Visual Thinking in Generating Ideas. Five Simple Steps

Anna Iurchenko
Apr 14, 2015 · 4 min read

Sometime ago I facilitated a brainstorming session with my colleagues in which we wanted to share opinions about the future of technologies and exchange whatever crazy ideas everyone in the team had.

I decided to plan that meeting using visual techniques and here is what my plan looked:

Visual plan for the meeting

Such a visual representation of the meeting plan helps me to see the big picture of things we want to do and know what is next at a glance. Below you can find more details on how it went and some advice if you want to have a similar meeting with your team. Feel free to use this tips-sheet for your meetings.

As a result of such activity you will have 2–3 project ideas that you can take into the work.

Timing: 2 hours. Participants: 4–8 (optimal). Things you will need: sticky notes; fine markers, wall.

1. Generate

First of all, you need to identify the direction of ideas and thoughts everyone in the room has. Ask participants to write silently as many ideas as they want on sticky notes, one issue on each note. Give participants some time for this activity, but ask them to stop when a majority of participants have stopped.You may try two different approaches here:

  • Generate ideas without any speaking. This keeps one person from dominating the process and allows more creative thinking to come to the fore.
  • Split people into groups of 2–3 and ask them to share their ideas in the group.

2. Post-Up

Gather near a wall and ask everyone to explain their thoughts and ideas and place the notes on the surface. Encourage participants to read their notes aloud while placing them on the surface.

As each note is placed, other participants may add similar notes in close proximity.

3. Group

Spend some time analyzing everything you have on the wall, grouping similar items and rearranging the groups. When all notes have been placed and grouped, you can optionally name each group and make a round of dot-voting to narrow down choices.

A useful strategy here is to limit the number of ideas that can be put into any one group so that the groups don’t become so large as to be meaningless.

This process is called Affinity Diagramming and it is often used by UX designers to help diagnose complicated problems through collecting, grouping, organizing and analyzing feedback and findings from research studies.

Allow all participants to contribute and do not move someone’s note without their agreement (and don’t allow others to do so). Discussion will often indicate that the participant wanted to articulate a different issue.

4. Evaluate and filter

At this stage you need to pick up several criteria by which you want to evaluate your ideas.

Criteria could be any of the following:

  • Impact vs Effort
  • Cost vs Value
  • Needs vs Capacity
  • Easy to build vs Importance

Be flexible here and discuss with your team criteria that are relevant to them. In our case I initially wanted to organize ideas by Needs vs Capacity but we agreed that it would be more interesting to see ideas on a scale of Impact vs Know How.

Draw two lines, your x-axis and y-axis, and post sticky notes with your ideas on the graph.

To narrow the pull of ideas you could either get rid of anything that appeared behind one of the axes (in our case we definitely were not interested in anything that has a small impact) or you can make a round of dot voting to identify ideas that resonate with most of the participants (2 or 3 votes per participants).

If you decide to make a dot voting make sure you address a clear question to them:

  • What products would you like to exist in our world?
  • What product would you like to use personally?
  • What product would you put your time into?

5. Define survivors and discuss details

Place surviving content in one column and in front of each idea map your questions, comments, beliefs, possible challenges or problems that need to be overcome.

The main goal here is to provoke a deeper discussion, immerse yourselves into ideas and see the ideas’ landscape in a clearer light. This will help to better inform your votes and select the best project ideas to work on.

Give each participant 2 or 3 votes and make a round of dot voting to identify winners, projects that you may bring take into design or development.


Don’t write, sketch! Tips and techniques for visual thinkers

Anna Iurchenko

Written by

UX Designer at Google. I’m curious to understand people and I’m driven to build great products for them. Love sketching!



Don’t write, sketch! Tips and techniques for visual thinkers

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