As designers we are innately problem solvers.
But on some days, it can feel like harder work than others, and on other days, it can feel like you will literally never come up with a good idea ever again.
Because we pride ourselves on being creative, it can be quite difficult to accept that our creativity isn’t always an infinite resource that we can call upon at will.
Interestingly, counter to what we might intuitively think, I’ve found that putting a bit of a framework and structure around creativity can really help boost how creative I can be at these low moments.
A framework for creativity
The following was introduced to me by a brilliant lady called Alex Dalton, who has previously worked with me and my team to help us creatively facilitate design sprints and to help us foster innovation.
It is also rooted in the Scamper framework by Bob Eberle, and has been a great technique that I’ve found has helped me during design sprints, workshops and even just solo thinking time.
The idea is that there are a number of prompts that you can go through when thinking about a particular problem. Each prompt helps frame potential solutions in a new way and is like a different lens through which you’ll see the problem slightly differently.
Let’s take a look at the steps:
Write down the problem that you are looking to solve, or the idea that you are trying to develop. Obviously you need to have a clear idea of what you’re trying to get help with!
Still thinking about the stated problem or idea, go through the following prompts systematically and record your thoughts:
Depending on your problem or idea, this could be replacing components, material, people etc.
Example questions you can ask yourself here are:
- What materials or resources can you substitute or swap to improve the product/idea?
- What other product or process could you use?
- Can you use this product/idea somewhere else, or as a substitute for something else?
- What will happen if you change your feelings or attitude toward this product/idea?
Mix and combine
How can you combine attributes or parts in different ways to come up with something completely new?
Example questions include:
- What would happen if you combined this product/idea with another?
- How would this product/idea behave differently in another setting?
- How could you combine different resources to create a new approach to this product?
- What would happen if you used this product/idea somewhere completely different?
- What would happen if someone outside your target audience used this product/idea?
Adapt and modify
This prompt is about getting you to think about how you can alter something or part of a thing, perhaps by changing some of its attributes.
- How could you adapt or readjust this product to serve another purpose or use?
- How have other, unconnected products adapted? What ‘steals’ can we make from their development?
- How could you change the functionality of your product?
- How could you change the shape, look, or feel of your product? What could you add to modify this product?
- What could you emphasise or highlight to create more value?
- What if you super-sized or shrank your product?
This is my favourite prompt because simplifying things always makes them instantly better. Some questions for you to think about here are:
- How could you streamline or simplify this product?
- What features, parts, or rules could you eliminate?
- What if you split it into smaller parts?
- How could you make it smaller, faster, lighter, or more fun?
The final prompt is to stretch the thought exercise to the max and to contemplate doing the opposite
- What if you try to do the exact opposite of what you’re trying to do now?
- What if we did things backwards?
- What if we reversed the process of creating/using this product?
By the way, depending on your set-up, there’s a bunch of ways that you can work through the prompts. If you’re solo, systematically work through the prompts. But if you are in a group, you could assign prompts to different groups and then have groups rotate around prompts.
After going through each prompt, you should have a great selection of different ideas. The ideas might be brilliant by themselves, or you might want to use the generated ideas as further catalysts for another round of ideas.
Once you’re happy with your selection of ideas, it is time to refine and converge, so that you can get to a smaller number of chosen ideas. My preferred process of refinement is to give everyone 2 sticky dots and ask people to vote on their favourite ideas.