What is Ideation in Design Thinking?

Annie Cederholm
by Annie Cederholm
Digital Strategist

Last Updated: August 06, 2019

Design Thinking Ideation Stage

Ideation is the third stage in Design Thinking. It is the most exciting, pro-active part of the process, when all plans and preparations become ready to take action in the Prototyping stage. Every part of the thought journey is included, from inkling to innovation to actualization. Any and all boundaries are pushed to generate and develop new ideas, whether visual, concrete, or even abstract. The ideal end result is in accumulating numerous ideas to serve as possible goals and solutions. 

Merriam-Webster defines Ideation as "the capacity for or the act of forming or entertaining ideas". The Ideation portion of the process involves both divergent and convergent thinking in a continuous process of revisiting and redefining the problem at hand and its specific parameters. It is divergent in the generation of numerous creative options to choose from, then convergent when the time comes to focus on ideas in consideration for taking action. The repetitive nature makes the process entirely cyclical, continuously tweaking and making changes, returning to the drawing board as necessary.

A physical example of this cyclical innovation can be found right in the periodic updates in your own mobile phone. Those consistent reminders to update, improving your customer experience, are a moving target for the companies behind these devices. The larger software version updates and the smaller, more frequent patches are the methods for ideating solutions in various timeframes, listening to user feedback and bringing it back to the drawing board to revisit the issue or even solve a new one.

This creative process is based on generating, communicating, and developing slightly alternative new process parameters or considering a completely new approach. Many techniques are appropriate for generating ideas and solutions, such as:

  • Sketching
  • Storyboarding
  • Prototyping
  • Roleplaying
  • Wishful Thinking
  • Mind Mapping
  • Redefining Opportunities
  • Daydreaming
  • Questioning Assumptions
  • Visualization
  • Reverse Thinking

In opposition to most assumptions, the goal here is quantity, not quality. Typically, a plethora of ideas might seem to be confusing, indecisive, or lacking in direction, but the only bad idea is the absence of one altogether. Alternative, unusual, and off-the-beaten-path solutions are integral to the process because more diversity will yield the more creative and appropriate solutions. The concept may seem counterproductive, but when the mind is released from finding the "right" or "obvious" answers, the broadest possibilities can yield unexpected innovative approaches.

While the entire process of Ideation can prove to be a complex and challenging task, it requires developed skills including a good understanding of teamwork. This includes managing teams, experience in interpersonal working dynamics, and overall teamwork in general, as well as the ability to be flexible and adaptable to be able to generate ideas, even if it comes through questioning or dismantling your own.

One of the reasons this process works so well is because of the diversity of the team involved. Having more points of view at this point in time translates directly to time saved in having to sell or get anyone's buy-in later on. Further, the ideas being gathered will strike closer to the end-goal if different perspectives are included now; the benefits will be in accuracy, creativity, efficiency, and more.

Read More on Design Thinking

Read more on Design Thinking and follow our new blog series where we detail the how and why of Design Sprints as we prepare for the 2019 ASAE Annual Conference this August.