Once the right problem is established based on solid research, it is time to generate ideas. As NN Group’s article on ideation written by Aurora Harley emphasizes, it can be tempting to produce our ideas based on what we like or what is ‘in’ at the moment, however that would not necessarily deal with user problems in the best way: ‘It is critical that all the participants in the ideation session already understand users’ needs and that they ground ideas in these needs, and not into novel design trends or convenient technical solutions.’

During ideation sessions which can be alone, however are more often in groups, it is important to avoid judgement or any type of feedback, in other words, ideation is a safe space. Any idea, no matter how wild, is a good idea and can lead to the final design solution. Also, as the article emphasizes, we shouldn’t settle at the first idea to save time and money. Producing multiple ideas can lead to the best solution which is the combination of ideas.

According to the author, ideation promotes parallel design. This type of design is explained by Jacob Nielsen in another article together with iterative design and competitive testing. The idea of parallel design is that we test 3-5 different design ideas, merge the best ideas from each of them to 1 winning design and iterate on it.

Ideation Techniques in UX

Emily Stevens from Career Foundry writes about the techniques in her article. Interaction Design Foundation also published an article about ideation techniques. IDEO posted a few short videos about ideation techniques, like this one on brainstorming and an empathy map, or this one on mesh-up.

The list below comes from the first article on Career Foundry.

Analogies or mesh-ups – thinking in analogies help to transfer experience from one are to another area, for ex. IDEO presents mesh-up in which they are building a new hospital and think about it as a hotel. In hospital, they put in minibar fridge with healthy juices, fruits, veggies..

Brainstorming, brainwriting – brainstorming is an ideation technique when several people produce ideas and bounce of each other. Brainwriting is similar to brainstorming but written, participants write ideas on paper and then pass them to someone else. That person adds his ideas and sends it to another person, etc. Everyone’s idea has to do a full round, i.e. go through each person in the room.

Challenging assumptions – the team writes down the list of assumptions behind the problem and then brainstorms about whether the assumptions are correct. It is often the case that we take things automatically without questioning it.

Mindmapping – we write a word in the middle of the page representing the problem we deal with and then write around different words that relate to our central world, from them we make connections and develop a map.

Reverse thinking – turn the problem upside down, instead of asking how can we improve the experience we ask how can we make experience as bad a possible. We find solutions and their reverse can help us to generate solutions to our real problem.

Storyboarding – visual play with white boards, going through personas and journeys and identifying ideas.

Other possible techniques:

  • Creative pause
  • Cheatstorming
  • Crowdstorming
  • Daydreaming
  • Provocation
  • Forced relationships
  • Roleplay
  • Visualization
  • Wishing
  • Sketching and sketchstorming
  • Synectics

After the Ideation

As Tom Kelly from IDEO says in this video, we shouldn’t get attached to ideas, they are disposable and majority of them will get thrown away. We do not create many ideas because we need many ideas, we create many ideas because we want to have a selection to be able to select the best ones.

Read further on efficiency of UX teams in ideation, statistics by NN Group.

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