Creating Solutions Beyond the Obvious: Ideation

Andrea Ferguson

Andrea Ferguson

President at AndiSites Inc.
Andi is founder and President of AndiSites Inc. She writes about website design and development, best practices, and random stuff her busy brain thinks would be useful.
Andrea Ferguson

As proud members of the Interaction Design Foundation, we love creating online user experiences that are easy, intuitive, and engaging. Solutions aren’t one-size-fits-all, though, and creative thinking is an important part of the process.

Website projects can be tricky. Budgets and timelines may be limited. Team members may have difficulty communicating. Project requirements may seem overwhelming or even impossible. The “usual” way of handling these challenges may simply not apply.

Ideation can help.

The point of an ideation session is to come up with as many ideas as possible–good, bad, even the worst possible. Then you can sort, filter, and refine until the ones that serve your goals best rise to the top. Ideation helps get us out of thinking that we have to do things a certain way because they’ve always been done that way, and helps us find more creative solutions to common problems. Limited budget for your higher ed redesign? Have students or staff handle content entry and formatting as a learning exercise. Information overload on your government website? Take the human-centered approach, and replace long navigation with a list of common questions that will lead users down the right path.

User Experience guru Don Norman believes–as we do–in the power of “stupid questions” to generate new ideas:

“What is a stupid question? It is one which questions the obvious. ‘Duh,’ thinks the audience, ‘this person is clueless.’ Well, guess what, the obvious is often not so obvious. Usually it refers to some common belief or practice that has been around for so long that it has not been questioned. Once questioned, people stammer to explain: sometimes they fail. It is by questioning the obvious that we make great progress. This is where breakthroughs come from. We need to question the obvious, to reformulate our beliefs, and to redefine existing solutions, approaches, and beliefs….Ask the stupid question. People who know a lot about a field seldom think to question the fundamentals of their knowledge. People from outside the discipline do question it. Many times their questions simply reveal a lack of knowledge, but that is OK, that is how to acquire the knowledge. And every so often, the question sparks a basic and important reconsideration.”

So believe us when we say there are no stupid questions, and there are certainly no useless ideas.

No matter what you use ideation for–guiding design, solving problems, or saving the world–solid processes and guidelines will help you get the best results. Check out this article for an in-depth look, or create your own way. As long as you stay empathetic, focused on goals, and open to experimentation, you’ll find that ideation is a powerful problem-solving tool. Don’t give up. There is always a creative way to handle a daunting challenge.