Ideation Fuels The Design Process

Sketching out ideas is the foundation of the design process and arguably the most fluid starting point for capturing the initial spark of inspiration present in the mind’s eye. Well before a concept can be realized, there exists a phase central to the design process known loosely as ideation.

Ideation could best be described as the process of entertaining and forming ideas and concepts for the purpose of resolving specific problem(s) related to larger objectives. Design ideation techniques can be initiated at any phase of the product development process and may include a variety of idea gathering techniques such as sketches, mood boards, storyboarded sequences, architecture wireframes, and brainstorms with colleagues. Typically visual conceptualizations (e.g. quick thumbnail sketches) are produced and are most effective when explored during the beginning stages of a project where potentially the most latitude exists for interpreting project deliverables against a client brief.

Sketching Solves Problems
Concept sketches are great for comparison and evaluation of multiple design solutions to a given problem. Perhaps the designer is interested in exploring navigation concepts for a screen-based UI or options for displaying content over time based upon specific user-interaction.  Perhaps the desire is create a fluid interface that adapts to multiple screen resolutions while addressing requirements for content-management and branding. In any case, quick sessions of sketching (i.e. pencil and paper) emphasizing iterative progression can yield a wide range of ideas more effectively than time spent generating concepts in software applications.
Quite simply, if the desire is to produce a large number of high quality ideas in a very short period of time then software should be avoided during this phase. Applications such as Photoshop and Illustrator are more effectively utilized further along in the creative process when the designer is ready to funnel a large collection of seemingly crude ideas into a smaller group for development and further refinement.

Interactive Design Development
In the time-constrained and deadline-driven world of product development, there can be definite obstacles to finding meaningful time for design ideation and research. Certainly digital applications are becoming more and more complex to orchestrate as budgets and market expectations continually raise the bar. Cultivating a compelling user experience requires a lot of thoughtful planning and research. The technique of storyboarding sequences for instance is very useful in describing screen to screen interactions and choreography of visual and information elements over time. Storyboards can help convey the look, feel, and dynamic behavior of an application more effectively than a single, static screen mockup. Web-based applications emphasizing non-linear forms of navigation, dynamic content management, and innovative user-interactivity benefit most from storyboarded sequences. They define a clearer picture of the intended end result and help set client expectations long before production development has commenced.


The Purpose of Design Ideation

  • an iterative process of visually brainstorming ideas
  • an effective approach to flushing out multiple ideas quickly
  • can involve both divergent thinking (exploring the unconventional, starting with the known and moving outwards) and convergent thinking (merging a series of existing ideas, starting with the known and moving inwards, or tending to 1 point of focus)
  • can be a solitary endeavor or a collaborative process involving several individuals

Why do it?

  • thinking beyond current conventions
  • challenge the client to think differently about their brand
  • cultivating innovation
  • breaking new ground


  • experiment, entertain wild and crazy ideas
  • suspend critical judgement and resist the tendency to focus on a single, obvious solution
  • explore adjacencies; go off on tangents
  • allow the process to occur spontaneously without being forced
  • creatively open your mind and allow a fluid avalanche of ideas to come forth
  • flush out as many divergent ideas as possible within a relatively short period of time -like with brainstorming, the more ideas, the better. (could be 15-20 minutes or 2 hours depending on how complex the design problem(s))

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