Ideation and Iteration

Hugh Graham Creative

Okay, so where do ideas come from? There’s certainly some truth to the “necessity is the mother of” argument, but we’re looking at how to encourage new ideas in a context where it is often easier (and safer) just to regurgitate what the boss said, or what the competition does. Keep your head down and it won’t get shot off.

If ideas come from a willingness to not just repeat the common line, the standard response, it’s also not just a question of coming up with something new – practical ideas evolve from a strong understanding of the particular situation, which is why ideation can be informed by insights provided by people-centered design research. Design as a practice is about creatively overcoming limitations; without some sort of structure, there is no freedom.

Effective ideation is not a one shot deal, and it’s usually a collaborative process – it’s about iteration and variation as explored by multidisciplinary teams. Advertising agencies speak of the holy trinity of the creative director, designer, and writer – but it’s the combination of a the visual person and the verbal person that most often provides the spark. I’ve seen the same spark come from combining a marketing person and an engineer, though only if there is a structure in place that makes the process effective.

The process of ideation is also one that can take many forms – sketches, cartoons, storyboards, use cases, paper prototypes, video-based narratives, animations, all starting from the most basic (drawn on a napkin) to the most refined. Try not to get stuck, but when you do head back to the initial mission, and the insights offered the research. As a variation on voting in Chicago, try to fail early and often – it’s much less expensive to explore new ideas earlier in the process than later.

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