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Generating Ideas

How do you look at the glass?
Is it a half full or half empty glass
Creative people have an abiding curiosity and an insatiable desire to learn how and why things work. They take nothing for granted. They are interested in things around them and tend to stow away bits and pieces of information in their minds for the future use. And, they have a great ability to mobilise their thinking and experiences for use in solving a new problem.’ — Bill Hewlett

Generating ideas (ideation) is the stage where creativity and problem solving skills are important. There are many processes utilised by designers.

Being creative is possible. I nice comparison between creative and critical thinking can be found here. They also discuss creative blocks and illustrates how creative people look at the world.

1.2.1 Define constructive discontent.

Analysing a situation that would benefit from redesign, and working out a strategy for improving it.

It is a mechanical way of generating ideas where a detailed analysis is made of an existing design. A list of its design attributes (good and bad) are made and studies to see what possible solutions can be made. Creative designers can be dissatisfied with what exists and want to make the situation better, or designers may say, 'this is an excellent solution, but is it possible that there may be another solution that works even better or costs less'.

Choose one product or problem and apply the creative technique.

1.2.2 Identify a design context where constructive discontent has been the primary generator of ideas.

The wheel. Is a great design and over the years it has gone from a stone to pneumatic tyre!

1.2.3 Define adaptation.

If a problem is in a new context a solution may be found by similar from another context and adapting it. It is highly relevant for designers.

1.2.4 Identify a design context where adaptation has been the primary generator of ideas.

Examples include, the wheel used in gears or paisley in textiles.

Choose one product or problem and where this creative technique was used. Explain how.

1.2.5 Define analogy.

The transfer of an idea from one context to another.

Analogy is where something is 'like' something else in some respect but not necessarily in other aspects.

This can be a powerful means for coming up with new approaches in a conceptual manner. Odd, remote or strange analogies help to stimulate the mind in new ways. For designers nature tends to be the greatest source of analogies since nature has solved many of the problems we come across.

1.2.6 Identify a design context where analogy has been the primary generator of ideas.

An example is ‘cats eyes’ in the middle of the road or sonar based on communication between marine animals. Another is the Sea Harrier that when fully loaded had difficulties taking off on conventional aircraft carriers as their decks were too short. There was a serious operational problem. An analogy with a water ski jump was made which provided a breakthrough to the problem.

Choose one product or problem and where this creative technique was used. Explain how.

1.2.7 Define brainstorming.

A form of group think. A group with a recommended size of 10–12 people first devises wild ideas, all of which are written down. No criticism or evaluation is allowed until this is finished, as it is impossible to be creative and critical at the same time. The ideas are then criticised and evaluated.

  • Participants use ideas of others to spark off their own ideas and to build upon and combine ideas to produce new ones. No criticism is allowed, even of the most ridiculous ideas.
  • Encourages creativity and broadens thinking (helps discover future problem early and correct them or find solutions for the problem)
  • Gives a sense of ownership as the entire team contributes their ideas without any judgement or criticism.
  • With all group members focused on one idea this helps improve productivity.
  • A quick guide for brainstorming.
  • Brainmapping is a combination of brainstorming and mind mapping and is diagrammatic.

1.2.8 Identify a design context where brainstorming has been the primary generator of ideas.

Design a new ladder for electricians or other maintenance and construction workers for conventional job sites.

As a result of a brainstorming session, a team might end up with a list of statements about the product as shown below.

