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Design studio Futura by red_mad_robot tells about creative methodologies that will help you find and refine ideas, solve product problems at different levels, and in some cases, come up with a new project.
Once per quarter, we organize a design sprint — an event where design and product teams develop ideas as well as create and test product prototypes over the course of a few days. Such a format allows for the creation of hypotheses, which saves time and money on developing.
This article focuses on the ideation stage: we will share the creative frameworks used in one of our design sprints. These tools will help you to begin thinking non-linearly and discover breakthrough solutions.
Who Can Benefit
Methodologies and mechanics are suitable for teams and individuals who want to develop something new: a service, product, feature, etc.
We ran our previous marathon for a finance product, from which all the methodologies were taken. We were brainstorming online because of the pandemic and used Miro (where you can create endless boards and work with the entire team) and Zoom for communications. You can provide an offline session, a regular board, paper sticky notes, and markers. Notebooks would work as well. It has been shown through practice that there is not much difference between doing this online or offline.
We were able to adapt to the online format of work quickly and didn’t lose the techniques that we used for creative sessions in person. Perhaps the main point was working with a new team. Managing people’s attention and keeping them in focus is more difficult when you are on opposite sides of monitors, but the results exceeded my expectations. We found a lot of cool ideas and were able to go beyond the obvious solutions. A properly designed framework helped us to do this.
Olga Akimova, art director of red_mad_robot
Using this set of methodologies, together with the client team, we came up with 76 ideas for one of the bank’s products. Then 4+ prototypes were drawn up and tested by users. Everything was accomplished in just 5 days, but that’s another story.
Design sprints in our digital design product team have been an existing practice for about a year. With Futura by red_mad_robot, we ran a marathon to find fresh ideas for the Affiliate Offers section in our mobile application.
In our opinion, the sprint was quite effective. Some of the hypotheses were confirmed and were taken into work by product teams. As we all know, the coronavirus pandemic has made changes in the format of business communications, and over the past nine months, Alfa-Bank has set up interaction processes for remote product teams and management. I am sure that Futura team made the online format as effective as possible during this time as well.
Yuri Solodovnikov, Head of UX / UI, Alfa-Bank
How to Conduct an Idea Generation Workshop
Before getting involved in generating ideas, the team needs to be synchronized. Participants get to know each other, discuss the audience, talk about business and user tasks, and determine the goal: what they want to get at the output, success criteria, and other important points.
If you want to hold such a workshop from home, you need to allocate time to ensure everyone is in the same context.
After introductions, the best thing to do is have everyone get warmed up. This is an essential step for the next activities where people have to communicate and come up with ideas. The ice-breaker helps to “remove barriers” and sets up the atmosphere: the participants read each other’s temperaments, then everyone laughs and relaxes together.
Try to use Joey Guilford’s classic divergent thinking exercise. Ask this question, “What are the alternative ways to use a paperclip?” You can think of anything: scissors, a chair, a piece of paper, etc.
Timing: 5–10 minutes
How: everything is simple — ask the team a question and see what happens 🙂 Just don’t drag it out any longer than 15 minutes, so they don’t waste too much creative energy.
Brains are like plasticine: the better you knead, the easier it becomes for you to think later in the process.
Evgeny Bondarev, red_mad_robot Creative Officer
“Circus Upside Down”
Write down stereotypes about a space. For example, a circus has a dome, arena seating, and solemn music. Then, for each item, come up with their opposites: a circus has low ceilings, theater seating, and jazz music. They say this is exactly how Cirque du Soleil was invented. You can write about an office, school, bank, store, or whatever.
“Manager — Designer — Developer”
The team sits in a circle. The first participant is given a notebook with a word written down. They turn the page, draw what is written, and the notebook gets passed around to everyone in the circle. The next participant must write down what the picture is and pass it on. The next person should illustrate again, and so on until the circle is closed. Each time the notebook is passed, you can see only the last page on which the previous participant wrote or drew.
Usually, it turns out that the team starts with a word like “rosette” and ends with “bathroom.” You can start with an ice-breaker during a workshop or any event where it is important to cheer up the team and introduce them to each other. Check out Hyper Island for more workouts.
In addition to a good mood, there is also morale-building — when working with a large team on a project, you must remember to return everyone’s focus on the original task.
Empathy Map: Diving Into the User’s World
When you design a product or service, it is important to understand from whom the demand comes. To do this, after the ice-breaker, we proceed to study our user. An excellent tool is the empathy map. It helps to understand in what context our user is and to feel empathy for them.
By taking the client’s perspective, you can learn what they feel, their wants and fears, how they consume content, etc. This exercise helps teams think in one direction as they build the product.
How: Typically, empathy maps are divided into four squares (speaking, thinking, doing, and feeling) with the client in the center. Ask the team to describe their experience from a user’s perspective by answering questions in each segment. No more than 5–7 minutes are given for each part. It is vital to have a team member who is deeply immersed in the product and communicate with the target audience.
