Brainstorming for better designs
It’s easy to get tunnel vision when we have an exciting concept in mind and settle on one idea too soon, possibly missing out on something significant. Brainstorming is the often overlooked phase in the design process that can help us come up with a more diverse collection of ideas to turn our research findings into more user-centred and successful designs.
Effective brainstorming, however, can be quite challenging. Trying to come up with “the next big thing” can be daunting, and doing so in a boardroom full of executives can be even more so. But here are some tips that can help you to have a more productive and positive brainstorming session as an individual or a team.
It’s often difficult to generate a large variety of ideas in group brainstorming sessions. People tend to “loaf” in groups and piggyback off of each other which limits the number of new ideas. Individuals might also experience social pressure to adopt all of the boss’s ideas, for example, which ultimately hinders innovation. Therefore, by putting some time aside to generate ideas individually — in a quiet boardroom, or as they come up throughout the day — we can ensure that everyone’s unique skills and perspectives are utilized more effectively.
To start, we should keep the product goals and research findings clearly visible to each team member in order to ensure everyone stays focused. Then, each person (whether they're a designer or not) simply needs a pen and paper to generate about 20 ideas. They don’t have to be elaborate, it could just be a single word or image. The goal is to get into a flow and generate a lot of ideas that can be explored in more detail later on. As you brainstorm individually, consider these tips:
- Put the problem statement at the top of everyone’s paper.
- Provide people with some constraints, such as having them think of three different input methods or drawing at least two images.
- Take enough breaks.
- No erasers allowed. Keep those creative juices flowing.
- Divide more complicated tasks into separate brainstorming sessions.
Now that everyone has written down some ideas, it’s time to gather everyone together to share each individual’s list with the group. We should however be careful not to make this an evaluation, but to create an environment that facilitates participation and creativity.
Be careful though, too many people in one group could hinder this. Therefore, by limiting group sizes to 5 individuals, we can use our time much more effectively in each session. If you’re part of a larger team, it might even be beneficial to group different disciplines together in order to limit group sizes and have a representative from each one in a final group session.
Several experts, including Alex Osborn, have studied group brainstorming for many years and offer us guidelines for fostering more productive collaboration in groups with some of the following “rules” that we should consider following:
- Be open to sharing any ideas, even the wild ones.
- No criticism or evaluation of ideas.
- Aim for quantity.
- Build on each other’s ideas.
- Stay focused on the problem.
- Don’t explain any ideas yet.
- Revisit the research findings often.
- Encourage each other.
After everyone’s ideas have been heard, it’s time to filter through them and choose about three concepts to prototype and test with your users. There are many ways to accomplish this, but referring to the research findings throughout the evaluation process is essential to ensuring a more user-centred and ultimately successful design.
Creating personas and user profiles can help the team to visualize users' needs and values while artefacts like timelines (also referred to as journey maps) and storyboards allow us to consider different edge-cases. User models like GOMS and Cognitive Task Analyses are also helpful to explore the pros and cons of each design direction early on.
In conclusion, it’s easy to jump into designing and prototyping before having a comprehensive understanding of the design space. But by setting aside some time for brainstorming, we can prevent expensive “pivoting” down the line and develop technology that is more successful at meeting users’ needs.
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