How do I stop my initial idea ruining research

Hi All,

This problem has been really bugging me recently, so I would love your input. While doing initial research for a design project, I always have one idea (potential solution) that is my favorite and I tend to get latched onto this idea. The trouble with this, is that I’ll focus on the one idea too much, which then influences the research I conduct, skewing the results and potentially leaving other good ideas unfound.

Has anyone else encountered this problem? or would you have any advice on how to prevent it happening?


James, this is quite common even in the professional level (I’m assuming your a student?). Many of your fellow associates will latch onto initial concepts and fight tooth and nail to see their concepts be implemented. Unfortunately, on the back end, after all the money is spent in development, the design group realizes that the idea really wasn’t what it panned out to be…hindsight…

My recommendation is the following. Very quickly and dirty, build your concept as fast as possible and implement it into the real world. This concept can be very crude, but the functionality will uncover a whole host of learning. If your design fails, even better, this is research that can lead to whole host of new and other design directions. Weigh the solutions against your initial hypothesis of solving the problem to see if you actually need to pursue your new design path. Present your findings to your peers and leadership and get feedback, good and bad, weighing carefully the objective input against the problem at hand.

Remember your research should tell a compelling story of your process of discovery. As our good American friend Donald Rumsfeld tells us, “It’s not intelligence, if everyone already knows the answers…”

It is totally fine to concept during research. It takes discipline to set the ideas and generate more. Say to yourself, great, I have a good idea, now let me beat it. Try to out do your idea as if it was done by another designer.

It happens all the time.
This is very common with students often finding a solution first and then figuring out the problem they want to attack. Stick to your methodology and try very hard to be objective to your findings. You can always re-visit your initial idea at the end if it still has merit. If at the end of your research and ideation it still is the best solution then you will have your research to back it up.
Some tips:

  1. First do some ideation without research to fuel your creativity and get your best and fun ideas out there.
  2. Do some research (market, user, competition, manufacturing, etc.)
  3. Do some styling/mood boards to try and establish a design direction
  4. Do some more targeted ideation, this time based on your research and design direction.
  5. After you feel you have done enough ideation and research you can go back and modify certain aspects to align better with your final solution if needed.

Easy to come up with initial ideas during research. Capture it, and put it to the side. The research will enable you to come up with criteria to rank and judge all of your concepts against objectively. The best concepts will then rise to the top when judged objectively, whether they are your favourite or not.

Its a problem that will happen with most briefs - you will always get an initial idea and it can be difficult to move away from this.
Great advice from everyone above and I would recommend the same steps - Get the concept down during the research stage and then move on.
I sometimes find that once I actually have the concept sketched out and explored I change my ideas anyway.

Try adding in some chaos to the research/project - changing things up will always give out different results and help you to think differently about the subject.
If it doesn’t help it all feeds in to the concept generation anyway :slight_smile:

If you are in a student role then enjoy it, because it becomes a lot more difficult when your boss has the idea for a concept and they tend to be even more
difficult to persuade!

Just remember that there are 9 good solutions to every problem. I like to set an arbitrary goal for concept generation. 9 is a good number.

Another aspect is that all design is abandoned, not finished. I’ve never finished a project without wanting to tweak something again. It’s good to learn that in the concept phase too. Capture the idea well enough to be able to pick it up again in a couple of weeks if you still feel it’s strong enough, but let go and explore in the meantime.

I don’t understand how your research is influenced. Please explain.

I was also wondering about this but I have seen it happen a few times when people post their projects. They show a solution to a problem but fail to show already existing solutions out there or why those don’t work. So I think it’s more like tailoring your research to support your desired solution/design direction. You want to design the best “X” so you only show the worst “X’s” out there.

I think we all do it or have done it…even it it’s just a little. We skew the findings just a bit in order to guide the customer in the desired direction. Or you go back and revise your original premise in order to match your research findings or ideation.

Let go of your darlings.
Do not be afraid that they will not be there anymore once you leave them to go do some more research.
Stay open to what may come onto the path without referring to initial ideas while you are exploring new areas.
Learn to be more aware of different phases of the concept development process and when you are doing what - they may tend to get intermingled in your mind but they don’t need to be all of the time.

Often what helps is to critically look at an idea from multiple perspectives, and you may find that your initial liking cannot be rationally grounded all too well. But sometimes the initial idea is just a great idea. I would say when you have found a great idea, remain open that there are even greater ideas out there waiting to be found through research and exploration.

Love of Process is the root of design evil. Research is just a small trowel, and you dig for a great ideas. Many people dig and dig, and never find treasure.

Just imagine, if you start to dig in the dirt, and find a giant piece of gold in one minute. Will you throw away the gold, because you planned to dig longer? Ridiculous! Appreciate your good luck, and focus on polishing your gold.

Unless through research you discover that giant piece of gold was a caramelized turd.

  • In a professional setting X = time to market; Y = Cost.

If I found a piece of gold I would feel lucky but I wouldn’t stop digging. I would dig until I was sure there was no more gold. It would be foolish to walk away with the first piece of gold you find.

If you are a fool, then no matter how long you dig, you can never tell whether you find gold or turds.

If you cannot tell the difference between gold and ‘turd’ when you dig, then you should quit designing. Understanding when you find a good idea - that is the most basic, most important talent in design.

Most people don’t come out of school with that skill Sasha. It takes time to develop judgment based on experience. I expect fresh graduates to be able to produce a wide array of ideas without judgement. I want them to be explorers. I’ll do the judging and help them to understand why those selections were made. Overtime I’ll ask for their opinion and their judgements more and more to make sure they are learning and growing.

On a side note, I don’t ever use the word talent. Talent implies a person is born with something and it is actually somewhat derogatory. It is something people unwilling to put in the hours it takes to get good at something use to dismiss the skill and experience of people with more ability. Designers are made, not born. It takes time and effort and it is a progression. You don’t start a race at the finish.