To recap, we are in the design phase.  We have all of our research from our analysis.  We know what different about the different fidelity levels of prototyping.  Now we are putting ‘pen to paper’ and trying to address the design problems we have identified.  Many times people will ask ‘How did you come up with that?’ or have trouble with coming up with ideas to address design problems.  In this post I am going to describe some ideation techniques that anyone can use to address design problems.  (Ideation is just a fancy word for brainstorming)

Start Drawing

Start drawing your ideas on paper no matter how far fetched they are.  Draw lots of them too, don’t stop at 2 or 3.  Surround yourself with these drawings and iterate, iterate, iterate.

Cross Industry

Look at other industry solutions or try to find design problems similar to the one you are addressing no matter the industry.  How did they address it?  Can we leverage any patterns they used?

Take a walk

There have been many studies conducted that prove stepping away from a problem and doing some exercise helps clear your mind which ultimately will (hopefully) lead to some clearer thoughts.  Or perhaps an ‘aha’ moment during your mental break.

Worst Idea

While this might seem counter-productive at first it is rather helpful.  Come up with the worst possible solution then determine why its so bad and start iterating on it.  These technique works especially well in group design sessions where people have a tough time making a decision.  Next time you go out to lunch with a group who has a tough time making a decision on where to go offer a suggestion of McDonalds and see what happens; magically those who can not make a decision will have some alternatives.

Problem Space Mapping

This technique involves categorizing ideas across 2+ plane space.  Lets look an designing a solution for insurance agents.  We could map the problem space on a 2-d plane.  We can on each axis put a single category/type/attribute, for instance the x-axis  might represent a more sales orientated approach while the y-axis might an agent focused approach.  We can map our ideas on this 2-d plane along the x and y axis based off of the characteristics then we can visually see what part of the idea space we have not explored.  Even though some spaces might not seem fruitful at first the change in direction can often be helpful and lead to new inspiration.

Pattern libraries

There are lots of wonderful UI pattern library resources available for free (http://ui-patterns.com/ , http://patterntap.com/ , http://inspired-ui.com/ , http://developer.yahoo.com/ypatterns/) .  Many times just going to these sites and exploring common patterns will lead you to sites you would have never visited before.  Exploring these sites often provide inspiration which can lead to new solutions for your design problems.

There are many more techniques one could use other than the ones I mentioned (here is a great paper on 12 different techniques),  no matter which technique or combination of techniques you use iteration is the key.  Iterate on each of your designs several times.

Feel free to comment on techniques that you have used which worked for you.

Stay tuned for Part 5… usability testing

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

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