Demonstration Exercise 5: Brainstorming Techniques
The foundation of the ideation phase of the human-centered design process is the generation of ideas. Various brainstorming techniques allow us make this seemingly amorphous process more consistent and reproducible. In this demonstration exercise, you will apply a number of brainstorming techniques towards the needs that you identified in demo 3. You will then reflect on what techniques you personally found most useful.
Part 0: Needs
In a paragraph, briefly restate the three needs that you identified from your previous demo.
Part 1: Brainstorming
Below are four different brainstorming activities for you to apply to the needs you identified previous. For each of the subsequent brainstorming exercises, you may choose to focus on one or more of these needs as the subject of the activity. Feel free to tackle these activities in any order you wish.
In a free-writing exercise, you commit to a continuous, stream-of-conscious writing about the topic at hand. The goal of a freewrite is to capture your thought process as you consider a problem without evaluation or filtering. Recalling our discussion of flow, you want to try to get into the flow state during your freewriting where you are wholly-focused on generating and exploring ideas.
When freewriting, you should not stop writing as that will tend to break your flow state. Three tips here that you should employ for this exercise:
- View your freewrite as a continuous conversation with yourself. Feel free to engage yourself in dialogue with yourself, e.g., ask yourself questions, comment on your own thoughts, with the goal of continuing the conversation for as long as possible.
- Sometimes, you are at a loss what to say. To keep the flow alive, you should reserve a keyword, e.g., “banana”, as filler to write when you don’t have anything to say. You should continuously write this word until you have something else to say.
- Depending on your tastes, you may choose to freewrite on paper rather than typing. That is ok! If you handwrite, you might find it useful to diagram, write text non-linearly, etc., as afforded by the medium.
For this exercise, identify what need(s) you wish to freewrite about, choose a keyword and, set a 15 minute timer, and freewrite for 15 minutes. Include your freewrite verbatim (or a picture/transcription if you did the exercise away from the keyboard) in your write-up.
In mindmapping, we brainstorm connections between our topic and related topics, realizing these connections in a diagrammatic form. You start with your main topic in the center of your page. You then conceive of sub-topics related to that main topic, drawing them as branching possibilities extending from the center. For each of the sub-topics, you then brainstorm sub-sub-topics, and so forth.
In the context of design, mindmapping is particularly useful for identifying dimensions to the problem you are trying to solve. For example, you might identify that, in order to build a better frying pan, there are several sub-topics worth considering, e.g., ergonomics, material, aesthetics, price. Within ergonomics, we might consider shape, handles, etc.
Note that there are many software packages that allow you to create mindmaps. However, I personally do not recommend getting too much into these weeds—you can build a mindmap with a pen and paper!
For this exercise, identify what need(s) you will analyze, and build a mindmap for those needs. Your mindmap should go down at least two additional levels from the root. Within a level, you should have at least three ideas. Of course, these are minimums to ensure that you commit to the mindmap to a sufficient degree of detail. You should otherwise feel free to add as much to the mindmap as you find useful or interesting. Include a picture of your final mindmap in your write-up.
SCAMPER and other “word-triggering” brainstorming techniques give you prompts or “sparks” to generate new ideas from. These prompts are designed to get you to look at product design from perspectives you might not have otherwise considered. For example, SCAMPER is an acronym for seven useful sparks:
- Modify (or Magnify, Minify)
- Put to another use
For this exercise, identify what need(s) you will analyze, and follow the guide to SCAMPER on Interaction Design:
For each spark, you should generate at least three ideas. You can describe these ideas in a few sentences a piece—you do not need to develop them any further. Include your results verbatim in your write-up.
Worst Possible Idea
Like SCAMPER, World Possible Idea is an exercise designed to get you to approach a problem from perspectives that you might not otherwise consider. Worst Possible Idea is one of many “fun” brainstorming exercises that you approach with a certain element of play, silliness, and “unhingedness”. By doing so, you may uncover aspects of the design space that were previously only assumed or even unknown.
There are many ways to perform this brainstorming technique in the context of design. The path I tend to follow is:
- Spend time brainstorming as many worst possible solutions to the problem you are trying to solve as possible You should not filter your solutions in any way, but you should force yourself to “be bad” in as many different dimensions as possible.
- For each such bad idea, you should list the reasons why are they are, indeed, bad. Try to articulate precisely what is bad about each idea. While seemingly trivial, the heart of the exercise is this reflection, so it is important to give it proper attention!
- For each such “bad reason,” think of what you would expect a viable solution would do instead to solve just that bad reason alone.
For this exercise, identify what need(s) you will analyze, and follow the path towards generating Worst Possible Ideas above. You should generate at least three worst possible solutions and within each solution, identify at least two reasons why they are bad with appropriate fixes. You are, of course, free to generate and explore more such bad ideas. Include your results verbatim in your write-up.
Part 2: Reflection
Once you are done with the different brainstorming techniques, spend an additional 2–3 paragraphs of your write-up reflecting on these techniques. Answer the following questions:
- Which brainstorming techniques (if any) did you find most useful? Why?
- Which brainstorming techniques (if any) did you find not useful? Why?
- Based on your results, if you were to pursue a solution to the need(s) that you identified at the beginning of the activity, what would that solution look like? Describe this solution to the best of your ability in no less than a paragraph.