Brainstorming, sometimes called ideation, is always the first step of design challenges. Open-ended brainstorming is fun – but it can also become challenging and frustrating. We’ve compiled some of our favorite high tech and low tech tools to help you with your brainstorming and idea generation. One more general technique that might help you while generating ideas is the Share-Out. Working in a group and sharing your ideas out loud is one of the best ways to encourage creativity. Listen carefully when your group members are sharing! You might hear something that inspires you to come up with another better idea. And remember, it’s not a competition! Working together as a team and building off each other is an incredible way to generate great ideas.
Sharpen is an incredible tool to help you come up with challenges. You can select the theme at the top left of the page – whether it’s design challenges or STEM education challenges. You can also specify what type of challenge you want based on what materials you have available to you. Click on the “Categories” drop down menu to select what kind of challenge you want! You can get challenges that have artistic solutions, ones where you’ll need to engineer a new product, and ones where you’ll use your design thinking skills to invent something new. Click on “New Challenge” until you see a prompt that inspires you! If you are excited about one part of the challenge but not the other, you can lock part of the challenge and generate other similar prompts.
My favorite brainstorming technique is called Bad Idea Generation. Sometimes, when you’re struggling to come up with good ideas, you can jumpstart your imagination by thinking about the worst possible ideas instead. Don’t forget to share your ideas out loud; your group members will be inspired to build on your ideas and come up with new ones! Bad Idea Generation is great for getting the creative juices flowing, but it can also secretly lead to great ideas! Take a look at each bad idea you came up with. Why is it bad? Can you turn it from a bad idea into a great idea by changing some of the details?
Crazy 8s is another useful brainstorming technique. You can start by printing out our Crazy 8s template! If you don’t have access to a printer, you can just fold a normal piece of paper in half three times, so that you subdivide your paper into 8 sections. This technique is best when you are brainstorming the details of your idea. Using each section on your paper as a small canvas, use drawings or words to depict as much of your idea as you can. Use each section to depict a different idea, alternatives and variations on your idea, or different details of your idea. (Optional: I like to set a timer when I do Crazy 8s. I set myself the challenge of filling each folded subsection of my page in 1 minute, so that the whole page is filled in 8 minutes.)