Brainstorming Techniques

I’m interested in hearing about experiences with the “Brainstorm” process. What techniques worked well, which ones were duds? Did the meeting generate anything meaningful? What techniques were best for drawing out creativity from non-designers? Are there any good books/websites on the subject?

I’ve attended many different types of sessions but none of them stand out as particularly great. I’m being asked to moderate a session with designers and non-designers (marketing, engineers and end-users).



I was asked to facilitate brainstorming sessions at my last internship. My group was entirely non-designers. Non-designers, especially people who have creative potential but don’t realize it, work best with structured activities.

A blank page is very intimidating to a “non-creative,” but a page which asks them to fill in information (“describe your product”; “who would use this product?” etc) with an area on the page for rough sketches, can work.

Make sure people understand that this is not a normal meeting. Bring toys + food. Do a warm-up activity. Ask lots of questions to get people to think about things. Ask them to make lists. People understand lists.

A site which may help:

Hope this helps!

When running a brainstorming session for creatives or non creatives I have found that running an “icebreaker” or small introductory activity is best to get people involved and relaxed - try and make it fun. Also look into IDEO’s techniques - if you can get hold of the IDEO books or the cards they are a good start for getting ideas for brainstorming sessions and also have a look at the sites below

I have also found that having materials on hand for people to put together a crude 3d model or sketch out thier idea often work well. Sometimes letting people socialise a bit before you start the session can help, especially if they don’t know each other - this is where tea, coffee and food can help out - sort of meet and greet and then brainstorm. Also having food during the session can help.

If you are moderating the session maybe try and find some books on facilitation, acting as a facilitator etc…

Also IDEO has a list of rules/guidelines for brainstorming sessions so that the session stays productive instead of ending up with everyone shooting down each others ideas and comments etc… - can’t remeber the list off the top of my head but someone on this forum might have a copy.

The success of most of the things i have mentioned above are dependant on many variables including the group, the culture of the companie/s, the personalities in the room, where the project is at, how well people know each other etc… so you will have to make the ultimate descision based on your own judgement as to what you think will work for the group

hope my ramblings help you out in someway

First ask yourself what all the attendees are expert in as a group and focus your efforts there. Don’t fall into the trap of brainstorming things like what the user would want (use research for that!) Instead focus on strategic things that only your group could do. For instance: what new product opportunities could be extracted from mixing and matching a three column list of Societal, Economic, Technological trends affecting your market?

For a recent session I ran, I had people quickly write adjectives that described our present and future products using two different colored post-its and fat juicy markers. Then we slapped them all up on a whiteboard and worked together to find affinities and named the resulting categories. It helped us put themes around present/future state.

I’ve also run “Nominal Group Technique” which is an effective and highly structured brainstorming method that’s great for solving a problem with a group of subject matter experts while avoiding all the usual downfalls of brainstorms (google to learn how to do it.)

I’m also a big believer in what Doug Hall calls the “stimulus response method.” He (correctly) argues that brainstorms are fine for extracting existing knowlege, but they’re not very good at forming new ideas–for that you need stimulus. In his book “Jump Start Your Brain” he offers numerous brainstorming excercises (I highly recommend you pick up a copy on your way home tonight!)

“Mind Mapping” might be one of hte most common brainstorming techniques that happens to leverage stimulus and form connections.

If you’re talking about product design attributes, it’s easy to run exercises like “if our product was a car, it would be…” Thats easy enough that anyone can participate and think about design in terms they relate to everyday.

Oh, and lastly, stick to the proper rules of brainstorming (google that too.) Namely, don’t criticise ideas, focus on capturing!

Good luck!

Wow…so much information in these responses. I already checked out An excellent resource! Same with I will put the Doug Hall book on my list as well. Thanks for the help!

It has been mentioned above but these books are really a must:

Art of Innovation - Tom Kelly (IDEO man) amazon link

LAterial Thinking - Edward De Bono - amazon link

I would say the most important thing to remeber is not to knock down any ideas. Think of ideas as delicate seeds which can grow in to something really good but can also be easlity crushed.

A piece of software I use is called Mindjet. I like it because it places an icon in the IE browser that allows you to import the browser page into the “map” you’re working on. Also, you can export the map to MS Office products like MS Project. You can create a project file much more easily in Mindjet, and then import it into MS project. That’s probably the coolest thing I’ve done.

Consider a bunch of products, if product design is what you are interested in, that catch your attention… what do you think are the best features of each? How (if they do) do they compare to one another? What catches your attention? What features do you feel you most personally relate to? The ones that make you go “I wish I’d thought of that”, or “my product should have that because…” can be good fuel for starting a dialogue and exploration process. Let your covetousness guide you…

For fun, you might take a look at The Oblique Strategies Web Site