sweat equity (or capital) into brand equity, then receiving a cease and desist from someone.
Pro tip: One thing you might think about is a short tagline that goes with your name. This is less applicable with apps, but might help your process a little. The general rule I follow when naming something is either the name or the tagline explains things, but never both. The best branding always has an aspirational name and a tagline that explains the product, or vice versa.
Have fun. Hope this helps. Also, don’t forget to feed people before the last phase. You want a good level blood sugar before you start picking each other’s ideas apart.