design thinking

Ideation in Design Thinking: Tools and Methods

The ideation stage in the design thinking process allows the design team to translate their knowledge acquired during the inspiration, the first stage in the design thinking process, into a tangible model or a prototype. This model puts everyone in the team in the heart of the design process as they can see, touch, evaluate, and brainstorm different challenges related to the newly produced ideas.

The ideation lays in the middle of the design thinking process as it links between the inspiration research phase (How to Successfully Apply the Inspiration in Design Thinking), that helps us to research the problem in hand, and the implementation stage that turns the prototypes into a product or service. In this middle stage, the design team is given the opportunity to visualize, brainstorm and evaluate ideas in order to reach a viable choice.

The tools and methods in this phase vary based on the type of the final outcome which can be either a product or service. Also, they vary based on the design process needs between brainstorming and evaluation tools.

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Brainstorming

The brainstorming part of the ideation phase lets the project team discuss different ideas in order to create a large pool of solutions that can be filtered and evaluated later in this stage. It is crucial to understand that during the brainstorming sessions, there should be no negative comments or judgment on presented ideas. The facilitator has to keep the session neutral in order to avoid biases (Check How to Run a Successful Brainstorming Session).

planning mind map
Planning mind map example

During the brainstorming session, the facilitator hands every person a pen and Post-its to write their ideas, then all the ideas are added to a wall or whiteboard. Each of the attendees starts to discuss their ideas with the group. As a result of these talks, more ideas are discovered which can be added to the wall as well.

Reversed Brainstorming

In some situation, when it comes to solving complex problems. The group may stick with ideas. It is the point where there are no creative ideas or the generated ideas are not efficient enough. One of the useful methods to overcome this situation is the reversed brainstorming. in this tool, the group members reverse their mindset. They tend to create the problem or make existing problems more complex (Check Design Thinking Tools: Reverse Brainstorming).

reversed brainstorming
The reversed brainstorming process.

In the reversed brainstorming, the group members move between five main stages as following:
Problem – In this stage, the team defines the problem that needs to be solved through the final product or service.
Reverse – The team reverses their mindset. So, they think how to make the problem worse.
Collect – The team starts to brainstorming ideas that can make the problem worse and discuss with this approach in mind.
Reverse – The ideas are reversed to form solutions or suggest solutions for the problem.
Evaluate – The team evaluates the different solutions and see if it works as a solution for the original problem. Note that, the main idea of this stage is to check if the ideas provide solutions for the problem after reversing it.

Lotus Blossom Diagram

The Lotus Blossom Diagram is a mind-mapping tool that allows you to organize ideas and visualize the sub-categories of each idea. It presents a more organized form of mind maps (Check Common Types of Mind Maps and How to Use Them).

Lotus Blossom Diagram
The Lotus Blossom Diagram for brainstorming.

The Lotus Blossom Diagram final result should look like the above figure after following the below steps:
1- Write the main problem in the center of the diagram
2- Write eight themes related to the problem in the squares around the main problem
3- Separate each of the main themes in a new subset and use it as the core for new set of ideas
4- Continue the process until all the ideas are visualized and linked together

Evaluation

After brainstorming ideas, it is the time to evaluate it and isolate the most efficient solutions in order to take to the next prototyping stage. While the brainstorming stage avoids the judgment on the suggested ideas, the evaluation aims to evaluate and critique it.

SWOT Analysis

The SWOT Analysis is a method that allows you to evaluate ideas from four main perspectives; strength (S), weakness (W), opportunities (O) and threats (T). In this method, ideas are evaluated using the above four factors in order to understand their market viability (Check SWOT Analysis: Exploring Innovation and Creativity within Organizations).

swot analysis example
Example for SWOT Analysis results.

In this stage, the team investigates each idea based on those four dimensions such as the following:
Strengths – What are the advantages of the new product or service?
Weakness – What are the factors that reduce your sales?
Opportunities – What are the opportunities for the new product?
Threats – Who are the existing or potential competitors?

