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Introduction to Ideation

In this article, we talk about Ideation, its different elements, and how it can be done creatively and deeply to solve challenges.
Ideation defined

What is ideation?

Ideation is the third stage of the Design Thinking process. In this stage we brainstorm solutions to our challenge – in particular to the How Might We questions we generated in the * define* (or any other points of view that may be created in the define stage).

Ideation in the working world

Ideation in the working world tends to be forgotten or moved through quickly. We have been raised in a system where instantly coming up with answers is rewarded and we have taken that into our working day.

Time and resource pressures within our occupations have meant that ideation does not get the due diligence that other states receive.

In many cases, we may have 2-3 ideas to solve a challenge (or less!) and we try and fit the idea to our challenge. In some cases, we pick up old ideas, or ideas from another context and try and fit them into ours, with varying degrees of success.

The ideation stage

We should spend just as much time in the ideation stage as Empathy, Define, Prototype and Test. We should not settle for the first ideas that come to mind and so we use various tools and methods to heighten creativity and to help us explore a wide solution space.

A divergent stage

The Ideation stage is a divergent stage. This means that not only do we explore straightforward ideas but we also explore the fantastical and the absurd – because if we understand the qualities that make these an idea then these may act as launching pads to new ideas that may be able to be implemented.

A mindset to have during the first part of ideation is quantity – not quality. We don’t overthink our ideas – the object is to get them out of our head and onto paper and then we move on to exploring other ideas. If we spend too long on one idea – then we are biasing ourselves towards a solution!

A visual stage

The ideation stage is a visual stage. We sketch to help show our ideas, as this is the best way to show other people. If I say “gondola” then everyone pictures it differently.

Maybe it’s a boat on the river – or maybe it’s a type of ski lift. By sketching the gondola and labelling it means that everyone can see the vision I have (and maybe my “gondola” has different features from a normal gondola). You don’t have to be an artist – simple sketches consist of stickmen, rectangles and labels.

A common saying is “if the problem was easy it would already be solved”. This is why it is important to create a range of ideas as it is seldom that the first idea generated is the best.

What is an idea?

Going wide isn’t the only challenge in the ideation phase. Another challenge is to understand what an idea actually is.

As an example let’s investigate the question How might we reduce the use of non-reusable coffee cups?

These are some ideas that have been generated:

  • An organic cup that has a seed already in it which can be planted once the coffee is drunk.
  • Be sustainable.
  • A cup is surgically attached to an arm (it can be opened up and closed up when not in use).
  • A fabric cup with a metal shape is created in clothing so it can be washed in the washing machine.
  • Make it so it can’t be thrown away.

Three of these are ideas. They are clear short sentences that can be imagined and actioned if we had the resources. They create a clear picture in the readers head – even if they aren’t quite feasible yet.

Two of the ideas here aren’t ideas. They are what I would call “ideals or outcomes”.

Can you guess which they are?

Being sustainable or making it so it can’t be thrown away are examples of outcomes. This is what we are aiming for – there is no idea in those sentences that enables the reduction of non-reusable coffee cups.

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Design Thinking for Sustainable Development

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