Building Your Idea Generation Toolbox

What is ideation?

Ideation is used by designers, architects and engineers to generate, develop, and communicate new ideas. In designate term idea is defined as a basic element of thought that can be either visual, concrete, or abstract. Ideation comprises all stages of a thought cycle, from innovation, to development, actualisation, evaluation and advertisement. As such, it is an essential part of the design process.

From Wikipedia


What is a heuristic?

An Heuristic refers to experience-based techniques for problem solving, learning, and discovery. The solution is not guaranteed to be the best solution.

Heuristics are used when an exhaustive search or algorithmic problem solving techniques is impractical. Heuristic methods are used to speed up the process of finding a satisfactory solution via mental shortcuts to ease the cognitive load of making a decision.

Examples of this method include using a rule of thumb, an educated guess, an intuitive judgment, stereotyping, or common sense.

From Wikipedia


Try a variety of idea generation techniques, and heuristics, then answer a few thoughtful questions about each technique you try. A great place to find many techniques is:


  • how does the technique influences your ideas?
  • how does the stucture of the ideation technique compaire to how you usually come up with ideas?

Answering these questions will help you think about how these techniques impact your thinking in different ways, and they will enable you to learn more about how well different techniques work for you.

Experiment with as many  techniques as you can to find out which works the best for you. It’s a great way to build your “techniques toolbox” and to practice the techniques as you learn and think about them.

Watch the videos or read the descriptions for each technique, and then use that technique to generate ideas for the problems below

  • How might we reinvent the process of shopping for food?
  • How can we stop pizza bases from being soggy?
  • Design a new way to sharpen a pencil
  • How do we stop Mr Morrison always turning up late to class
  • How do we stop the inside of microwaved food always being cold and the outside being to hot?
  • How do we stop students bags from being too heavy?
  • How could we increase the product life cycle of manufactured items (for example laptops)

Check out the following web site to see one persons attempt to solve 50 design problems in 50 days.

It is recommend that you complete these questions fairly soon after you use a technique. It is easier to remember what happened.

Random Stimulus:

Basic Summary: Participants use free association in connection with a random word or image to generate new ideas.

Go to this website to generate a set of random words. Use them to solve a design problem or create a new idea for a product.

Think about the following when creating your idea:

  • Why is the product important?
  • What problem does it solve?
  • How does the product work?
  • Examples of how it could be used? Put your self in the role of the end user and think about how you might use the product.

example designs:

  • chocolate pen
  • basketball hoop light
  • elephant toaster

Videos and Descriptions:



Basic Summary: SCAMPER = Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to different use, Eliminate, Reverse. Participants use a set of directed questions to help evolve an existing product, service, or solution into one that is more ideal.   Videos and Descriptions:

Morphological Matrix

Basic Summary: An existing product or system is broken into parts/functions. Various ways of achieving each part or function are identified and then (re)combined to create new forms of the product or system.   Videos and Descriptions:

Intelligent fast failure

box fail


Coined by Jack Matson, a professor at Penn State,  IFF or Intelligent Fast Failure highlights the importance of being a failure when it comes to creativity and innovation.  Where there is risk…there is failure.  It can’t be helped.  Those who experiment and fail ultimately have the greatest success.

Intelligent – analyze failure to maximize acquisition of knowledge
Fast – conduct experiments in a parallel fashion using minimum resources in the shortest possible time
Failure – recognize these as sub-optimal outcomes that are inherent when exploring new creative and innovative ideas

“The two most important tools an architect has are the eraser in the drawing room and the sledge hammer on the construction site.” Frank Lloyd Wright

Hemingway rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms 39 times. When asked about how he achieved his great works, he said, “I write 99 pages of crap for every one page of masterpiece.” He has also been quoted as saying “the first draft of anything is shit.”

“The physicist’s greatest tool is his wastebasket.” Albert Einstein

“Rewrite and revise. Do not be afraid to seize what you have and cut it to ribbons Ö Good writing means good revising.” Strunk and White, Elements of Style

Failure is a part of the learning process associated with innovation, and has nothing to do with self esteem.  There was a time when failure was associated with being a failure.  Today, the frequency and intensity of failure experienced in an attempt to reach a goal is a sign of progress.

Matson challenges to us all to make our mantra …. experiment, risk, fail, learn and create.

In one hour make as many paper towers as you can from 1 sheet of newspaper. Learn from the mistakes you make in each to create better models as you evolve your ideas. Record each tower by taking a photograph. Evaluate each idea in the next lesson.


Worst idea

This is technique can help to save the day when nothing else seems to be working, and can re-ignite energy levels of groups that are approaching creative burnout. The technique is simple: create a list of bad, terrible, stupid, illegal or gross ideas. This will get participants laughing and re-engaged. Once you’ve generated a list, challenge the group to turn those horrible ideas into good ones by either considering its opposite, or by finding some aspect within a terrible idea that can be used to inspire a good one. Be sure to push yourself to generate really bad ideas!

This technique works surprisingly well because it tends to mentally disarm brainstorming participants. They may feel under pressure to come up with a really Big Idea, but that often restricts their ability to be creative. By temporarily focusing on really bad ideas, it frees them to relax and have fun. Laughter is also a stepping stone to helping people generate surprising or unexpected connections – the basis of most humor. it is the nature of our brains, when thinking about one idea, to simultaneously consider its opposite.

Another helpful way to think about the worst idea technique is “rooted” in nature: Many bad ideas can also contain the “seeds” of good ones. Consider each bad idea with the thought that at least some aspect of it has value, and make it your goal to find it.




Themed restaurants are all the rage. You can dine with Disney characters, snack in a café built in the deep rain forest, complete with animatronic gorillas and elephants, blast off to deep space and enjoy atomic meatballs, or watch knights joust while you tear into your turkey leg. The food at themed restaurants is often traditional fare tagged with themed names, but occasionally, the grub is part of the experience. Most of the time, that experience is a favorable one, or, at the very least, it didn’t suck. But what if it did? Get another willing participant to help you with this exercise. The two of you will collaborate to develop a very bad idea for a themed restaurant. Imagine a theme that is as unappetizing as you can think of, and design a restaurant around it. Come up with the name, the environment and the menu. Make it as doomed as an idea as there ever could be. Who knows? There’s something for everyone, right? –

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