3 Great Ideation Techniques for Your Team

Ideation is one of the most important steps in a design process. Use these techniques to get your team’s ideas flowing.
Headshot of author Nick Babich
Nick Babich
Expert Columnist
June 10, 2021
Updated: June 11, 2021
Headshot of author Nick Babich
Nick Babich
Expert Columnist
June 10, 2021
Updated: June 11, 2021

Idea generation, or ideation, is an integral part of the design process. To design commercially successful products, the product team needs to generate useful and meaningful ideas. Yet many great teams end up working with average ideas and build products that fail in the market. More often than not, that failure is because they use weak ideation techniques.

How effective is your ideation process? Do you want to improve it? If the answer is yes, then check out these three techniques along with best practices that will help your team to establish a better design process.

3 Great Ideation Techniques for Your Team

  1. Worst Possible Idea
  2. Brainwriting
  3. Brainwalking

 

Worst Possible Idea

The name of this technique is self-explanatory. Team members need to come up with the worst possible solution for the problem at hand. This method is easy to use because all you need to do is to ask team members to create a list of ideas, discuss the lists together, and then select the worst possible idea.

At first glance, this exercise doesn’t make much sense since most of the time we want to find the best possible solution to a problem. But this technique creates a proper mood for ideation, free from any anxiety and tension. After all, you’ve already gotten the worst thing out of the way. Plus, this strategy will prompt team members to think outside the box by inviting them to consider things that they might normally reject. As a result, they might come up with truly innovative, breakthrough ideas.

Best Practices

Create a space for people that will make them feel like they can share any wild idea. Every worst possible idea session should start with the assertion that theres no such thing as a bad idea. This guideline will make team members feel that they wont be judged for their contributions, no matter how absurd. The best ideas often come from people who dare to think differently.

Set a time limit. Typically, a single session will take around 40 minutes. According to research in the field of neuroscience, the average person has an attention span around that length. The session can be slightly longer or shorter, however, depending on the difficulty of the problem and the groups motivation.

Limit discussion to one conversation at a time. Only one person should be talking at a given moment. Team members should listen and elaborate on each other’s ideas.

Invite all team members into the discussion. When a moderator notices that some team members arent participating, they need to invite them to join. You will have a much better outcome when you leverage the groups collective thinking.

Aim for quantity. Quantity breeds quality. You’ll find that 100 ideas are better than 10. The assumption here is simple: The more ideas a team generates, the higher your chance of producing an effective solution. That’s why you need to make everyone feel like they can share any idea that comes to their mind and allow others to build on it.

More in Design + UX4 Ways to Improve Conversions Through A/B Testing

 

Brainwriting

One of the typical problems of brainstorming sessions is that the loudest voices on a team dominate the discussion. Shy team members may be reluctant to speak up in group discussions. When only the loudest voices get heard, your teams creativity is limited. Therefore, you need to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to share their ideas.

Achieving this goal is easier if you ask people to write their ideas on paper. Brainwriting is a pen-and-paper exercise that facilitates freer exchange of thoughts than a typical brainstorm.

A popular form of brainwriting is the three-five-six format. Six people write down three ideas each within five minutes. Brainwriting typically requires a few rounds of such ideation. After each round, team members exchange their piece of paper with colleagues, read other peoples ideas, and then write down three more. These new thoughts can be brand new or can build on ideas that other team members shared.

Best Practices

Moderators should brief session participants on the problem statement and a goal that the team wants to achieve. Also, share all user insights from previous research and findings so that the team can build on this information.

All ideas should be anonymous. A moderator should collect all the worksheets from team members with ideas after each round and then redistribute them randomly between team members. After the final round, the moderator invites team members to talk through all the ideas that have been proposed.

Participants should perform this technique in complete silence, which will keep everyone focused.

 

Brainwalking

Brainwalking is very similar to brainwriting, with a tiny but important difference. Instead of passing idea notes from one participant to another, participants write a single idea on a piece of paper or a flip chart, then get up from their place and move to another spot around the table.

Brainwalking is based on the principle of cross-pollination, inviting the team to build upon each others ideas in a structured way. Each team member should share a single idea that they want the other team members to relate to and build upon. This technique can help you use all the knowledge and experience of everyone who participates in the session.

Best Practices

The moderator of a brainwalking session should never suggest ideas. Making preliminary suggestions can too easily bias the ideation process and point the team into the wrong direction. The team members themselves should generate everything.

Begin a session with a good problem statement or question. You can spark the discussion with a “How might we [do something]” phrase. For example, when you design a landing page, you can state the problem as “How might we make the call to action button more prominent?” There should be one and only one topic for brainwalking, and your team needs to stay on this topic during the exercise.

Sketching is an important part of brainwalking. Nothing gets an idea across faster than drawing it. Motivate team members to communicate their ideas using visuals, not words. When team members can envision your idea, its much easier for them to provide constructive criticism. Dont worry about your sketching skills — the goal of sketching is not to create a pixel-perfect design but rather to communicate your thoughts more clearly.

 

Upgrade Your Ideation

After reading this article, you might wonder which technique you should choose for your team. There is no single right or wrong answer to this question, however. Every project is different, and you need to select the technique that works best for your team. The only way to know that is to test every method over time and then select the one that best leverages the collective thinking of your group and helps team members to engage with each other.

Expert Contributors

Built In’s expert contributor network publishes thoughtful, solutions-oriented stories written by innovative tech professionals. It is the tech industry’s definitive destination for sharing compelling, first-person accounts of problem-solving on the road to innovation.

Learn More

Great Companies Need Great People. That's Where We Come In.

Recruit With Us