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Process-driven ideation

What is process-driven ideation for UX?

UX designers are responsible for solving user problems. To do this, they need to empathise with their users, understand their needs, and generate creative, innovative solutions. But how do they continuously generate fresh ideas?

Ideation is the answer. The Nielson Norman group defines ideation as ‘the process of generating a broad set of ideas on a given topic, with no attempt to judge or evaluate them’. [1] During the ideation phase, UX designers gather all the information and insights from the inspiration phase, make sense of all the data, and generate ideas for design solutions.

Fundamentals of ideation

You can ideate in many ways. You can do it solo or in groups of different sizes. Ideation sessions can be in-person or remote. They can be a one-off session or scheduled regularly. Whatever form your ideation sessions take, they should follow these fundamentals.

Don’t judge

The key rule for these sessions is to let the ideas flow without judging them. At this stage, your aim is to generate ideas, not to evaluate them. Judgement interrupts the creative process, and fear of judgement can prevent people from expressing their ideas. So, let everyone contribute any kind of ideas – big or small – without the fear of judgement.

Record everything

These sessions are a fount of information, and you don’t want to miss any part of it, however small. Make sure people have the supplies they need to note down or visualise ideas during the session. After the session, record all the various sticky notes and whiteboard scribbles generated in the session – they could inspire new ideas later on.

Two is better than one

While solo brainstorming sessions have their advantages, group sessions generate more ideas. Collaborative group ideation draws on multiple perspectives, and it gives a forum for everyone to contribute.

Guidelines for ideation

While the fundamentals set the ground rules for ideation in general, you also need guidelines for the sessions. Generating ideas can be challenging. We need to know how to approach sessions to ensure we get a variety of great ideas. Consider these six guidelines that help create the conditions for collaborative creativity.

1. Quantity over quality. At this stage, it is crucial to choose quantity over quality. The more ideas you come up with, the more chances you have to reach a genuinely creative and innovative solution.

2. Embrace constraints. You need to be comfortable working with creative constraints. Use them as triggers to be creative. This works best when you apply some rules and deadlines to your creative sessions. For example, you might limit yourself to one hour during a brainstorming session. Constraints are an excellent way to stretch our thinking.

3. Anything and everything goes. In the ideation phase, allow the brilliant and the ridiculous. Fifteen years ago, if we threw the concept of self-driving cars into the ring in a brainstorming session, that would have seemed ridiculous. It’s often difficult to tell the difference between intelligent and foolish ideas, so you should encourage all wild ideas. You never know when and where a great idea can come from.

4. Divergent thinking. When ideating, engage in divergent thinking. This means that you are only trying to generate material to work with, without selecting or evaluating the quality of your creative output. Stay in the mindset, continue to exercise your creative muscles, and don’t rush to convergence. It’s not the time for decision-making yet.

5. Identify opportunities. By sharing what you’ve learned with your team, you start to make sense of a large amount of data and identify design opportunities. You’ll generate heaps of ideas, some of which you’ll keep and others you’ll discard. For instance, you might select ideas based on practicality and relevance to a design challenge.

6. Be open to ambiguity. You should be open to ambiguity and confident of your ability to find a solution, even in an uncertain market. Be courageous. Build rough prototypes of your ideas, and share these with users and internal stakeholders for feedback as early as possible to lessen the anxiety of the unknown. (We’ll explore prototyping in more detail next week.)

Over to you

Think about how you usually come up with ideas in response to problems and needs in your everyday life and work. Have you been using any of these guidelines already? How could these guidelines assist you to develop effective ideas that meet user experience needs?
Share your thoughts in the comments.

References

1. Harley A. Ideation for Everyday Design Challenges [Internet]. Nielsen Norman Group; 2017 Jan 15. Available from: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/ux-ideation/

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