How do you feel about the word "Idea"

Ok…I need some love from those of you that have worked in corporate. I have discovered that I absolutely hate the word “IDEA”. We (Mars) have had a structure well established design management group for a little over 3 years now. (Before this we were a bunch of satellite design groups but this is not really to the point.)

The point is I am getting really tired of everyone having an “idea”. I was even told by an engineer that we can’t control where ideas come from. I agree with this and there are some great ones that come from many different places, but we have to remember that they are just direction not design. I explained this to him. His job is to help me work out the ENGINEERING!! The bigger more annoying ones are when this comes from a VP that thinks he/she (both marketing and engineering) thinks they know a better way of doing things an goes around our team. Doesn’t make much sense as we have to approve everything before it leave the building.

Another example of this is I just went through a strategy session with a marketing innovation firm. We did great consumer work, worked out some issues, figured out opportunity spaces, and a lot of other great strategy work. After the week long session the facilitator then pitched to us that the next step is to run an “Idea session” to create concepts to test. When I asked what the meaning of these sessions, they told me that it was to come out of the session with tangible concepts to bring to market. I then explained that is DESIGN not a marketing job. Why is it that these marketing firms think they can do this without design?

Given that we are much like every other corporate design group, we are out numbered by many other areas of the business. This “idea” word is very dangerous.

Ok I will now step off my soap box!!!


they told me that it was to come out of the session with tangible concepts to bring to market. I then explained that is DESIGN not a marketing job.

Someone along the academic trail made sure that “they” absolutely believe it is their mission to “identify” viable products; no one else is capable of their foresight and depth of consumer knowledge… :unamused:

From their perspective, it’ s merely “our” job to make them un-virtual; aka: real. I have never met a marketer show me his/her portfolio.

Not sure what you are trying to say. You want design to be the only ones to come up with new ideas? Or that anyone can have their fun, but only the ideas that came from Design should be actionable?

Example #2: what’s the problem here? The consultant invited you to create concept together, not informed you they were going to do it without you? Or did you want to do that entirely by yourself and close the door on marketing until it’s finished?

Do you never have any ideas for how engineering solves an issue, or come up with a great idea for an ad you want marketing to implement? How do you think they feel about you having those ideas?

Whenever someone comes to me with an idea on something I’m working on I try not to shoot it down immediately, at least not out loud (I might in my mind). Just stay open minded and nod politely. If they inquire about it later, have an answer why you didn’t implement it.
And sometimes those can be good ideas you know. It may make you embarrassed you didn’t think of it first, but you have to let go of your ego.

When pitching ideas, in my experience, the implementation rate and personal relationship with the responsible individual are directly related. Sad, but understandable. I try to be better than that and evaluate every idea I’m pitched because thinking only your designer friends can use their brain would be asinine.

I totally agree with everything above. I didn’t explained this right. I invite everyone to contribute, that is the nature of our job and nothing is created by one person. An organization hires the biggest and brightest talent for a reason, and to say that only one person or design can contribute is not cool.

An “idea” to me is a nugget of a bigger problem. Maybe a thought on how to solve an issue. Or a proposition that should be explored. Or how to explore that explore that proposition. An “idea” is not a tangible item that should be sent out to market. It has not been flushed out by the greater team (which should be cross functional).

In this case the word idea is being used in the same way as design. The idea is created and swaying from that or moving from that is not encouraged. It’s more of taking such an item to a point and not including design, or others to where hands are tied an cannot act to change things. Financials worked out, shown to upper management, structure created, molds, and then come other members of the team to slap some graphic on it or work out issues that may be impossible to fix or change. You no what they say about polishing a turd.


I guess what I am really trying to say is managing the difference between the word idea and design.

Understood. Yeah those situations suck. I just recently had to review a component one engineer had designed, and every change or solution I proposed was followed by an excuse. “No, that needs to be this wide because we are gonna use this spring” “Can we use a thinner spring?” “We could, but we already placed an order for 10000 springs.” “I see, so why did you even come to me for?” “To get your approval.” Depending on your company loyalty, it’s quite tempting to say “Looks fine” just to be able to say you had nothing to do with it later. (I guess it’s worse when you actually have to sign of on the stuff personally which seems to be your situation)

I think I can empathize. It’s an emotionally conflicting situation.

