March 27, 2017 / Creative Design Thinking: Effective Ideation (Part 2)

Scott Trobaugh

By: Scott Trobaugh

Design thinking ideation

How designers tackle problem-solving can yield great results in any discipline. Especially yours.

This is the second in a three-part series on Design Thinking—or how the problem-solving methods of designers can apply to any discipline. In the first post, I talked about empathy, a vital component in the pursuit of effective solutions. When you understand your audience and observe a problem from their perspective, you’ll begin to uncover innovations that make a real difference.

Which brings us to the next step: the innovation itself.

Once you’ve gained perspective and understanding through empathy, ideas start to flow. At this stage, a designer grabs a pencil and starts sketching. The point is to get ideas on paper as quickly as possible. But a seasoned designer’s “quick” process might seem intimidating if it’s not part of your regular routine. If you’re looking to apply Design Thinking to your discipline—whether you’re developing marketing plans, shopping carts or jetliners—here’s a quick guide to getting ideas together.

1. Have a good handle on the challenge.
Before good ideas become great prototypes, you’ll have to start with insight. That means gathering your research and activating your empathy. The importance of perspective cannot be underestimated, and your summary (notes, a workplan—whatever form works best for you) should be a key part of your project folder as well as your process. At Godfrey, we refer to research and consult with researchers throughout the entire life of a project. You’ll pick up new insights and make new connections every time you refer back to what you’ve learned.

2. When it comes to ideas, the best kind is LOTS.
Once you’ve read and reread those findings and then given yourself some time to synthesize, your mind is in a really connective state. Don’t let the moment pass—schedule some time to sit down and work. Start a list. Grab some notecards. Jot down every idea clearly but quickly. Keep moving. Don’t censor. The idea here is to get the full yield of your thoughts on paper, warts and all. And remember: Many “bad” ideas are actually great ideas in search of their better half.

Another way to get a good quantity of ideas is by assembling a team. You probably have one already—and they should be as involved as possible here. Get them up to speed (see step 1), give them time to think, and then come together and see what they’ve cooked up. Make sure they aren’t filtering their ideas too much because, at this stage, quantity matters most. This can be a challenge because nobody wants to show their “bad” ideas. But one “bad” idea might just be the better half to one of your own—the missing piece that turns an idea great. So don’t miss out.

On my teams, I give a Worst Idea Prize to encourage full sharing. People start to flag their bad ones proudly, and all of a sudden, we’re doing some teambuilding while also getting a wide range of solutions.

3. Evaluate with care.
Now that you’ve got tons of ideas (and you should have tons—or as Michael Jackson would recommend, “don’t stop ‘til you get enough”), it’s time to combine, reduce, simplify and direct. This can be a group discussion or a personal endeavor. It’s best as a discussion between 2–3 key stakeholders. This is the time in which various ideas will combine into broader concepts. Some will outshine others. Some will strengthen or challenge previously held notions. Don’t fall in love with just one. And don’t throw anything away just yet. You’ll have a shortened list of actionable ideas, but you’re going to want a variety of them in your back pocket as you go through the prototyping process, which I’ll cover in the next installment.


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