  1. the ladder must be useful
  2. it is used to string conduit and wire in ceilings
  3. it is used to maintain and repair outlets in high places
  4. it is used to replace lightbulbs and fixtures
  5. it is used outdoors on level ground
  6. it is used suspended from something else in some cases
  7. it is used indoors on floors or other smooth surfaces
  8. it could be a stepladder or short extension ladder
  9. a folding ladder might work
  10. a rope ladder would work, but not all the time
  11. it should be reasonably stiff and comfortable for users
  12. step deflections should be less than 0.05 in.
  13. it should allow a person of medium height to reach and work at levels up to 11 ft.
  14. it must be safe
  15. it must meet OSHA requirements
  16. it must not conduct electricity
  17. it could be made of wood or fibreglass, but not aluminium
  18. it should be relatively inexpensive
  19. it must be portable between job sites
  20. it should be light
  21. it must be durable
  22. it need not be attractive or stylish

Notice that the brainstorming talks about the product as a whole, and not about any particular parts or sub-assemblies of the ladder. For example, nothing is said about the actual feet of the ladder; instead functions that might relate to the feet appear in various places (items 5, 7, 14, 16, and 21). This is a very important point: you want to avoid, wherever possible, statements regarding the actual shape, material, and parts of a product (the ``means'' by which a product will achieve its required functionality) when you're first starting to explore a design problem. Instead, you want to try to focus on characteristics, functions, and constraints.

On the other hand, also notice that some of these items clearly colver the form, shape, or material of the ladder. These are not items we want to pursue at this time. (But remember to keep these ideas handy for later.) This example and more of this sort on this useful website.

More examples included @

Choose one product or problem and apply the creative technique.

1.2.9 Define attribute listing.

Attribute listing identifies the key attributes of a product or process and then enables designers to think of ways to change, modify or improve each attribute.

1.2.10 Identify a design context where attribute listing has been the primary generator of ideas.

Use Attribute Listing when you have a situation that can be decomposed into attributes - which itself can be a usefully creative activity. Particularly useful with physical objects. From Creating minds

  • The customer service desk or the lamp example below.

Re-designing a lamp:

Style Material Finish Bulb Type Lumen (light intensity) Power Supply Size Cost Colour Scheme
Cultural theme Plastic Metallic LED Adjustable Solar Standing High end Warm
Modern Metal Glossy Long Life High Mains Table top Pricey Cool
Traditional Wood Matte Incandescent Medium Battery Large Affordable Natural
Antique Ceramic Terracotta Fluorescent Low Hand generator Medium Cheap Complementary
Themed based (Disney, kids etc) Bone Natural Halogen 2 in 1 (click) Fossil fuels Small Monochromatic
Greco/Roman Textiles Rough texture Flame (or imitation) Hydrogen Fuel cell Hand Held Di-chromatic
Art Noveau Recycled

Choose one product or problem and apply the creative technique.

1.2.11 Define morphological synthesis.

Morphological synthesis is an elaboration of attribute listing. After completing the list of attributes, list them along two sides of a 2D grid. Think creatively about how the attributes can be developed through new ideas in each of the cells to improve the design.
  • Attribute Listing focuses on the attributes of an object, seeing how each attribute could be improved.
  • Morphological Analysis uses the same basic technique, but is used to create a new product by mixing components in a new way. From Mind Tools.
  • A paper on morphological synthesis includes its history and steps.

1.2.12 Identify a design context where morphological synthesis has been the primary generator of ideas.

Used when exploring new and different ideas. Used to help unblock you when you are stuck. Used to force a different way of thinking. From Creating minds

  • An example of morphological synthesis from Creating Minds or the lamp example below.
  • Design a new lamp:
    • Greco-Roman, bone, natural, flame, low, fossil fuel (oil), hand held, affordable, natural
    • Modern, metal, metallic/glossy, LED, high, mains, large, affordable, cool.

Choose one product or problem and apply this creative technique.

1.2.13 Discuss why designers use a variety of techniques to develop ideas.

Actual techniques selected depend upon: personal choice, design context and time/resources available.

Choose one product or problem and apply two or more creative technique.

What Creative techniques did Mitchell Joachim use?


Bulleted list and italicised paragraphs are excerpted from Design Technology: guide. Cardiff Wales, UK: International Baccalaureate Organization, 2007.

Images are clickable links to its location.

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Page last modified on September 12, 2011, at 12:16 AM