For product designers, ideation is about finding the sparkle in the chaos.
It’s easy to get hung up on our own patterns and ideas—to get stuck in the comfort of what we’ve seen work, such that we fail to imagine new possibilities.
But innovation is about progress, and finding a balance between pushing boundaries and responding to a market need. The design process relies on ideation and brainstorming strategies to expand thinking, find creative solutions to problems, and to work through concepts so to gain insights, understand implications, and gauge feasibility.
We asked six design experts from our web design community to share their favorite ideation techniques. Six principles emerged:
The best way of learning about anything is by doing. —Richard Branson
Pencil and paper for quick sketches or using brainstorming tools like MindNode.
There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak. —Simon Sinek
I always default to listening to what clients & co-workers are saying.
In every idea that gets presented, there becomes opportunity to improve, or grow a new idea out of the first.
Listening allows you to hear the real concerns of the client, and thus their clients, and will allow for greater insight into the direction you should follow, rather than starting with the new hotness and then back-filling requirements into what you originally wanted to produce.
Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. —Zora Neale Hurston
Good ideation starts with research. I’d love to say something sexier, like that I eat peyote, starve myself for three days, and come up with a brilliant UI. But the fact of the matter is that all good ideation starts with research. Then you find the holes in the space that you’re equipped to fill.
People ignore design that ignores people. —Frank Chimero
In my experience, truly innovative work is possible when you pair a human-centered design process that prioritizes real user feedback with a data-aware product iteration development workflow. From this foundation, you then generally need a collaborative and open team environment where multiple disciplines can help shape the best solutions for real user needs.
It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail. ―Abraham Maslow
I really don’t have [a favorite strategy]. Every designer works differently and every project should be approached differently. If you’re designing admin software for teachers, you probably want to start with research to understand what on Earth they will even need. If you’re designing a portfolio, go crazy! Take inspiration from other designers, sketch things out, throw paint on a wall. The greatest thing about design is that it’s creative problem solving. If you only ever approach your work in one way, it won’t get very far.
To have a great idea, have a lot of them. —Thomas Edison
My favorite strategy for ideation is the 3-12-3 method. I love to get my users involved in the brainstorm. With the 3-12-3 method, I’m able to get my users together and brainstorming with me: having them think of as many features as they can in a short amount of time, and then organizing these ideas to think about how these features might look in real life. The fast-moving activity paired with a reminder that there’s no wrong answers creates a lot of room for creativity.
In sum, the top design process ideation tips are:
- Just get started (use brainstorming tools incl. old fashioned pen and paper)
- Listen to customers
- Research to find the “holes”
- Focus on humans, support with data
- Treat each new problem differently
- Get users involved in ideation