Mod 6- The “Mash Up” Ideation Technique with Prof. Bjorn Akselsen
Finally! We get to talk about ideas. If you are a creative or a problem solver, Ideation is the best part of the project. It is like taking Christmas, the Super Bowl, The Fourth of July, Cotton Candy, Rainbows and a pegasus named Jim, rolling them all into one joyous exercise, and sprinkling glitter on top.
Why did it take so long?! Ideation should only follow user research and the definition of the problem. If you don’t understand your users, the ideas generated will not be effective: they may not be appropriate or be poor solutions, and, even worse, the correct evaluation criteria for determining which idea is the best will not be established. The “How Might We…” portion of the problem definition serves as a great diving board into ideation.
Ideation is only one step in the full UX design process; once ideas are generated, separate analysis has to follow to decide which ideas (or parts of ideas) to pursue. The more ideas the better: a broad pool to choose from increases the likelihood that one of the ideas will be the seed for a great design solution. According to Aurora Harley of the Nielson Norman Group, ALL UX designers should engage in ideation when facing any design problem, big or small. Even if you are not able to implement your ideas on this specific project, keep your ideas for yourself. Save your ideas for a later date or build on them in your own time. Some of my best portfolio pieces are proposals that were never approved.
Ideation in Practice
Most people associate ideation with the term “brainstorm.” Technically, brainstorming is one type of ideation, which has been formalized as a process by Alex Osborn in his book Applied Imagination. Osborn’s guidelines for brainstorming — go for quantity, there are no bad ideas, crazy is welcomed, and encouraging building off ideas — also work well for many other ideation techniques.
Alex Osborn was an advertising executive who created the technique we know today as brainstorming. He invented the technique as a response to the stifling environment of executive meetings and with the goal of freeing up creative thinking in order to facilitate ideas to flow more easily. Alex Osborn presented the brainstorming technique in his book, How To Think Up. Alex Osborn authored several other books on group creative thinking, including Your Creative Power, How to Organize a Squad to Create Ideas and Applied Imagination, and he was a pioneer in the field, laying the foundation for what we consider structured ideation today.
“Creativity is more than mere imagination. It is imagination inseparably coupled with both intent and effort.”
– Alex Osborn
Dependent on appointing an experienced facilitator and having an experienced team. Small, diverse groups are best and set time limits. Including those who can act as representatives for specific groups of stakeholders to include their perspective would be optimal. Osborn developed has many rules and principles, which need to be respected in order to achieve success
- Set a time limit.
- Start with a question, a plan or a goal – and stay focused on the topic.
- Create a comfortable environment
- Defer judgment or criticism, including non-verbal.
- Encourage weird, wacky and wild ideas.
- Aim for quantity.
- Build on each others’ ideas.
- Be visual.
- Allow one conversation at a time.
There are three main characteristics of every ideation session:
1. Ideas are not judged during ideation. The critical characteristic of an ideation session is that all judgment is postponed so that every participant feels comfortable contributing, without fear of being evaluated. Evaluation can stifle creativity. Remember, at this stage, no idea is too far fetched: It is much easier to scale back a crazy idea that addresses a true user need than to try to make a mundane idea desirable
It was odd and unexpected finding this artwork on my desk last week, but I loved it.
2. Ideation should be productive. Ideation should produce creative artifacts. Ideas are recorded and the session is documented. Recording can be as barebones as taking notes with paper and a pencil, or can include supplies such as whiteboards, dry-erase markers, sticky notes, pipe cleaners, glue, construction paper, scissors, old magazines, or other documents to cut up — anything to help capture an idea before it dissipates. These artifacts record all thoughts in a tangible form within the session and ensure that none will be forgotten and dismissed once it is time to move into the evaluation stage. Additionally, having these artifacts visible to refer to during the ideation session can serve as inspiration for even more ideas.
3. Collaboration spurs diverse ideas. While an individual can certainly ideate on her own successfully, working with a group often generates a greater number and variety of ideas. This could mean inviting just one other person or a whole multidisciplinary team to participate in the ideation session. While a large group runs the risk of getting unwieldy, a more diverse set of backgrounds, experiences, and areas of expertise can produce a wider set of ideas. Allowing others to share their ideas in this open environment also has team-building benefits and can strengthen buy-in for the final design because everyone had the chance to contribute.
In addition to the parameters and structure of the ideation sessions, there are literally hundreds of ideation techniques that we can utilize to be creative. In the first part of this series, we were tasked with performing a “Mash-up” in order to produce ways to improve an existing service. In a mash-up, we quickly create two lists of features, thoughts or observations on unrelated subjects. We then combine items from the two lists to generate as many “mash-ups” as we can. This exercise emphasizes quantity. The more ideas you come up with, the better chance you have to reach a feasible solution. It also applies constraints because we are limiting the comparable/combinable items.
Time spent ideating is time well spent. The more disassociated the subjects, the greater the possibility of a unique and new “mash-up”. Mash-ups can create fun, odd and unexpected things.
For the focus of my assignment, I chose to explore religious institutions, specifically the church (but these can apply to any faith) and compare it to a community center in order to generate ways to improve outreach and infuse spirituality into modern life. I suspected the contrast of secular and non-secular would provide enough disparity for mash-ups. While writing the list, I found many similarities as well.
In the next part of the series we will look at more ideation techniques and idea evaluation: post ideation sessions. Please find my full mash-up project below.
Featured top video animation by Shawn Torres based on artwork by his son Marcus Torres.
Resources & References
Kumar, V. (2012). 101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization. Wiley. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/101-Design-Methods-Structured-Organization/dp/1118083466
Ideation for Everyday Design Challenges. (2019, October 02). Retrieved from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/ux-ideation
Introduction to the Essential Ideation Techniques which are the Heart of Design Thinking. (2019, October 02). Retrieved from https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/introduction-to-the-essential-ideation-techniques-which-are-the-heart-of-design-thinking
Osborn, A. F. (1953/1979). Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Thinking. New York: Scribners.
OpenIDEO, 7 Tips on Better Brainstorming, 2011: https://challenges.openideo.com/blog/seven-tips-on…
IDEO, The IDEO Difference, by Catherine Fredman, 2002: https://www.ideo.com/images/uploads/news/pdfs/hemi…
Alex Osborn, How To Think Up, 1942
Alex Osborn, Applied Imagination, 1953
d.school, bootcamp leg, https://dschool.stanford.edu/resources/the-bootcamp-boo…
Donald W. Taylor, Paul C. Berry and Clifford H. Block, Does Group Participation When Using Brainstorming Facilitate or Inhibit Creative Thinking? In Administrative Science Quarterly Vol. 3, No. 1, Page 23-47, 1958:
Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. Forget Brainstorming, 7/12/2010: http://www.newsweek.com/forget-brainstorming-74223
Jonathan Vehar. Don’t forget: Brainstorming works!, 2010:
Eight Tips for Better Brainstorming: http://www.designthinkingblog.com/http:/www.design…
David Allen, Five Simple Steps that Apply Order to Chaos: http://gettingthingsdone.com/fivesteps/
Dave Gray. Brainwriting. Gamestorming A toolkit for innovators, rule-breakers and changemakers, 2010:
Bryan W. Mattimore, Idea Stormers: How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs, 2012
Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, Change by Design, 2009
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