Design Process
min read
May 10, 2023
August 26, 2020

Ideation in Design Thinking

Ideation in Design Thinking
Table of contents

Ideas that work are not easy to come by and the one that works might not be able to solve all users' problems. Sometimes, we like an idea so much that it gets stuck in our mind and doesn't let more ideas come by. Even if the idea is great, letting go of that one idea for a while to create more ideas and more solutions is "The third phase of design thinking — Ideation". 

Ideation involves creating a large volume of ideas. This phase is a step ahead of obvious solutions. It fuels the innovation process through potential ideas and the source material for building a prototype in the next phase of design thinking.

Without the phase of ideation, a problem statement would just remain what it is — a problem.

It can be practiced individually but a single person can only deliver as much as their understanding is of the problem. When a team of design thinkers is involved in idea generation, ideas can be generated with people handling different parts of the project, graphic designers, visual designers, UI/UX designers, content creators, UX writers, developers, project managers, decision-makers, and people spinning different parts of the project to generate multiple concepts and then create an overall composite of all of those concepts as one idea.

What does the phase of ideation do?

  • Gives the mind time, space, and environment to think about many-many ideas.
  • Increases the number of potential ideas quickly.
  • Assists in the refinement of ideas.
  • Helps to incorporate different elements of different ideas together to fit users' needs.
  • Focuses on users' pain points to find design solutions.

How does ideation work?

The first phase of design thinking, empathize uncovers the real unspoken needs to truly resonate with the users. The second phase, define synthesizes the analysis of the empathy map to create a clear, actionable, and defined problem statement. In the ideation phase, the pain points from the empathy map and the problem statement together enforce a quantifiable number of ideas to prototype, test, and generate human-centered design solutions.

How to create an ideation session?

Creating a good ideation session is important and is hard work. It is a strategic and structured process of reaching the design goal by exercising several carefully created exercises with a team to generate innovative ideas.

There are no rules when it comes to thinking about potential ideas, in fact, the crazier the better but there should be guidelines for organizing a session.

  • Everyone in the room should be comfortable and at ease.
  • This is a creative exercise people should be appreciated and motivated at each point.
  • Don't criticize an idea based on personal opinion, always go back to the problem statement to see why you are doing it.
  • Follow a plan, always set time limits for each activity.
  • Respect the participants, their ideas and their time.
  • Keep all stationery and related material interesting and handy.
  • Most importantly — keep it creative and have fun while you are at it.

The process of Ideation


To begin with, the brainstorming session, select some questions. According to Ideo, articulate the challenge as a How Might We statement. Depending on the problem statement, you could ask three to five questions. Ask questions that are simple, clear, and focus on one question at a time. Act on problems through post-its, writing, or sketching.

In a brainstorm, the team works together to reach new ideas by building on each others' ideas. The feedbacks should be inspiring, motivating, and focused on the problem statement.

The primary flaw of brainstorm sessions is that they usually do not have a judgment-free environment. Often the conversation gets dominated by one or more participants, limiting the contribution of others. This is called "Group Think". Usually, that reduces creativity and leads to ideas and decisions that are not completely rational.

Only collective creative work enables building ideas and motivates them to get inspired by each other’s ideas to create a digital design solution that truly resonates with the users.

Design Charrettes

According to Neilsen Norman Group, Design charrettes inspire design sketches and ideas, include more people in the design process, explore and expose goals and objectives of colleagues in multiple functional roles, and drive off designer’s block.

A design charrette creates better ideas than the other process of ideation because it —

  • Focuses on creativity than interface design only.
  • Opens up team creativity.
  • Gives everyone an equal opportunity to share their ideas.
  • Generates several workable and actionable ideas.
  • Early and equal collaboration of ideas saves from issues and concerns that may come up later.
  • Sets original goals and design solutions based on quantifiable metrics and expectations.
  • Ensures team work for the current and further projects.

The process of design charrettes, also known as design studio begins with making each participant familiar with the pain points and the problem statement. State the goals and expectations of the process and the project make sure each participant has clarity about the project.

  • State the pain points from the empathy map and problem statement clearly on a board that should remain visible to participants all the time.
  • Communicate the time limit for the process and each exercise within the process.
  • Provide everyone with clear sheets to sketch or write their ideas.
  • Each participant should sketch and write their concepts individually.
  • Give each participant time and time limit to explain their ideas.
  • Discuss the ideas, remain positive during this exercise. All ideas are good ideas.
  • Identify the potential ideas and divide the participants into pairs or small groups to collaborate and synthesize on the potential ideas to create refined concepts.
  • Encourage the participants to re-imagine and improve the ideas in the given time limit.
  • Use "Dot voting" system, as a way to finalize decisions in a time efficient manner.
  • Finally, discuss the full interactions and feasibility of new concepts as a group to make some design decisions that could be carried out as prototypes.

The process of Design charrettes while ideating requires diversity in participants who challenge each other and can work alone or in a group but together toward a common goal. Document the process so it can be referred to while working on the project further. At the end of this process make sure to finish with a clear summary, some decisions, and next steps about the future of prioritized ideas.

There are many ways to ideate and everyone does it differently after practicing, finding out errors, and identifying what works the best for their team and goals. One such blog on different ways to ideate is a compilation by "Just in mind" — 8 UX ideation techniques to try out and 7 ideation techniques to supercharge your next workshop. There are several web tools available for ideation sessions and there is no single process in ideation that suits all. You could find some that may work for you on the "Session lab blog" — 20 Best Online Tools for Design Thinking and "Wrike blog" — 13 Free Brainstorming Apps and Tools to Spark Innovation.

What next?

Ideation is over. Now the focus is on prototyping and finally testing but there is a lot to do after the ideation sessions and before the prototyping begins.

The techniques used in ideation sessions save time, use that time to work on the idea more thoroughly. Narrow down the ideas to one idea from which you can build on by creating scenarios and storyboards. They provide a reality check for design by helping to identify how the idea will work out with the users in the real environment.

This comes before prototyping begins and we will be talking all about creating storyboards and scenarios in our next blog post on design thinking.

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