Everyone reading this knows what a brainstorm is (I hope). I want to review a bit about the process I’ve used to find success in brainstorms, why they are helpful, and how they can be more successful in a corporate environment. If you work in an agency, this may not be as helpful, but might offer an interesting perspective. For those in the corporate environment, I hope this will help give you new ideas and erode old beliefs.
At a basic level, if done well, running brainstorms can show leadership and faster ROI for a team. If you can help the team create and develop ideas in a short session instead of weeks sitting alone, it makes you pretty valuable asset. Brainstorming is also great for engaging the full team and solicit their ideas. By “the full team”, I don’t just mean Design or UX, it’s also development, test (or QA), Project Managers… everyone. It’s important that designers get rid of the idea that we’re the only creative people on a team. Everyone is creative, some people are simply more creative, and others show it in different ways. People think in all different ways, but a good idea is the same no matter who says it.
Win them over
After accepting the fact that everyone can be creative, you can start to collaborate with people more productively. In addition to the great ideas you can get, you’ll also win over people. Many times developers or QA aren’t asked for their ideas, so the simple act of asking can get them excited and involved. Plus they will most likely be more dedicated and work harder when they’ve got the feeling they were involved in the early proces of the product.
Many times developers or QA aren’t asked for their ideas, so the simple act of asking can get them excited and involved
Let me assure everyone reading that I’m not telling you to allow a developer or someone else to make a design decision, but to simply get their ideas. In the corporate environment, another fallacy to wear away is that the designer always has to come up with the idea. This puts a lot of pressure on designers, but if you believe good and great ideas are hidden anywhere on the team, all you need to do is find them. Once you find all the ideas, the job of a designer is to tell a great story, make it simple, usable, and culturally relevant. That process and thinking is where the real design work comes in. Good ideas can be cheap, telling a great story takes a lot of time and thinking… but let’s get back to the ideas.
Involve people who want to be involved
When you do brainstorms, don’t involve people who don’t want to be involved. I’ve run a few sessions where people didn’t want to be involved or didn’t think they could contribute and sit quietly. Since I’m not in an agency, it’s not on my shoulders to try and make everyone look good in a meeting. So when someone isn’t interested, I leave them out, but let them know as an FYI in case they change their mind. A session with one negative person can quickly take the whole session down and drain the energy in the room.
It’s also important to get people to feel inspired. On the last project I worked on, we all went to see Wall-e to kick off the project. In addition to that we reviewed sites, objects, or products we all enjoyed and thought were cool. Somewhat of a warm up exercise to get us thinking broad so we didn’t stay in a software mindset. I’ve seen IDEO, Frog, and a few other companies put toys and object on the table during the brainstorm. Whatever the team finds helpful; if it works, go for it!
On the last project I worked on, we all went to see Wall-e to kick off the project.
Types of brainstorming
There are two style of brainstorming I most often use for corporate teams. One is what I call Improv Brainstorming, and it pulls from… Improv comedy. The second is a simple round robin approach, which I’ve seen many times. For any brainstorm, these are general rules of engagement I have. Several are pulled from IDEO.
- Be visual
- Defer judgment
- Stay focused
- One person talking at a time (I’ve heard people dispute this, but it works for me)
- Defined agenda
For improv brainstorming I use these rules and processes:
- Start with a single idea
- Build on that idea
- Offshoot other ideas or just start with a new concept
- Use a moderator to help guide ideas and conversation
- Have ideas in your back pocket to restart things in case they get stalled
For round robin brainstorming I set it up in the following way:
- Everyone has N minutes to sketch a few ideas on their own
- Everyone presents their ideas
- Team votes on a few core ideas
- Another individual round for N minutes dedicated to those ideas
- Present again / repeat
Hopefully all of that will give you one idea to use in your work place. I’m simple, so if you walk away with just a single idea, that’s enough for me. Someone once told me that it’s not what you know that’s important, it’s what you don’t. If that’s true, brainstorming certainly is a way to get to the important stuff fast.
Image by Jakob Botter