In the company I work for it’s encouraged for everybody to contribute ideas, but the problem is that most ideas suck. For everybody, including designers, most ideas suck hard. And these ideas are coming from people who do not realize that most ideas suck, and they do not know that it takes persistence to flesh out something that is even close to “good.”

Sometimes it’s a matter of pride. I get pissed when I’m presenting projects to sales, marketing, engineering, vp’s, ceo, and they just throw out ideas that are not properly thought out. A lot of what our job as a designer comes down to is applying our knowledge and skills to manifest a tangible solution that synthesizes market opportunities with financial goals. I feel that very few positions within the company have to perform such a balancing act and therefore do not apply this perspective when pitching “ideas.” So I pridefully think, “that’s my job, not yours.” Of course, I’ve been proven wrong, but it’s still my job, and I feel like taking randomly thrown out ideas seriously degrades our occupation.

PackageID, i work for one of those ‘innovation consulting companies’ you’ve obviously had to deal with recently. Im a ID’er by trade though.

Ideas are not solely a design job. Some people are better at ideas than others. The minute you start to close down where ideas come from is the minute you’ll be beginning to hamper the quality of NPD that comes out of your company. Ive had brilliant gems of ideas suggested by retailers, farmers, ad-agency mad men, food tech people, ops people, accountants, CEO’s and in-house ID’ers. Your corporate innovation strategy should include company wide ideation, with a core team of innovation people that know how to judge the good ideas from the bad ones and which ones with are on-strategy.

I am not say that ideas are a sole design job. Actually I am saying the opposite. Nothing is created by one group or one person. If so then that would be very narrow minded and world fail. What I am saying is that no item no matter what it is can be created and ready for market in a brainstorming session. Which is what this Marketing innovation firm was implying. To set the expectation with our cross-functional team that we can get together for 5-8 hours and pump out multiple “ideas” that we can take back to the office turnkey them into the market is absurd and to be honest is a bit insulting to our profession. They still need to be explored by design, engineering, finance, etc…

Our CMO just recently gave a talk on Innovation and she mentioned one thing that has stuck with me. She said simply “Ideas can come from anyone. Exceptional ideas are great ideas done well!” She then went on to talk about how they need to be nurtured by the right people in the organization. One of those being design.

Agreed. If the marketing innovation firm you were dealing with was just going to leave you with some written concepts that come out of an ideation session, then i get your frustration. And you should probably get a new innovation firm.

But, fail early and fail often. Our practice is to realise the ideas quickly so they can be evaluated by those that matter (consumers, management, the design team, accounts, ops etc) and a decision can be made. Think of the hours involved in having accounts and the design team chin stroke over 6-8 concepts. We’re on the same page i think packID…

“Ideas” on their own have no value unless/until developed, evaluated and implemented.
Looking to Best Practices in ‘Idea Management’ could help with internal company conversations and alignment.

I would politely remind people of the 100/5/1 rule. For every 100 ideas (very little resources used), 5 are worth designing (committing some resources), of which 1 will make it to the market as a product (a whole lot of resources needed).

I wasn’t there to see how it was pitched, but when I was a consultant, there would be no way I would guarantee a product from an idea session. It is a definate possibility, but not a lock.

I read your first post and then hit reply, as I’m sure you’re getting lots of ‘designer-backup’ reminding you that you’re right to be mad, justified to feel slighted, etc. But, my advice is very different!!

