How to come up with an idea
The importance of ideas in design, and how the hell to come up with them.
Ideas are the foundation of the creative industry — it’s why we’re hired as creatives and agencies, and we often say that all good output comes from a good idea or ‘concept’. But how to come up with ideas? Now that’s another story.
Our remote setup forced us to create an ideation blueprint — it’s a workshop and set of techniques that helps us collaborate and ideate from wherever we are in the world, together. Because of time differences and the constant threat of ‘zoom fatigue’, we’ve streamlined this workshop to a few hours. Of course some absolute shockers come out of these workshops, but with the bad and the ugly there is almost always a gem of good.
In this blog we’ll outline some of the lessons we’ve learnt about coming up with ideas and share our ideation workshop.
- Getting out of your head
- Quick ideas vs Good ideas
- When to let go
- Executing an idea
Getting out of your head
Being asked to come up with an idea is no less daunting as a professional adult than it was when you were a kid being singled out by a teacher. Sharing thoughtful ideas requires vulnerability, and the fear of judgement in the workspace is as real as the school playground. However many times people tell you ‘not to overthink it’, it can be hard not to.
The best solution we’ve found to getting out of our own heads is to start the team off from the same standpoint. In the first meeting no one has done any deep thinking, which means everyone is as idea-less as the next person. By starting from a blank slate with quick, rough ideas, everyone in the team will say something stupid at least once. This means that the whole team will feel far less scrutinised or judged by others about these initial ideas, and everyone will feel more willing to speak up and share their thoughts.
- Start the team from the same blank slate
- Begin with quick, rough ideas
- Make sure everyone participates
Quick ideas vs Good ideas
So you’ve come up with one fast, alright-ish idea. Congratulations! Have you thought it through? Probably not! Is it practically possible to carry it out? Who cares! WE’VE GOT AN IDEA!
Unfortunately there is a big difference between having an idea and having a good idea. Having an instinct for a great idea — finding the ruby in the rubble — is a rare and precious skill. However once you’ve identified the great idea, you need to have the confidence and grit to develop it.
Developing an idea is not always about sitting behind your laptop for hours on end researching, strategising, or worse, getting stuck in a thesaurus maze trying to find the perfect word. Developing an idea can come from stepping away from the Mac, taking a walk, and being inspired by the world around you. We find endless inspiration through conversation; talking to our partners, their customers, eachother, or strangers on the street.
All ideas develop over time, and the most successful ones have many different forms and iterations before they’re finalised. We often find that once we’ve developed our idea into something solid and profound, the original ‘idea’ doesn’t feel like an idea at all — it’s more like the inspiration or the ‘seed’ that the idea grows from.
- Find the ruby in the rubble
- Have the confidence to develop it
- Find inspiration everywhere and anywhere
- Original inspiration is rarely the final idea
When to let go
This sounds like the title to a nineties boy band song, and in the creative process it’s just as heartbreaking.
During the development stage oftentimes you’ll realise that your quick, fun, exciting idea actually doesn’t work. Maybe it’s not practical, flexible or strong enough. Worse, you realise that it doesn’t actually answer the brief or solve the problem your client is facing. So often it is tempting to go off course when lots of creative minds are ideating together, and while it feels great in the moment, if it doesn’t serve for the long term you’ll regret not letting go of the idea earlier.
Our tip is to keep returning to the problem statement. Every time you iterate on the idea or write something new, check that it is answering the problem you are setting out to solve.
- Embrace the heartbreak
- Does it fit the brief?
- Does it answer the problem you are facing?
- Sometimes you just need to rip off the bandaid
Executing an idea
We often try and condense our ideas into a very short statement — a few words that are boiled down so much that they perfectly and concisely phrase the solution and the ‘big idea’ behind the brand or product. But how do you know if it’s working? How do you know if it’s actually a good idea? We think it’s a balance between two things;
Firstly, does the concept shine through the final work? Do you remember the idea days, months or even years later? And secondly, how seamlessly does the creative come from the big idea? How fun and easy does it feel to execute the designs or productions?
‘Easy’ might be the wrong word to use here — of course the creative process requires tons of hard work and technical ability. But when the idea is strong enough, the creative execution can feel like it flows in an effortless way — it’s fun, makes sense, and is flexible enough to produce endless opportunities.
- Boil down the big idea
- Does it stick?
- Does designing for the idea feel effortless?
Without further ado, here is an overview of our ideation workshop at Noise. We do this in a few hours, and the purpose of the meeting is to come up with lots of ideas before finding the gem that we want to develop.
- Setting the scene
- Brand strategy & company goals
- Brief brainstorming
- How might we
- Lotus blossom
- Crazy 8’s
- Quadratic voting
Step 1: Setting the scene
We start with the foundation of the brief, and then move to the boxes to think through different aspects of it. We keep things visual and collaborative by creating bulleted lists, using sticky notes, and sketching out ideas to collaborate on a united understanding of our overall goal.
Step 2: Brand strategy & goals
We work through our goals in a ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘why’ matrix, return to the partners values, and adjust their personality metrics.
Step 3: Brief brainstorming
We dig deeper into the brief, identifying objectives, measurements for success, the target audience, what they should think, feel and do, we define the controlling message and the scope of deliverables/bill of materials.
Step 4: ‘How might we’
In this exercise we write down a range of problem statements, from high level, down to nitty gritty details. This helps us frame the breadth of solutions we need to create that will stem back to the big idea.
Step 5: Lotus Blossom
The first brainstorming we do is keyword generation. The lotus blossom method involves building ideas around a central theme and then breaking them down into deeper sub-themes. This diagram helps you build out from descriptive words into bouncy, creative, springy words that inspire creativity rather than pure strategy.
Step 6: ‘Crazy 8’s
8 minutes to come up with 8 ideas. The purpose of this exercise is to get as many rough ideas down as possible and avoid getting stuck. The more ideas to choose from and be inspired by the better!
Step 7: 6–3–5
6–3–5 Brainwriting is a group-structured technique. By sharing ideas and building on one another’s thoughts, you get the multiple brains working on the same idea helping it grow stronger. If more people on the team feel responsible for an idea, then they are more likely to buy into it and feel passionate about making it great.
Step 8: Quadratic Voting
This is a way of collective decision making which involves individuals allocating votes to express the degree of preference, rather than just the direction of preference. It works by allowing participants to “pay” for additional votes on a given matter to express their support more strongly, resulting in voting outcomes that are aligned with the highest willingness to pay outcome, rather than just the outcome preferred by the majority regardless of the intensity of individual preferences.
We hope you’ve found these ideation techniques to be interesting and helpful. We also hope that the idea of coming up with an idea (maybe that sentence has confused you more), is a bit less daunting.
If you are a brand or business experiencing change or growth (or if you’re just doing something pretty awesome), we would love to hear from you. We are not for everyone. And that’s a good thing.
Noise Studio is an international creative agency working at the intersection of digital and branding. We create unexpected design solutions for some of the most exciting names in sports, outdoors and sustainability.
Written by Georgia Watt, Brand Strategist & Designer at Noise