A blue table with lots of yellow cards with writing on showing ideas. 4 people's hands are visible around the table.

What you need to think about when you ideate. Different ideation techniques. How to decide which of your ideas you want to test.

This resource is for design leads and service managers who already understand the problems their users are facing and want to come up with ideas to help solve them.

It covers:

  1. What you need to think about before, during and after ideation
  2. Different ideation techniques
  3. How to decide which of your ideas you want to prototype and test

Before ideation

You should start off by asking yourself how well you understand the problem and what your users need.

The best way to learn about user needs is by doing user research. Find out how to do user research.

Plan your ideation session

You will need to consider:

Who to involve

Ideation is a team sport. You should involve other team members, stakeholders or service users to get a range of perspectives. But it can be tricky to facilitate ideation sessions if there are too many people. Try not to have more than 8 people in a session.

Find out more about how to run a co-design session.

Where to hold ideation sessions

You can run ideation sessions remotely or in person, depending on what works best for the people involved. 

Accessibility needs

Make sure to check with participants beforehand to see if they have any accessibility needs. 

Virtual whiteboard tools like Miro or Mural can be useful for remote ideation sessions, but they aren’t accessible for everyone. They can also be difficult to use if people aren’t familiar with them. If you are planning to use these tools, check if your participants are able to use them. If they can’t, there are low-tech alternatives that you can use.

Find out how I used a Word template to run an accessible ideation session

You should share any boards, slides or documents you’re planning to use in advance to give people time to review them. 

How to create a safe space

You want your participants to feel comfortable sharing their ideas. One way to do this is to set ground rules at the start of the session. For example, you could say that:

  • This is a judgment-free zone
  • There are no wrong ideas
  • Raise your hand if you want to speak

Ideation techniques

1. Reverse brainstorming

You have probably heard about brainstorming, when a group tries to come up with ideas about how to solve a problem. Reverse brainstorming helps you identify ways you could be making a problem worse. Then you reverse these ideas to find solutions you may not have thought of otherwise.

Step 1: Define the problem

For example, your problem statement might be “Not many people are signing up for our events.”

Step 2: Reverse the problem

Think about what you could be doing to make the problem worse. In this example, you might say, ‘How might we be making it hard for people to sign up for our events?”

Step 3: Reverse the ideas

Think of examples of things that you might be doing to cause the problem, such as:

  • We don't link to our events listing in our website menu
  • You can't book events online - you need to call us or send an email

Step 4: Identify solutions

Look at each ‘reverse solution’ and come up with ideas for potential solutions. In this example, potential solutions might be:

  • Adding a link to our events listing to our website menu
  • Creating an online form that allows people to book events on our website

2. Rapid 8s

Rapid 8s is a fast sketching exercise to get people to come up with 8 ideas in a short amount of time. 

Here’s how it works: 

  1. Everyone takes an A4 piece of paper and folds it in half 3 times to create 8 boxes
  2. Set a timer for 5 minutes
  3. Each team member sketches one idea in each box
  4. After the timer goes off, everyone shares their ideas with the group

If you have time, you can do a second round where you ask people to take their best idea and sketch it out in more detail. Remember that some people may feel anxious about not having good drawing skills. Make sure to let participants know that you are just looking for rough sketches.

Find out more in CAST's guide to Rapid 8s.

3. S.C.A.M.P.E.R

SCAMPER is a brainstorming method to help you improve your product or service. You work through each letter in SCAMPER:

  • Substitute - What can you substitute or change?
  • Combine - Can you combine parts of your product or service to create something different?
  • Adapt - What can be added to your product or service to make it better?
  • Modify - Could you modify your product or service to make it better?
  • Put to another use - Could your product or service be used in a different way?
  • Eliminate - What can be removed or simplified?
  • Reverse - What would happen if you flipped the service or product around?

For example, let’s say your organisation sends monthly campaign emails and you want to improve them. 

  • Substitute - You could change the subject line of your emails to encourage more people to open them
  • Combine - You could combine the campaign emails with messages about how to sign up for your services
  • Adapt - You could add a new section to the emails where you share positive outcomes from previous campaigns
  • Modify - You could make the emails more engaging by embedding images and videos
  • Put to another use - You could share a link to sign up for your campaign emails via a QR code at charity events
  • Eliminate - You could remove a section of your campaign emails to make them shorter
  • Reverse - You could reverse the order of the sections in your emails

4. “How might we” questions

“How might we” questions can help you come up with creative ideas while focusing on the problems that you’re trying to solve through digital.

Step 1

Review the problems that you’re trying to solve. Let’s say that your user research showed that it may be hard for potential volunteers to find out where or when they can volunteer.

Step 2

Turn those problems or insights into questions about how you might solve those problems. For example, “How might we help people find out what volunteering opportunities are available?”

Good “How might we” questions:

  • Are based on existing problems or insights
  • Are broad so you can generate more ideas
  • Don’t suggest a solution (“How might we update the page about volunteering on our website?” wouldn’t be a good “How might we” question, because it suggests that updating the web page is the solution)

Step 3

Come up with ideas to answer the “How might we” questions. Some ideas in this scenario might be:

  • Allowing people to search for volunteering opportunities on your website by date and location
  • Adding your organisation’s volunteering opportunities to local volunteering websites

5. Brainwriting

Brainwriting involves writing ideas down rather than saying them, like you would in a brainstorming session. This means it’s easier for quieter or more introverted people to get involved. You will need sticky notes for this.

  1. Introduce the problem that you’re trying to solve
  2. Set a timer and let people write down their ideas on sticky notes. 
  3. When the timer is up, ask participants to pass their ideas to another person, who reviews their ideas and adds to them.
  4. Repeat the process, round by round.
  5. Review the ideas and discuss as a group.

6. Mindmapping

Mindmapping involves creating a diagram to help you visualise connections between concepts or ideas. 

Think of it as a tree with the centre of your mindmap as the trunk. This is where you write the problem that you’re trying to solve. As your team comes up with ideas, you add these as branches to your tree. 

After ideation

Once you have your ideas, you need to decide which ones you want to prototype or test. 

You may want to ask participants to vote on which ideas they think you should test. One way to do this is by dot voting, where people add dots to the ideas that they like the best. 

For each idea, you may want to ask yourself:

Is it distinct?

  • Is it a standalone idea or should you combine it with another one?

Will it meet user needs?

  • Will it help users do what they need to do?

Can we do it?

  • Can we test this idea easily?
  • Can we deliver it in time?
  • Do we have the money and resources to do this?

How risky is it?

  • What are our assumptions about this idea?

You can also use a prioritisation grid to help you prioritise your ideas. This involves plotting your ideas on a grid based on how valuable they are for your users and how feasible they are for your organisation.

Find out more about how to prioritise ideas.


Photo by FORTYTWO on Unsplash

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