SCAMPER

The SCAMPER method aims to examine the methods that may strengthen ideas based on seven factors; Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to other uses, Eliminate, and Rearrange. Unlike the SWOT analysis, the SCAMPER technique evaluates how an idea can be pushed further using the above factors. It provides a useful tool for not only evaluating ideas but also making it solid enough for the next stage (Check A Guide to the SCAMPER Technique for Creative Thinking).

scamper creative thinking
The SCAMPER method diagram.

The team members evaluate each idea and brainstorm the potentials to make make it more successful in the market using each of the seven factors as following:
Substitute – The substitute technique focuses on the parts in the product, service or solution that can be replaced with another.
Combine – The combine technique tends to analyze the possibility of merging two ideas, stages of the process or product in one single more efficient output.
Adapt – Adapt refers to a brainstorming discussion that aims to adjust or tweak product or service for a better output.
Modify, minify or magnify – The modify technique refers to changing the process in a way that unleashes more innovative capabilities or solves problems.
Put to another use – This technique concerns how to put the current product or process for another purpose or how to use the existing product to solve problems.

Prototyping

In this stage, the team creates a prototype for the select idea or ideas in order to get feedback from the stockholders including the clients working in the project. The type of the prototype depends on the nature of the project. For example, rapid prototyping is suitable for new product development while journey maps are suitable for service design as following:

Rapid prototyping

As mentioned above, the rapid prototyping is suitable for both digital and physical products. It aims to build a visual workable demo for the product to allow the team and client sample to test, evaluate, and provide feedback. This feedback is then used in the iterative process to improve the product before the mass production.

The rapid prototypes vary from both the physical and digital products. The physical products, the prototype can be created using clay, paper, mixed materials, and 3D printing (additive manufacturing). In the digital products such as mobile applications, websites, and game design, the prototype takes the form of a pilot, demo, or Alpha versions. These prototypes are an incomplete version of the digital product with all the features and layout represented to allow the client to test and give feedback.

Journey Maps

The journey maps aim to visualize the consumer experience while using the product or service such as visiting a shopping mall. In addition to the user experience, the journey map lets you identify the emotional experience through the usage of empathy persona maps (Check 7 Steps to Create a Successful Journey Map).

journey map
Lego products journey map (Source: Paulolyslager)

In this method, the team defines the main objective of using the service and follow the user experience through his journey. Then the team documents the touch points with the service such as product shelves and checkout points to learn the problems that face the consumers and solve it through iterative the designed model

Task Analysis Grids

The Task Analysis Grid is a document that aims to divide the service into small parts that can be tracked by the stakeholders to know the consumer experience, the involvement of the team, and the suggestions to solve it as following: (Check How to Use Task Analysis Grid in Service Design).

service design task analysis grid
The Task Analysis Grid for service design

1- Define the persona and problem
2- Define the sub-tasks
3- Put the action scenarios for each sub-task
4- Considerations to improve the experience
5- Define the consumer pain points
6- Translate solutions for the pain points into functionality

The ideation phase presents a middle point between the inspiration and implementation stages in the design thinking process. Thus, it plays a significantly important role to visual the research results and team ideas in order to help the stakeholders and the consumer sample to test, give feedback, and iterative the product or the service to improve it. However, the success of this stage can’t be achieved without deep understanding to the proper tools to use through this stage. For example, the brainstorming tools help us to create a pool idea to evaluate later using the evaluation tools. Once the top ideas are selected, it can be transformed into prototypes in order to test and provide feedback. The accurate feedback process presents one of the most important factors that contribute to building a successful product or service.


Rafiq Elmansy is the founder of Designorate.com, author, and design and innovation consultant. He is an affiliated faculty teaching design at the American University in Cairo. He holds a master degree in Design Management with Distinction from Staffordshire University, UK. He has more than 17 years experience in the field of UXD and interaction design, and his books are published by John Wiley, O’Reilly Media and Taylor and Francis. He is also a contributor at the Design Management Review. Rafiq is a jury board member for the A'Design Awards, Poster for Tomorrow, and Adobe Achievements Awards. His design artwork was exhibited in many locations including Croatia, South Africa, Brazil, and Spain.