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Ideation with Smart Design March 1, 2010

Posted by levigoertz in Uncategorized.

In order to come up with one great solution we need to get a lot of possible solutions.  Ideation creates the raw materials you use to build your initial prototypes and ultimately your final product or service.  The more and better raw materials you have the more successful your design.  This important part of the design process is where a lot of creativity comes in.  Tom Dair from Smart Design told us that ideas come from necessity and you need to stimulate them with observations, co-workers or customers and the right environment.  It’s great to go into an ideation session with some inspiration and background on this issue you’re addressing.

The major takeaway for me was that ideation occurs throughout the whole design process and must cut across the entire customer experience.  To internalize this we did an activity where we ideated around specific challenges such as how to improve the hotel experience.  Our group started by listing all of the important steps for a hotel customer from the initial decision to travel, search for possible hotels, check in, orientation, sleeping and using services all the way to check out.  We didn’t want to confine ourselves to the moments in your hotel room because the hotel experience starts long before that.

With a listing of all the steps in the customer experience we then picked three that were of most interest to us.  One by one we generated ideas on sticky notes for how this part of the process could be improved and put them up on a flip chart.  Some ideas were in words, others pictures and some had people acting them out.  The group was creative but focused on one specific part of the customer experience.  In the end we had dozens of ideas, some of which were pretty good.

Although it is helpful at the beginning of project to generate a bunch of ideas this process continues throughout.  In other stages of the design process such as refine, finalize or support you can continue to ideate.  Even if your product is finished you may need new ideas on how to support it.  As you make prototypes and get them into the hands of users ideas for changes will be needed.

Given the plethora of ideas filtering them to find the best ones becomes important.  Tom suggested using three lenses for this task.

  1. Meaning for people and brands
  2. Ability of the company to deliver on the solution
  3. Viability for the company and brands

With these lens you can begin to examine which of the ideas holds the most promise.

Finally the Smart Design team had a small internal debate on whether or not you should use rules for brainstorming.  Having a defined process and rules can create the focus needed to generate great ideas.  However, it can be constraining to impose too much formality and structure on the creative process.  The best method to figure out if rules are best for you is to just try brainstorms with them and brainstorms without them.  See what works bests, and generate new ideas on how best to set up the brainstorming process.


1. Sara Beckman - April 18, 2010

I’m on the side of using rules for brainstorming. My experience with many teams over the years is that they are very quick to judge and evaluate ideas as they are thrown out, and this quickly squashes the generative intent of the brainstorming session. So, if no other rule is followed, the “no judgement” rule is critical.

If you want more on concept generation techniques, here’s a great resource:


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