First, it looks like your department is called ‘Design’ - maybe your group consists of packaging, graphics & ID? If so, there is power to be had in a united corporate design group but the group can also quickly be considered ‘difficult to deal with’. Idea generation is not an item on a Design Department’s checklist and I agree with the other voices you’re hearing around you, that you cannot control where ideas come from (nor should you want to). Anyone can have a great idea and all the employees at Mars want to feel ownership and want to be part of a successful team, so I would recommend embracing ideas that come from elsewhere (internal marketing, sales, engineering, upper mgm’t, etc…and outside hired sources just as much). That doesn’t mean accepting them as great ideas, it just means taking into account where an idea came from, what the stakeholder’s perspective might be, what kind of corporate or brand value might be hiding in the idea and then running it through pre-milestone research just like you would with ideas that originate from the Design Department.

In a corporate environment you can’t afford to seem threatened or divisive - you must be a team player and constantly show value and a willingness to work with others - especially others who you might feel tread into your territory. The best new product/packaging/sales/distribution/etc idea this year at Mars might just come from a maintenance guy, but if you dismiss him as not worthy of contributing at that level you’ll never get to be involved.

Also, if you decide to make an effort to embrace others’ ideas, remember where they came from and circle back to the individual along the way for input or in the very least their opinion of the idea’s evolution - they’ll feel empowered, you’ll have a supporter and people will take notice.

My understanding of “concepts” (ideas), and “designs” (specific executions), is that a concept is the intermediate step between opportunity identification and the product strategy that leads to the design phase. Concept/idea, to me, speaks a lot more to variations on the feature/benefit set and value proposition and is more often than not represented by black box, unstyled concepts that are truly conceptual. It’s the kind of stuff you show end users in a VOC effort to elicit feedback, before you know what path the project will even take. You should be psyched that you have been invited to participate in that effort.

Well, that’s why they say ideas are like a$$holes, everybody has one, and they usually stink.

Granted, lots of people just care about getting credit for their ideas, not for implementing them into a tangible solution, doubly so in the case of certain agencies that sweep in, conduct some high energy brainstorming, fill the client’s head with “BIG IDEAS”, and then swoop out with the check. 1% Inspiration, 99% perspiration.

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”

  • Howard Aiken

I’ve been following this thread and not sure I really understand the issue. An idea is not the same thing as the end result of a design process (at that point an idea or concept becomes a tangible thing/solution), but certainly is the starting point. Why not have these come from any source?

I’d especially consider this to be true in consumer packaging when you might have an idea, even a sketch that is then fleshed out by the structural pkg engineers, graphic designers, etc. Aren’t you bringing an “idea” to these people to turn into a design/product?


My understanding of the gripe is that:

A: People don’t realize that most ideas don’t work out, that even ideas that sound great to everyone at conception may turn out to be duds.
B: People don’t realize the amount of effort it takes to execute ideas well.

but not

C: Too many people are contributing ideas.

I think it was on these boards that I remember this:

When an idea is successful, marketing gets the praise. When an idea fails, it’s the designers fault.

Something like that, at least.

Yes that pretty much sums it up. I personally have a problem with the word idea. It has a singular ownership tone to it, usually causes debate. Maybe it is just a pet peeve of mine and one that irks me. In the recent years, being that we are were made up of multiple design groups, we have had to educate and show the business the value of a multifunctional design group. Meaning that we are much more valuable than you coming to me and saying “I have an idea, can you do a sketch for me”. The answer to that question is no. Which I know sounds harsh, but the follow up “let’s discuss your idea with all the members of the business and create a plan a strategy on how to move forward”.

I know that ideas come from everyone even the maintenance guy. Actually some of the best ones come from people outside the team or usual sources and we have initiatives at Mars to foster this type of thinking. I know, which I am a firm believer in, that we should honor them no matter what the source. Like mentioned before out of every 100 maybe 10% are decent even ones thrown out by designers. This limited nature is normal and encouraged.

Thanks for all the replies.


I dont see the problem in visualising the idea really rapidly for someone without the skills/commitment to actually put pen to paper. I do it all the time - someone says “hey, what about this”, they get excited, stick it on their notice board or whatever. Or, they see is sh!thouse and move on… Drawing isn’t ‘design’, its communication and IMO if it helps someone externalise an idea so it doesnt get lost, all the better.