By Wendy Eichenbaum
Remember the last time you participated in a product brainstorming session. You sat with your colleagues in a meeting room, and came up with as many ideas as possible. At the end, everyone organized the ideas into logical groups. The moderator recorded all of the ideas. You went off to your next meeting.
A few months later you heard about the new features for the product. But these were the same ideas that management had discussed all year. What happened to all of those innovative ideas you came up with during the brainstorm?
Brainstorming is a spontaneous method to compile ideas. It allows team members to consider new and better ways to delight the customers. But too often, the effort ends there. Exciting ideas are forgotten in meeting notes. Team members never see their own ideas considered. They feel no sense of ownership, and lose interest in participating. Brainstorming it a great generation tool, but alone it’s not sufficient to generate new designs.
A larger process is called ideation. You start by narrowly defining a problem or opportunity, often from a task perspective. For a map application, we could ask, “How might we re-route customers in traffic?” Then you conduct the brainstorm session.
At end of the brainstorm session, the team evaluates the ideas. The goal is to narrow down the ideas to a few useful and feasible candidates. The team should select the best ideas based on a number of criteria. These criteria include the number of customers its helps, amount of time & effort it will take to implement the idea, and the target market’s interest in a solution to the problem.
Now it’s time to schedule the follow-up co-creation sessions. Invite the same team members. Divide the team members into groups. Each team flushes out one idea. Ideally, you’d run one session per idea, so that several teams could explore each idea. But if time is limited, then assign one idea per group.
During this meeting, team members imagine the customers using this solution: why would they use it, when, what high level steps would they take to perform the task, and what would they accomplish. Then each team documents their idea visually.
One interactive and fun way to document is to create a concept poster. It’s one sheet. On it, the team invents a name and headline for the idea. They list the features and benefits of the idea. And they sketch several areas: what it looks like, how it works, and how customers can benefit from it. You only need crude line drawings, not lifelike renderings by artists. Some ideation sessions also have team members construct prototypes with “tools” such as pipe cleaners, Play-Doh, scissors, markers, and paper.
At the end of the session, each team presents its design and gets feedback from other teams. These designs should be shared with people outside the meeting to get more feedback. Then the design and development teams can work on the best ideas in earnest.
You also can run ideation sessions with your customers in order to learn what they think about the problem, and what they’d like to see in a solution.
Brainstorming sessions are effective ways to compile ideas. But you don’t want to stop with a list. The ideation process enables you to select the best candidates, and begin exploring solutions.
About the Author
Wendy Eichenbaum has been a UX professional since the early-1990’s. She began her career as a technical writer. She then earned a Master of Arts in Professional Writing at Carnegie Mellon University, studying both writing and UI design. Over the years, she has worked across verticals, from start-ups to multi-national firms, in many areas of UX including research & strategy, Information Architecture, usability testing, and focus groups. She started her own UX consulting firm in 2008, Ucentric Design. And she is an adjunct professor at Cal State University, Fullerton. There she teaches a class that she created, User-Centered Design for Web and Mobile Interfaces.
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