Brainstorming

Brainstorming techniques to unleash your creativity

With the design brief completely understood and our research data at hand, its time to create & evaluate concepts that may solve our design problem. But how can we get started? Well there several brainstorming techniques we can utilize to help us generate an idea, and we are going discuss some of the most famous in this article. (**Updated 26 Aug 2013**)

As David Sherwin, successfully describes in his book: “Creative Workshop”

“Being creative on demand is, well demanding. Sometimes ideas won’t flow without a little extra prodding in the brain cells”.

David Sherwin

And it’s quite true. The creative process really is hard work & dedication with only a tiny part given over to inspiration.

Tools

Let’s start by examining some famous brainstorming tools.

SCAMPER

Credit for inventing brainstorming for creative idea generation goes to Alex Osborn of the legendary ad agency BBDO. He suggested a checklist that later on the writer Bob Eberle arranged into the SCAMPER mnemonic.

S – Substitute it
C – Combine it
A – Adopt it
M – Magnify or Modify it
P – Put in other uses
E – Eliminate something
R – Rearrange or reverse

The scamper checklist can be used to parse ideas generated by the other methods  we’ll see confirm their strength and maybe help generate new ideas.

Cubing

Cubing was suggested by the educator and scholar Elizabeth Cowan-Neeld and allows you to “look” at your topic from the 6 sides of a box, as in thinking outside the box.

  1. Describe the topic
  2. Analyze it
  3. Compare it
  4. Associate it
  5. Apply it
  6. Argue for it or against it

 Techniques

Before starting out the brainstorming session,  it’s important to set a time limit for each activity, time can flow really fast during a brainstorming session and you might end up missing your deadline. Also creativity thrives better under a tighter deadline.

Here as some widely used techniques to help you started. (There are some more you can try in the books on the suggested bibliography section.)

Mind mapping

In his book “The Mind Map Book”, Tony Buzan suggests using the following guidelines for creating mind maps:

  1. Start in the center with an image of the topic, using at least 3 colours.
  2. Use images, symbols, codes, and dimensions throughout your mind map.
  3. Select key words and print using upper or lower case letters.
  4. Each word/image is best alone and sitting on its own line.
  5. The lines should be connected, starting from the central image. The central lines are thicker, organic and thinner as they radiate out from the centre.
  6. Make the lines the same length as the word/image they support.
  7. Use multiple colours throughout the mind map, for visual stimulation and also to encode or group.
  8. Develop your own personal style of mind mapping.
  9. Use emphasis and show associations in your mind map.
  10. Keep the mind map clear by using radial hierarchy, numerical order or outlines to embrace your branches.

I think 8) is the most important guideline, so just try it out, and develop your own style.

But I will add a step too:

11. Don’t forget to parse the results through SCAMPER or CUBING to eliminate the weak concepts. And also use mind map again in any potential new concepts that just came up.

If you are having a hard time finding a concept you can use the idea inversion technique. Take a concept that’s not quite successful and imagine the exact opposite in every way. Write down the opposing attributes and use them for a new mind map.

Thumbnail sketches

One of the best techniques for fast exploring design options is through sketching thumbnails.  Sketch pictures, words and layout ideas in a free form associative way. Step back often and assess promising ideas for further development.

These sketches will help you compare layouts quickly or logo ideas, and eliminate the weak ones right away. The important thing to understand is that design sketching is NOT drawing. In fact if you can draw well, avoid doing it while sketching out for ideas, since a quality rendering might conceal behind it a weak idea.

There are way more but i hope these will help you get started! You can find more in the related articles and our website!

9 comments
Web Outsourcing Gateway
Web Outsourcing Gateway

These ideas are noted, more reasons to give creativity another ways to come out. Especially arguing if the creativity is enough or not.

Homework Help
Homework Help

A great resource to systematically bring out the creativity of anyone. 

Simon Quance
Simon Quance

Read this 2 weeks ago - back for the fourth time. Great no nonsense resource for any creator - thanks Spyros.

Jody Urquhart
Jody Urquhart

Love these ideas. Especially the recombining and doing the opposite. I write everything down, every IDEa anytime it comes. eventually I mind map it nd combine it. Creativity is so fun.

Dale Perryman
Dale Perryman

I like Edward Debono's Six thinking hats. I also like A Whack On The Side Of the Head and A Kick In The Seat Of the Pants by Roger Van Oech. I also like The Creative Brain by Ned Hermann.

Spyros Thalassinos
Spyros Thalassinos

Thanks Simon! Indeed, this article has a long story. I had originally published this article in the first incarnation of "Make your ideas art" about a year ago as a 5 part series describing the whole design process. Sadly hosted in a free host back then, the site was locked down due to passing the free traffic limit.  It was re-published again in the Extend Graphics blog, while i worked there. It seems though they closed their website a few weeks after i left their company. Hopefully this version will be more lucky!

Spyros Thalassinos
Spyros Thalassinos

Thanks Dale! I'll have to check out some of them :) I am currently reading "Thinkertoys" it has a treasure trove of conventional and unconventional brainstorming techniques.