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Last updated on 6/30/20

Ideate and Explore

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Design thinking involves divergent and convergent thinking where you cast the net of possibilities wide, and then focus on the strongest problem and solution. The idea is to refrain from judgment and remain open to many ideas before focusing on the problem at hand.

Poster of the double diamond process.
The double diamond from a workshop. This chapter focuses on the ideation phase (right diamond).

The "double diamond" is a useful way of thinking about the process. In research, you're open to ideas and possibilities (diverge), which you then refocus (converge) in order to define the problem. In the ideation phase, revisit divergent thinking to imagine lots of possibilities, and then these converge as you prototype and test ideas to ultimately arrive at a solution.

Double diamond with research and insights in the first diamond, and ideate and prototype in the second diamond. Arrows show that it's an iterative process.
Variation of the double diamond from Service Design Vancouver.

Imagine that you've already explored your topic of interest and narrowed it down to define the problem. Next, you're going to come up with lots of ideas and possibilities in the ideation phase.


In the ideation phase, it's important to remind participants that there are no dumb ideas. You're trying to come up with lots of ideas - even if they're crazy, impossible, or way over budget. In writing them down, you may spark other, even better ideas that can lead to more interesting solutions.

Activities to facilitate ideation

In a workshop, participants were presented with blue and green cards that were prepared by the facilitator in advance. In this scenario, the blue cards had different aspects of the cinema experience - buying tickets from a kiosk, seating arrangement, snack food offerings, etc. The green cards had different people or target audiences such as teenage friends, a mom's group, elderly moviegoers, etc. Each participant picked one card from each deck/color.

Simple cards made out of colored paper.
The blue and green card decks were prepared by the facilitator in advance. Each card was typed, but cards be handwritten or printed on colored paper instead.

To encourage ideation, participants were engaged in "brainwriting". They were given a time limit of two minutes to write as many ideas as possible on a blank piece of paper. When the time was up, participants passed their paper and related cards to the person next to them who then added to the list. This scenario was repeated multiple times.

"Brainwriting" could be adapted without the colored cards, or in a scenario where everyone is working to come up with ideas to approach the same problem. This exercise is valuable because everyone can have a voice in writing quietly, as well as the fact that there is less temptation to critique or shoot down ideas before giving them a chance.

Rethinking brainstorming

Global design and innovation company IDEO is well known for its work in design thinking. Here are a couple examples of how they innovate through simple ideation.

David and Tom Kelley of IDEO discuss Alternatives to Traditional Brainstorming: it is essential to build on other ideas. [2:47 min]

Brainstorming Techniques from IDEO using the question "How might we?" [1:57 min]

IDEO even has their own approach to mashups to create unexpected solutions. Tim Brown has also spoken about the importance of creativity and play, and his TED talk gives a few examples for getting ideas flowing.

Selecting an idea

In the ideation phase, teams are working toward quantity over quality. The goal is to create as many ideas as possible without judgment. Once it's time to move on, the next phase involves deciding which idea to prototype.

In one workshop, participants shared some of their favorite ideas that came out of the "brainwriting" exercise. There was quite a range of ideas. Each participant was given five colored dots which they used to vote for their favorite idea(s). Participants could put all five dots on one idea or spread them among different ones. (Read about Gamestorming's approach to dot voting.)

Big sheet of white paper with ideas from the workshop. Colored dots determined the most popular idea.
Voting from a workshop. Also note that it's more important to write ideas down than to have perfect handwriting. ✍️ 😉

In the end, there was a clear winner. The group decided to prototype a dinner/movie experience for retired people after discussions made participants realize that it was a group of people with more time on their hands (and more disposable income) than millennials. It was only through group collaboration that the team was able to come up with this.  The best part was that there was a lot of enthusiasm because participants made the decision.

During the design process, it's not uncommon to find a group turning away from initial ideas towards something different as they work through them. It's also not uncommon for businesses to turn from their original approach or mission as they uncover new insights or needs after getting to know their user base better. These workshops can be highly revealing and informative. Therefore, it can be valuable to involve stakeholders in instances where they can make discoveries for themselves.

Let's recap!

  • The "double diamond" is one way of expressing the different phases of design thinking by considering when ideas need to diverge (coming up with lots of them) and converge (narrowing down to a single focus).

  • Prepare different exercises for participants to encourage them to think differently about how to approach a problem.

  • Brainwriting is one tool to foster collaborative brainstorming.

  • Dot voting is a tool for determining which idea to explore in more detail as a group.

  • You may find yourself changing direction, or pivoting, during the design process as you unlock new insights or discoveries.

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement