Brainstorming

I do not know whether you know it, but ...
This is the second part of a series about design, analysis and creative techniques.

Beforehand I would like to say a few words about Brainstorming. Brainstorming is long-established way to generate ideas and classic technique. On the one hand it's well-known on the other hand it's all too often misinterpreted.
Brainstorming, however valuable it is, will fail and will not succeed before it is put to action correctly and in a approved manner.

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Brainstorming is a great technique for generating creative ideas. The aim is to come up with as many ideas as you can. Quantity is top, not quality is what you are should hunting for. Limiting or restraining the ideas concerning the number or content will cause people to start rating or holding back thoughts and opinions. When participants start to judge their ideas, they are using their inner critic and starting to put, what they think are, their 'best' ideas ahead.
Generally brainstorming is performed in groups, but you can do it also on your own. It's an excellent way to get lots of ideas and get everyone thinking, reflecting and involving and last but not least it's a good way to unite the team.
Over the years, I've joined and guided brainstorming sessions varying in size from just me [ :-) ], just two or three people up to about twenty and more participants. But I recommend you keep your group on a small side. The bigger your group is the higher is the risk that you get subgroups and the risk that you're getting lost in discussion. The participants should be relatively at ease with one another, and as you continue to brainstorm together over time, they'll become more comfortable throwing out off-the-wall ideas--which often generate the best results. No one and I really mean "no one" should take or have a guiding or leading role - neither he is the Creative Director, Project Manager, Head of Concept or or or nor the chief or client himself - Yes you should have a person who is collecting all the ideas on the wall - she or he can also take the role as anchor(wo)man maybe as mediator but never as referee.


METHOD _____ : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : :

Start by nominating one person who is in charge of collecting all of your ideas. You can note and save your thoughts by ...
... writing
... drawing and sketching
... pining and sticking
and furthermore by noting of ...
... relations
... links
... characters


EQUIPMENT _____ : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : :

You need ...
  • Cards
  • Post-Its
  • Pen, Pencils and Markers
You can gather your ideas on ...
  • pin-boards and bulletin board
  • whiteboards
  • flip-boards
  • card-boards - huge card-boards - this card should be thin enough so you can roll it up and it should be thick enough to be robust and resistant (refer to your "environment" where you set up your brainstorming).
  • or just on the wall - large, poster-size sheets or "endless" sketching-paper (as we know it for architecture and town planning) along the walls of the room. This will keep all the ideas clearly visible.
The worst thing is - you stop noting your ideas just because you have no space to write.
Where can or should you set up your brainstorming - the answer is everywhere. You can do it in your ...
... office room
... meeting room
... etc.
But my experience is that it's a good start to leave your standard environment and to choose a different location a ...
... park around your corner (we often made our brainstorming at the riverbank of Frankfurt)
... store, depot or factory environment of your client
... auditorium or lecture hall of your city or at your university


It's often very good to leave your common location and also your common way to think and to behave.
Let me tell you a short about my most uncommon place there we made our brainstormings. Once ago we worked for a client and we had to come up with very creative ideas and solutions in a very very short time. We worked from December to January each week 70 hour per week and we took just for Christmas and New-Year a half day off - well - during this time we did our brainstorming more than once in the fitness center and sauna - it was very exhausting and sweating -
but it was an excellent way of clearing your head - And these brainstormings were very very effective.


How to do it ... _____ : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : :

In a design environment brainstorming is an easy and useful creative technique to generate ideas and proposals. But it's just useful and effective if you keep in mind the following eight easy rules.
  1. Gather your participants around your board or wall
  2. Nominate an attentive person to note everything - this person should have a good spelling and handwriting
  3. Write the topic and criteria across the top of your board, wall or card.
  4. State your question and point at your issue clearly and markedly
  5. Secure a common understanding for the session
  6. Brainstorm - Generate and produce approaches, suggestions and ideas
  7. Do not judge or criticize ideas.
  8. Accept each idea and collect everything - do not judge anything in any way
  9. Avoid discussing ideas as this slows down idea generation.

After your brainstorming session you should save all results as original as possible. Take photos and save your outcomes without revising or "clean" the sheets or walls
Then try to work out ...
... connections
... relationships
... implications
... links
... perhaps in a mind-map - I'm a firm believer in mind-maps.


After a longer rest or a day after you can start to clarify and conclude your brainstorming session. During your brainstorming your task was to generate as many ideas as possible and then once you have all your ideas, you have to refine, filter and deduce your results. You have to sharpen your mind and your results. To evaluate the results I put all the generated ideas into one of five categories:
  1. Strong / Good: ideas that are generally strong, rich and or good
  2. Poor / Bad: ideas that generally seem poor, weak and or bad
  3. Lacking Clarity: ideas that need further explanation and clarification
  4. Lack of Classification: ideas that probably useful for special content or features
  5. Worth to Keep in Mind: ideas that neither bad nor useful at the current project phase

As I said - The aim is to come up with as many ideas as you can - Quantity is top, not Quality! During a brainstorming session of about 30 minutes you should easily generate 100 ideas. If you double the session time you won't double also the outcome.


Initial aid - Here are some tips to help you get started _____ : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : :

To support the approach of the brainstorming session I can suggest you three methods:

Initial question
Ask your participants to deliver a clear focus to start the brainstorming
  • What do XYZ users want?
  • What would XYZ users support?
  • Which feature would be useful?
  • etc.

Word association
For example you can start with a word like "Sports Car" and use word association to come up with a list of ideas, such as "Speed", "Stylish", "Quick", "Smart" Then you could come up with another list starting with "Smart". I like to start with a noun and search for adjectives. And then to take one of your adjective and try to brainstorm nouns.


Let's take a walk (through)
Define a target and ask your participants to mention possible first steps. The result of this brainstorming is a decision tree. A decision tree shows decisions and their possible consequences, including chance event outcomes, maybe also costs, consequences and utility.


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Until now I gave my attention to brainstorming within a group session. Here are some practical tips to boost your effectiveness of your one-(wo)man brainstorming skills.
Start with step 3 - Write the topic and criteria across the top of your board, wall or card. When I do my personal brainstorming I like to do it by a sticky map. I try to separate and note down each particular factor, detail or trend on single post-its. If you find yourself running out of ideas, don't give up - very often it's a good thing to switch your "position". Ask yourself:
  • What would I need if I were a new customer? ... an experienced customer?
  • How would user XYZ solve this problem?
  • For what would user XYZ look for?
Try to gather at least 10 possible ideas or solutions, better 15 or more. Often the best ideas take more concentrated and extensive brainstorming - don't give up to early.
As you review your notes write down any ideas that occur to you. Don't censor or judge yourself at this point. Write down every idea, no matter how strange they are, accept each role and opinion you have. Remember yourself on rule 8 = Accept and collect each idea - do not judge anything in any way.

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Last two suggestions:
  1. Keep in mind that a problem, clearly defined, is already half solved.
  2. Do not discuss or criticize ideas - do not judge anything in any way

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