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Brainstorming

How to brainstorm ideas for UX design

Brainstorming is a technique that combines informal problem-solving and lateral thinking to come up with solutions to problems. We use brainstorming to generate and prioritise our ideas during product development to ensure that we are focused on meeting user goals in the most efficient way possible.

Who is involved in brainstorming?

Brainstorming is most fruitful as a collaborative group exercise (although you can solo brainstorm). It is an ideal way to energise a team and come up with a variety of innovative ideas.

While it is good to conduct brainstorming with your core team, it’s helpful to involve other stakeholders as well. These can include other teams or departments inside your organisation or stakeholders that are outside of your organisation. Often, these stakeholders bring a different perspective to the design challenge. This type of collaboration will fuel creativity and keep design and business goals aligned.

Setting up a brainstorming session

There are a lot of tried and tested brainstorming techniques that you can use to generate new ideas. These techniques can range from writing down ideas on a whiteboard to playing a game wherein you generate word associations in order to develop an idea.

To help you get started, let’s explore some rules for brainstorming and guidelines for setting up a session.

People

Start by creating a list of people whose expertise will be beneficial for your session. They may not necessarily be a part of your team or your local office. This should give you a diverse group of people with varying experiences and perspectives. For example, you may have some senior people on the team whose views may be very different from a junior colleague; both perspectives bring unique value.

Time

If you foresee scheduling difficulties, don’t let these deter you. There are a number of ways to manage conflicting schedules, including asking individuals to brainstorm a few ideas alone or in smaller groups and then collating potential solutions afterwards.

Tools

Think about how you are going to collaborate. How are you going to share ideas that the team has generated? Will you host a session synchronously or asynchronously?

You can create a shared document that has all the ideas listed or work with collaborative tools like Canva or Miro to collate ideas. Try one of the Canva brainstorming templates [1] available to kick-start this process.

Prioritising ideas

Once everyone has engaged with the problem, bounce the ideas generated off each other. You should thereafter request feedback from everyone involved and prioritise the ideas accordingly. The following matrix is an example of how we can prioritise ideas that are generated in a brainstorming session.

The graphic is titled: Template for brainstorming during market research. The graphic shows a table with 3 equal rows and 3 equal columns. Row 1 column 2 represents "measurable outcome". Row 1 column 3 represents "doubtful change". Row 2 column 1 represents "easy to implement". Row 2 column 2 represents "key priority". Row 3 column 1 represents "resource-consuming". Row 3 column 3 represents "ideas to exclude".Click to enlarge

A matrix can assist to identify which ideas to exclude and which to prioritise. The ones you exclude are time-and resource-consuming and don’t align with measurable outcome. Typically you would prioritise the ideas that are easy to implement with a measurable result.

How to approach brainstorming

Brainstorming is known for being unstructured, and the ideas it generates can often seem unactionable. So, let’s explore some rules and a process you can implement to brainstorm a design challenge that will result in actionable ideas.

Brainstorming rules

Effective brainstorming is when everyboady knows what to do. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Set the time and focus on an issue to brainstorm.
  • Be respectful of people and ideas.
  • Don’t judge any idea – encourage all ideas.
  • Collaborate to develop ideas further.
  • Avoid distractions and stay focused.
  • Use creative cues such as drawings.
  • Generate lots of ideas.

Setting up a brainstorming session

Having diverse perspectives in your brainstorming session helps to generate a high quantity of innovative ideas and solutions.

The session should look similar to this:

  1. Pass out pens and sticky notes to everyone, and have a large piece of paper, a wall, or a whiteboard to place them on. If you’re hosting the session virtually, you’ll want to share a whiteboard tool with the team.
  2. Review the brainstorming rules before you start.
  3. Pose the question or prompt you want the group to respond to. Even better – write it down and put it at the top of the paper, wall, or whiteboard, and if done virtually, consider adding it as the title.
  4. As each person has an idea, have them describe it to the group as they place their sticky note or whiteboard post.
  5. Generate as many ideas as possible together.
  6. Once all the ideas are up, you can start grouping them. Use grouping themes that tie directly to your user research goals and objectives. Write titles or phrases for clusters of similar stickies or posts.

Some useful ways of grouping your findings are:

Equivalence One thought or insight is similar to another insight.
Association The thoughts or insights share similar experiences or areas.
Hierarchy Any common themes dependent on larger trends that your other findings also support.

Over to you

What do you think would be the biggest challenge when participating in a brainstorming session? How would you overcome that challenge? Have you participated in group brainstorming before? What worked well? What didn’t?
Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

References

1. Collaborate & create amazing graphic design for free [Internet]. Canva; [date unknown]. Available from: https://www.canva.com/en_gb/login/

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