Generate Loooooots of Ideas

Sometimes people think there’s one obvious answer to seemingly vexing design questions. Plain and simple: this is wrong. Your gut instinct might be telling you that there’s only one way to go about solving a problem, but this is an incorrect assumption. When you try, and I mean really try, you’ll find many answers to your issues.

When designing a feature for a website, for example, I typically recommend 3-6 options before choosing a “winner.” When designing a whole system of features, it’s helpful to at least think of one alternative. Sometimes the obvious answer wins, most of the time it doesn’t, and all of the time you’re better off for having thought deeply about a problem before jumping to conclusions.

There are a few reasons why you might generate lots of design ideas before settling on one:

  1. Generating many ideas forces you to get your ideas out of your head and onto the some paper. At the very least, this will help you understand what you are thinking.
  2. If you’re working with others, generating ideas will help to flesh out exactly what the “obvious” answer is. (Hint: it typically isn’t the same for everyone.)
  3. You’re bound to think of some really cool solutions when you’re forced to think hard about a design problem. You’ll impress yourself with your creativity. Sure, some of your concepts will be less feasible than others, but that’s ok. Just generate, and worry about implementation later (though not too much later).
  4. It’s a fun process, and I’m all for fun at work.
Lots of ideas, on paper
Lots of ideas, on paper

A few tips & tricks

  • Just get ideas out, don’t judge them – Trust me, at some point you’ll feel a strong urge to think something like, “naaaw, that idea will never work…”. Get over it, and while you’re at it, stop being so negative. Just get the ideas on paper, and leave all the judgement to your future self.
  • Don’t think every idea has to be hugely different, just focus on little changes – Maybe you won’t generate whole new ways of thinking about your topic, but will think of a million little tweaks you could try. That works! Just go with it.
  • If it becomes really difficult, stop – This should go without saying in many avenues of life. Seriously though, if you can’t think of any more concepts, you’re done. This does not, however, give you license to quit early. Sometime concept generation takes a little practice.
  • Don’t worry if your sketches are more like scratches – As long as you understand them, it doesn’t matter one bit.
  • Use a 6-up template to guide your designs (PDF download) – This 6-up is from Leah Buley and it’s straightforward enough. Print one out and give it a try.

Have fun generating!

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