Result: Understanding user needs and desires — what drives them.
Timing: 40 minutes mapping + 10 minutes sharing insights
It is important to set a timer for everyone. The passing time is a great motivator.
“A world in which we do not exist”: Finding the Value of the Product
After examining the client’s needs, put them aside for a while. It’s time to think about the global mission and value of the product.
The methodology “A world in which we do not exist” will help you formulate the mission and values. For 15 minutes, the team discusses the topic: “If our service or product is not available, then what will the world lose?”
Example: You run a food delivery service for people with gastrointestinal diseases. What will the world lose if there were no such service?
Comfort. People with gastrointestinal problems have little choice — to cook by themselves or to look for dishes that are harmless to them from popular delivery services. This process can be painstakingly long and inconvenient.
Safety. If a person eats something that doesn’t agree with them, they may need to go to a hospital, develop further health problems, and potentially spend a lot of time and money.
Health. Dishes prepared with a personal dietary pattern have a good effect on the intestines and generally improve the body’s physical condition.
Result: Helps discover the real, true value of the product.
Timing: 15 minutes
Come up with as many hypotheses as possible, and then highlight 1–3 ideas that are most important in your opinion. Moreover, try to avoid general answers such as: “The world will lose happiness, love, money, etc.”
After this exercise, take a 10-minute break. Small pauses should be done about once an hour and during this time, “feed” the brain: drink tea, coffee, and munch on snacks.
5 Whys: Identifying the Client’s Need
Value is a global term that should be clarified: from general to specifics. 5 Whys will allow you to understand what drives the customer when they use your service or product, and some interesting tasks to solve may be discovered.
How: Use the core value from the previous exercise and dive deeper into it by asking, “Why?” 5 times. The question can also be rephrased: “Why is it important?” or “Why do they care?”
For example, you have a ticketing service and want to know why it is important for your client to travel more. Split It into 5 Whys:
“I want to travel more.”
“To see as many new places as possible.”
→ Why is it important?
“I want to tell my friends about them.”
→ Why is it important to tell your friends?
“To be interesting to them.”
→ Why is that important?
“To not be lonely or feel lonely.”
Result: Find out the client’s real need and why the service or product is important to them. Usually, after 4 to 5 “why” questions, some deep emotional elements are revealed, like in the example of travel = loneliness.
Timing: 30 minutes
Job Story: Understand the Client’s Context
After immersing yourself in the product’s value, it’s time to harvest the empathy map results, where the team examined the client’s context. When you combine everything, you’ll learn what type of person the user is by understanding what is happening around them and in what situation they need our product to help.
Job Story is useful for completing this task and is a popular framework from the product design world. In fact, this is a means of defining problems in a specific way to highlight the context where it exists, the person’s needs, and their motivations (why he is willing to spend time to satisfy it).
Job Story structure:
Situation — the context in which a person has difficulty.
Trigger — what should happen for a person to get rid of the problem.
Expected result — why does the person want to solve the problem? How will their life improve when they find a solution?
How: Take the client’s need from the 5 Whys and twist the contexts. In what situations is a solution required? What is the motivation? Expand your thoughts into the structure: “When I want to…”
Example: Let’s imagine that you need to develop a convenient functionality for your fleet employees. Create a Job Story: I am a courier driver who delivers packages. When I walk into the fleet in the morning and approach my vehicle, I want to get inside without any issues so I can take the truck and get started.
Result: Ideas for future brainstorming.
Timing: 60 minutes
After understanding the user’s needs, identifying the value of the product, and the tasks to be accomplished, a break will be welcomed. It’s good to take a day off and give your brain time to rest and process the new information.
How Might We?: Formulating a Question
After some R&R and returning to work, start the day with a new ice-breaker and then work on some brainstorming. To prepare, you can use the How Might We framework. It will help you reformulate the abstract from the previous exercise (Job Story) into a question.
A problem set as a question is better than a statement. We live in a world in which we are used to the fact that after a question, there is always an answer. Therefore, “go and do” does not boost our creativity. But the question, “How can we do something better?” intuitively generates a creative search inside us.
Evgeny Bondarev, creative officer of the red_mad_robot
How: Use the results (statements) from the Job Story and rephrase them into question format with the following construction: “How might we (action, who, what) in order to (what to change)?”
Example: How might we help a courier driver know their car’s condition before they leave the house in order to not waste time on repairs if a breakdown occurs?
Result: Question(s) for brainstorming.
Timing: 10 minutes
Brainstorming: Looking for Ideas
To organize a brainstorm, move questions from “how might we” to the Miro board or physical board. First, work on a “quiet storm” for 10 minutes. Each team member will silently come up with ideas and capture them.
During a brainstorming session, it’s important to “erase the boundaries” between the participants so that everyone becomes equal: boss and subordinate, extrovert and introvert, etc. The reason the “quiet brainstorm” is included is so everyone can calmly think and express themselves… Paper (or Miro) can tolerate anything.
