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In the ideate stage, we explore solutions to a defined problem. At this time, we aren’t trying to find the perfect solution. Instead, we use our creative energy to generate a towering heap of ideas. With a wide range of ideas at our disposal, we can ultimately select the ones that offer the most promising solutions for the problem that users are experiencing.

While ideating, we lean heavily on our work from the define stage. After all, we imagine solutions that directly respond to the problem statement. By exploring solutions, we gain a better understanding of how to approach the problem. The ideation process may even prompt us to loop back to the define stage to rethink or refine our problem statement. As mentioned throughout this lesson, the design thinking process is not linear!

Purpose

The define stage has us identify what problem we are trying to solve, and the ideate stage prompts us to consider how. When we start ideating, we consider many different possibilities, even if they seem strange, implausible, or downright bad (There’s a brainstorming technique dedicated to bad ideas, aptly named Worst Possible Idea!). We’re aiming for a large number of ideas, so we don’t need to worry about quality just yet.

While this may sound fun, it can also seem counterintuitive. We have a problem to solve. Why bother producing ideas that we might never use?

Ultimately, this practice helps us move past obvious solutions. If we stop at our first “good” idea, we limit our thinking and miss out on fresh innovations. Additionally, it’s too early to know which ideas will be effective, so it’s strategic to withhold judgment and generate a large pool of possible solutions to draw from.

If the define stage is like picking a destination, then the ideate stage is like proposing different routes. Keep in mind that there is not always an obvious, traversable path between a problem and a solution! By imagining numerous possibilities before we pick a route, we may avoid speeding down a road that turns out to be a dead end. Furthermore, it’s helpful to have alternative routes at the ready if we need to change course. Likewise, when designing, we may need to pivot to a different solution given different findings or constraints.

Application

Because ideation is all about harnessing our creative energy, we can approach it in many different ways.

When picking an ideation strategy, consider the context of your project. Certain techniques may be more effective for team settings, while others can be easily applied if you are working alone. You might also consider whether you’ll work with digital tools, pen and paper, or a mix of both. Lastly, you don’t need to limit yourself to one method! Mixing and matching can be helpful, as different techniques lead us to access different types of thinking.

Here are a few ideation techniques that may be useful:

In addition to techniques, there’s a wide variety of tools you can use to facilitate this process. Whatever tools you use, consider how you will keep track of ideas, so you can access them later on. You never know when you’ll want to look back at your ideas!

Digital Tools: The following tools are digital whiteboards. Team members can view and edit the same board, and they have access to features like sticky notes, comments, shapes, text, templates, and other tools that aid collaborative ideation.

Physical Tools: If you’re working in person, you want to make sure everyone can record their ideas and share them with the team.

  • Paper and pens
  • Sticky notes
  • Whiteboard and marker
What’s Next?

During the ideation stage, we will generate more ideas than we could possibly pursue with one design. Thus, after we have created the ideas, we must decide which ones to move forward with. The selection criteria and method should align with user needs and project goals.

There are many strategies for selecting the ideas, including:

A few general considerations at this stage include viability and perceived appeal to users. Regardless of how exciting an idea seems, it’s only viable if we can produce it with our allotted time and resources. Additionally, we want to practice empathizing with the users — we should consider which solutions may be best suited to user needs.

Instructions

Think about the answer to the following question to check your understanding of the ideate stage.

What is a standard outcome of the ideate stage?

Check Answer
A wide range of possible solutions that address a defined problem.

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