In the design thinking process, ideating is the mode for generating a wide range of ideas. Rather than coming up with the right idea, ideating opens up many more possible solutions. The mental mode of ideating is one of collective thinking, unhindered by all the usual limitations of hierarchy, egos, and accustomed expectations.
After a broad exploration of the problem space, the design team needs to transition to exploring the solution space. This exploration is guided by their point of view, that unique design vision that the team has developed throughout this process. The point of view serves as the pivot between the problem- and the solution space. Inventing solutions should be an exploration, and therefore ideating is about ‘going wide’ in imagining ideas. The trick in ideating is to create environments and (mental) spaces in which the team can actually do this.
Ideating requires eliminating many of the limitations that usually hinder your free-floating thoughts and ideas. With no hierarchies allowed. Ideating is about making the idea generation process a truly collective team effort. This also means abandoning your personal fixations and convictions so that your subconscious and imaginative self can think freely about how things work.
Ideating should challenge you to think beyond your preconceived ideas, job tasks, and specialisation(s). The best and most innovative ideas can come from a team that is able to connect across many potential barriers, linking imaginative capacities to the input of others, even when this input comes from an unexpected direction. This mode of making (unforeseen) connections and associations requires that you also abandon the evaluative part of the mind for a little while so that you can effectively defer judgement. Ideas are not fabricated (rationally) but imagined.
After the team ideates in this divergent activity where quantity counts, the entire team will need to return to the convergent activity of evaluating and judging whether each idea is useful and/or viable to determine its value. Crucial is the creation of the circumstances for letting your imagination flow freely. You are letting go of the will to control and to comply so that you can open space for other processes. When asked what should be done to stimulate creativity, actor John Cleese said, “Nothing should be done. Exactly the opposite; it’s about doing nothing.” Research in Cognitive Psychology shows that low level activities – like walking – allow for the generating of ideas by doing nothing.
In design thinking, many approaches have been developed in which this doing nothing, where you are free from the usual constraints, occurs. All the ideating techniques create the circumstances, both mentally and for the team, so that the individual and collective imaginations can speak out. The crucial lesson for facilitators, who might tend to overly instruct the team on their expected tasks, is to create and safeguard these conditions.
In design thinking, the ideating techniques systematise the act of letting go. Removing the usual conditions requires creation of a safe space for the team where they can feel free to express their ideas. Ideas can be wacky and wild when the team members can trust that their partners will refrain from any (self) criticism, discussion, or rejection that could stop the creative process. Be sure to encourage a positive and open mindset, in which people dare to build upon their own and others’ fun and funny ideas.
Design thinking also systematises the approach by focusing on generating ideas about a specific question or statement based on the earlier definition of a point of view and corresponding How might we…? questions. By ‘going wide’ AND maintaining a specific scope during ideating, you are assured that the solutions you imagine are really connected to the target problem.
You will need to be thoroughly prepared for ideating – to thoroughly explore the problem space, develop of a specific point of view on the problem and build an encouraging mindset for your team. Try this playful warm-up exercise, An extremely bad idea, to stimulate this mindset with a brain dump that you may already know as The worst possible idea.
To prepare the team’s mindset for ideation, ask them to stand up and, in groups of two or three, laugh and talk about an extremely bad idea that you and the others have for solving the How might we…? question. This short warm-up clears your mind, in a brain dump, and prepares you all to move on to the good ideas in an adaptation of a Crazy 8 exercise, which originally was used to write or sketch 8 ideas in just 8 minutes. Instead, the exercise Crazy 6 provides just a bit more time so that, in the same 8 minutes, you write down 6 ideas, two of which should be sketches rather than words. Your sketches provide a visual that effectively supports discussion and sharing of ideas by provoking still further ideas and widening yours lens for thinking. Here is a step by step guide to getting started:
Each team member gets a piece of blank paper divided into six squares. Remember that at least two of the spaces will be for sketching or drawing your idea.
Set a timer for 90 seconds for each idea for solving the How might we…? question; move on to the next idea when the timer goes off.
After the total 8 minutes of ideating with Crazy 6, each team member will present their top 2 ideas to the rest of the team
The next activity could be brainwriting, which differs from brainstorming by providing more opportunities for less vocal team members to contribute their own ideas. Peer pressure that might have limited the generating of ideas is eliminated since brainwriting occurs in silence ㇐ combining the group process of brainstorming with the individual process of a brain dump.
Begin with 2 brainwriting sheets for each team member. Choose your 2 favourite ideas from the Crazy 6 activity and transfer one to the top left of each sheet. This is where you should transform any sketched ideas you might have chosen into words.
Pass both of your original sheets to your neighbour to your right and receive 2 sheets from your neighbour to the left.
In just three minutes, you will elaborate on the two separate ideas on each sheet. You can propose a variation or a different angle… Whatever seems to improve or develop the idea one step further. Then pass your brainwriting to your right and take the new brainwriting from your neighbour to your left.
Through brainwriting, you contribute to all of the top 2 picks from your team members and finally your original 2 picks with developments proposed by the rest of the team are returned to you. Examine the proposals and transfer your two favourite developments, which may or may not be your own original idea, to sticky notes to post on the wall. For example, on a team of 5, 10 ideas will be posted on the wall to be presented and explained to your team.
After all of the explanations, you individually rate the 10 ideas with dot voting, where each person has 2 stickers to “spend” on the idea they like best. You can also use a marker to indicate which ideas you intuitively like best with your 2 dots. In this part of the process, you are looking for transformations that make you enthusiastic. Note that your critical evaluation based on strict criteria is done later in the process.
You will begin prototyping on the 2 best rated ideas, which implies again that these are not necessarily your definitive ideas since further transformation/improvement of the ideas during prototyping is still expected.
From these 2 prototypes, one will later become the chosen one.