Begin by sharing ideas with the team and working together on solutions. To complement each other’s ideas, use the “Yes,… and…” approach. For example: “Yes, this is a great idea, and you can add the ability to contact via chat.” This formulation helps to “build up” a whole snowball of ideas and hypotheses.
There can be many questions during brainstorming. If we continue with the example, we should get something resembling this: How can we help the driver get into the vehicle quickly?
→ Make a magnetic card that can open the vehicle.
→ Create a Bluetooth system — for instance, as a driver approaches their vehicle, they enter the system’s coverage area, the vehicle “recognizes” them, and unlocks the door.
→ The vehicle has a built-in camera with face recognition, which “sees” the driver as they approach and the locks disengage.
Result: Ideas that are relevant to the target audience.
Timing: 30 minutes
Searching for New Communication Forms (CRAFT)
Here is another framework to help you hash out more ideas. It perfectly stimulates lateral (non-linear, non-standard) thinking.
CRAFT, or the birth of new forms, was created by Vasily Lebedev from the IKRa school of creative and innovative thinking. In 2017, with the help of CRAFT, they “re-invented” MEGA (implemented the “hospitality” value), porridge for Danone Nutricia and “favorite drivers collection” for Yandex.Taxi.
New forms of communication: Find and write down as many different forms of human interaction in digital space or real life as possible.
For example, a shopping mall, Facebook, an office, etc. Then, for each form, describe the interaction activities:
Shopping center — pay by card, take a consultation, choose goods.
Facebook — like, write a comment, view a story.
Office — book a meeting room, attach a card at the entrance, and so on.
Take a couple of the communication forms from the previous exercise and cross them. For example, what would happen if you could leave likes and comments for your favorite stores in a shopping center? Or have a “meeting room” for people from the same company on Facebook?
I liked the “birth of new forms” method when different spheres are crossed with each other, most of all. In our case, these were human interactions in the digital space or in the real world with activities within these forms. So, many interesting “unicorns” and “centaurs” were born. For example, we had a registry office and “a marriage registration” activity: we thought this feature could become a choice of “favorite partner” for a special offer or an opportunity to choose the partnership terms ourselves.
Julia Te, designer of the red_mad_robot
This creative method of crossing different shapes is also used in identity and branding, such as logo drawing, packaging, or magazine illustration. I learned It when I was studying at the BHSAD (British Higher School of Art and Design) at the graphic design course, then used it myself in working projects.
Result: Additional working ideas.
Timing: 60 minutes
The Bottom Line
By going step by step through all of these methodologies, you can develop dozens of strong ideas and hypotheses checked by us. The next stages are prototyping (when specific hypotheses are visualized) and testing.
We have put together a template in Miro to use for a creative idea generation workshop. Just copy It to your board and use all the methodologies from this article.
What You Need for a Productive Workshop
Facilitator or moderator. A person who will guide you through the methodologies, answer questions, keep track of time, and keep the rhythm. Without this role, It is easy for a team to lose direction and spirit, affecting the final result.
Rhythm. It is important to stick to timing. Keep a schedule in front of you, so everyone knows what is coming up on the agenda. The facilitator should support the teams: check how things are going, get involved if there is a block, and maintain focus on problem-solving.
People. The terms “creative workshop” and “forced” are not compatible; therefore, only invite people who genuinely wish to participate. A motivated team will do some pretty cool work, but just one unmotivated person can “poison” the whole atmosphere.
Trust. The fact that you can offer absolutely any ideas, even the strangest ones, should be reinforced and encouraged along the way. Laughter and criticism may keep someone from sharing their thoughts again. When ideas are said aloud, they may seem naive initially, but once the general synergy turns on, everyone begins to throw out their options and enrich the original idea. This is the moment you can pull out something really worthwhile.
Humor. Laughter and good humor are important ingredients of collaborative work. With a positive attitude, the best ideas come up. Ice-breakers and moderators will help you with this. The best workshop is when people had a good time and didn’t even notice how many ideas they created.
What to read:
- Estanislao Bachrach, “The Agile Mind: How Your Brain Makes Creativity Happen”;
- Vasily Lebedev, “CRAFT: How to Create Big Ideas” — more about the methodology;
- Genrich Altshuller, “And Suddenly the Inventor Appeared: TRIZ, the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving”. Difficult, but worth it;
- Mark Levy, “Accidental Genius”;
- Michael Michalko, “Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking”;
- Steve Rawling, “Be Creative — Now! The 2-in-1 Manager: Speed Read — instant tips; Big Picture — lasting results”;
- Tim Brown, “Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation”;
- Edward de Bono, “Lateral Thinking: An Introduction”;
- Edward de Bono, “Serious Creativity: Using the Power of Lateral Thinking to Create New Ideas”.
How to Find an Idea: 7 Tools for Creating Working Hypotheses was originally published in Muzli – Design Inspiration on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.