Developing design ideas – where do I start?
11 May 2015

Developing design ideas – where do I start?

The early stages of any design process often involves brainstorming and dreaming up new ideas, developing and understanding those ideas and, if the going is tough, overcoming designer’s block.

According to IDEO’s Global Design Director for Insights, Coe Leta Stafford, coming up with new ideas is about being “out in the real world”, observing people and learning from their spaces, habits and interactions. In IDEO’s online course Insights for Innovation,(run through its online school IDEO U), Coe shares a few tips for observing and learning:

  1. Look for what people care about – often the things people care about give you a direct insight into the things they value
  2. Look for patterns and routines in behaviours – ask why the person has these patterns or routines, and consider how these might reflect their values.
  3. Look for the unexpected – be curious about the things that seem out of place or different, it may help you understand a person’s needs.
  4. Look for ‘hacks’ or adaptations – this might give you some insight into a need that hasn’t been met

A good way of getting your ideas down on paper is to record your findings, take pictures, collect mementoes and talk your ideas through with a friend or colleague.

If you happen to be struggling with designer’s block, it doesn’t hurt to get back to basics and find new inspiration. Holding a brainstorm can also be extremely valuable – especially when you’re starting from scratch. Start with a large wall and a colourful stack of blank Post-Its, channel your imagination and go! Remember, no idea is a bad idea in a brainstorm. 

With all this creative material stacking up around you, it might be timely to start refining your ideas and also analysing your observations. Again, a large wall and a stack of blank Post-Its can often be the best place to start. Here are a few suggestions for refining your ideas:

1. Write down all the most interesting things you noticed during your research and observation period. Post them to the wall.

2. Add to this the brainstorm ideas that you felt were most relevant and achievable.

3. From this colourful Post-It picture, what are the topics and themes you see emerging? Group your posts into those themes.

4. Rewrite those themes into insights that inform and inspire, or resonate with you. These will shape and influence your design response.

“You know you’re doing it right if you and your team feel something that makes you want to make things better for people,” says Coe.

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