Home Project Ideas Project Guide Ask An Expert Blog Careers Teachers Parents Students

Brainstorm Multiple Solutions

Key Info

  • #1 Rule when creating alternative solutions: DON'T SETTLE FOR YOUR FIRST IDEA!
  • Good designers try to generate as many possible solutions as they can before choosing one that they feel is the best. This creative process of developing ideas is called ideation.
  • Methods of ideation include:
    • Examining existing solutions
    • Creating and using analogies
    • Conducting brainstorming sessions
    • Sketching and doodling

Why Create Multiple Solutions?

When solving a design problem, there are always many possible good solutions. If you focus on just one before looking at the alternatives, it is almost certain that you are overlooking a better solution. Good designers try to generate as many possible solutions as they can before choosing one that they feel is the best. Even "wild and crazy" design ideas that you end up rejecting might have some pieces that can make other designs better.

Ideation

Ideation, also known as idea generation, is the creative process of developing ideas. Start ideation after you have settled on a design problem that you want to solve and have done your background research, including the analysis of existing solutions. If you have not researched existing solutions, be sure to do so before starting ideation. Existing solutions are a great place to begin the ideation phase of your process because they give you a starting platform for ideas.

Generating lots of ideas is important to solving your design problem, so follow these key rules! One key rule for successful ideation is no limits. Start huge. Don't confine yourself to only one or two great ideas, and don't be afraid to think outside the box. No solutions are impossible during the ideation phase, so consider even the craziest of ideas. There will come a time later on when you will weigh your ideas against one another based on how easy they are to implement, but not yet. Ideation is the perfect time to put aside all judgment, and see how many design solutions you can come up with!

#1 Rule when Ideating: Don't settle for your first idea!

If you think you have a great solution to your problem right from the beginning, you might be tempted to stick with that original idea. Even if it's the most perfect, without-a-doubt, best possible way to solve your problem -- don't stop here! Fixating on your first idea is a terrible mistake, because it stops your creative process before it even has the chance to get going. You never know what new ideas could branch off of your original idea or what new ideas might come to you over time, so you have to give the process (and yourself) a chance.

Below are many creative techniques to help you come up with design ideas.

Existing Solutions

Existing solutions to your problem (or similar problems) are one of the best sources for creating design alternatives. Studying these designs will give you creative ideas of your own. Can the best features of existing solutions be combined in new ways? Can two entire solutions be combined to form one, better solution? Are there pieces missing from existing designs that if added, might make the designs more successful? Ask yourself these questions and see what new ideas you can come up with.

Analogies

By comparing your design problem to an entirely different situation, you may notice solutions that never would have come to mind otherwise. Try to create analogies between your design problem and random objects and people. For example, ask yourself:

  • How is my design problem like [random object or problem]?
  • How would I solve my problem using a [random object]?
  • How would [random person, company, or group] solve my problem?

Choose random objects and people to create these analogies. Even though they may seem unrelated, the analogy will force your mind to come up with ideas to fit the specific cases of the random objects and people.

Example: Imagine you are designing a better lunchbox for students. Try these analogies to spark new and interesting design ideas...

Analogy: How is designing a lunchbox like designing a hotel?

Answer: When designing a hotel, you need to design for the people who will be staying in it. Think about the furniture, the decorations, the size of the rooms, etc. Try applying these to your lunchbox. What about the size of the lunchbox? Are there any components you could add to your lunchbox to serve as furniture-like features? Does the food in the lunchbox need furniture to sit on? You may never have considered these ideas without comparing a lunchbox to a hotel.

Analogy: How would I design a lunchbox using a skateboard?

Answer: You might create a lunchbox that has wheels, or a lunchbox that could be attached to a skateboard, or a skateboard that has a compartment to store food, or a lunchbox that could strap to the bottom of someone's feet. All of these are lunchbox designs that you might never have considered!

Analogy: How would Facebook design a lunchbox?

Answer: Facebook might design a lunchbox that you can take pictures with, or a lunchbox that has a computer screen on the inside. All of these are lunchbox designs you may never have thought about!

Brainstorming

Group brainstorming is a great way to generate lots and lots of ideas. Ask your friends, parents, and relatives if they would be willing to help you brainstorm ideas to your design problem. Gather a few of these people together for 30 minutes to an hour and tell them about your design problem. Then, leave the rest to discussion! Keep in mind:

  • Fewer than five or six people per brainstorming session are best.
  • No judgment! No ideas are bad ideas during ideation.
  • Post-it notes are a great way for the people to show their ideas to the group.
  • You should write down all of the ideas mentioned in your design notebook.

Sketching and Doodling

You can come up with great ideas by using all of the techniques above, but ideation really isn't complete without sketching and doodling. Drawing is an ideal way to express your ideas and to visually connect multiple ideas to one another. Draw everything on your mind! Even if the idea is not fully developed, try to draw it and see what it looks like. Sketch all of the ideas that you have already come up with using other ideation techniques. By sketching, you will see new aspects of those ideas and be able to come up with even more.

"Sleep on It!"

Ideation isn't a one-day activity. In fact, it should be the longest phase of your entire design process. So don't feel like you need to come up with your perfect solution in one sitting. Ideate until you feel like you've run out of ideas. Then, sleep on it and return to ideation the next day or a few days after that. You will be surprised at how many more ideas you are able to come up with!

Create Multiple Solutions Checklist

Answer the questions in the quick checklist below to find out if you considered enough alternative (different) solutions.

What Makes Good Alternative Solutions? For Good Alternative Solutions, You Should Answer "Yes" to Every Question
Did you use more than one of these ideation techniques to generate alternative solutions for your problem?
  • Examining existing solutions
  • Creating and using analogies
  • Conducting brainstorming sessions
  • Sketching and doodling
Yes / No
Did you come up with several possible solutions for your problem? Yes / No