Tutorial for Rapid Idea Generation
While I was a Toy Inventor at IDEO, I worked with a small team of designers who invented new-to-the-world ideas to sell to toy manufacturers.
Our goal was to sell 5 toy concepts each year. We typically had a 5% sell rate, this meant we needed to develop 100 prototypes per year. On top of this, for every 50 ideas we came up with we’d only find 1 viable idea to prototype. If you add that up, that’s about 5,000 ideas per year from our team of 6 inventors. That’s 17 new ideas per designer, per week!
Working in this rather extreme situation motivated me to refine my ideation process so I could rapidly come up with ideas on my own. I’ve come to think of this process as “Painting with Ideas” — you’ll see why at the end. It’s really quite simple, I hope you’ll give it a go!
Combine Things to Make Better Things
My process is based on one simple premise — combine things to make better things.
In fact, I find so much satisfaction from this process that I sometimes find myself doing it in my sleep. One night I had a dream that I left my pet monkey in my parakeet’s cage. Soon after, there was a green parakeet monkey flying around my living room! When I was a Product Manager at game development company, TinyCo, the awesome artists and animators brought my dream monkey to life. You can even get one for yourself in Tiny Zoo Friends.
Step 1: Business Objective
To demonstrate this process, let’s start with a simple business objective.
Design an asynchronous game for mobile devices with a focus on virality.
Step 2: List Things, Insights and Opportunities
The process of making lists is an excellent way to warm up your ‘creative juices’ and will lead directly into ideation. Make a list of 25–50 relevant things, insights and opportunities around your business area. To help you populate your list, research and list similar products, observe and list what happens when using those products and list what you think makes them successful.
Step 3: Form Questions Around List Items
To start ideating, form a question around two list items. This will help you frame your internal conversation and direct yourself towards good ideas. Write down a few possible solutions to your question.
“How might we play Taboo using video?”
“How might we enable people to vote on other’s artwork?”
“How might we encourage people to share match 3 accomplishments?”
Step 4: Build On Your Ideas
Once you become comfortable with combining your list items, you can start combining these new ideas to build even better ideas. My hope for you is that this process will become as fluid as possible. I also find it helpful to organize my lists by category so I can quickly refer to a specific topic later.
Painting with Ideas
When I’m in the midst of an epic idea session, I like to think of myself as an ‘idea painter.’ Just like a painter might say something like, “this tree needs a little more texture, lets sprinkle some dark green over here…” I find myself saying things like — “this idea needs just a bit more excitement… let’s find something from my list of ‘exciting things’ to add to it…”