Analysis and Ideation
What and why
The results of the discovery phase are usually acknowledged by the team during the exercises but is mandatory that documentation and analysis can’t be skipped. Especially in large projects, the view upon some ideas or findings might change influenced by time/context.
When necessary, some findings must be (re)analysed in the new context to better understand how it affects the next phases of the project.
The ideation process takes shape in many forms: it can be done alone or in a group, in-person or remotely, the session can be short or span several hours, it could be a one-time event or a recurring meeting, and it can be as formal or informal as needed. There are no limits to the types of problems or design challenges that benefit from ideation, from large undertakings such as adding a new product feature, to small tasks like redesigning a specific portion of a single page.
There are three main characteristics of every ideation session:
Ideas are not evaluated.
The critical characteristic of an ideation session is that all judgment is postponed, so that every participant feels comfortable contributing, without fear of being evaluated. Evaluation stifles creativity.
Ideas are recorded and the session is documented.
Recording can be as barebones as taking notes with paper and a pencil, or can include supplies such as whiteboards, dry-erase markers, sticky notes, pipe cleaners, glue, construction paper, scissors, old magazines, or other documents to cut up — anything to help capture an idea before it dissipates. These artefacts record all thoughts in a tangible form within the session and ensure that none will be forgotten and dismissed once it is time to move into the evaluation stage. Additionally, having these artefacts visible to refer to during the ideation session can serve as inspiration for even more ideas.
Collaboration spurs diverse ideas.
While an individual can certainly ideate on her own successfully, working with a group often generates a greater number and variety of ideas. This could mean inviting just one other person or a whole multidisciplinary team to participate in the ideation session. While a large group runs the risk of getting unwieldy, a more diverse set of backgrounds, experiences, and areas of expertise can produce a wider set of ideas. Allowing others to share their ideas in this open environment also has team-building benefits and can strengthen buy-in for the final design because everyone had the chance to contribute.
In order to be effective, a discovery should be broad and technology- or solution-agnostic. When teams carry out a discovery on a product they have already decided to build, it no longer is a discovery, but, instead, it becomes a requirements-gathering exercise or a validation exercise where teams seek to confirm that their solution is the best. The discovery is off track when teams are asked “How do we make [insert name of solution] work for users?” or told to “Go find out what the user needs are for [insert name of solution]”.
A discovery should start with a broad objective such as like: “Go find out about this problem, just how big it is, and what the opportunities might be.”
Well-done discoveries ensure that any solutions proposed later are desirable to users, viable for the organisation, and feasible with the technology made available.
A discovery should result in the following:
Understanding of users
Through user research, the project team achieves an understanding of who the users are and how they are affected by a particular problem, as well as what they need, desire, and value from a solution (and why).
Understanding of the problems to be solved and of the opportunities
Through investigative work, the team understands how and why the problem(s) occur, what effect the problem has on users, as well as on the organization. It understands the magnitude of the problem and opportunities for the organization, product, or service.
During discovery, the team works with stakeholders to understand overarching business objectives and desired outcomes and get answers to questions such as ‘what do we want to achieve?’, or ‘what does success look like?’. This approach, in turn, focuses the team on the problems (and later the solutions) that will have the greatest impact on that outcome. The team should also have an idea of what to measure going forward, to understand whether the solution is working towards the desired outcome.
A discovery starts broad and requires team members to investigate the context of the problem. The double-diamond diagram introduced by the UK Design Council — and reproduced below — illustrates the high-level process of a discovery: first, the team expands its understanding of the problem by researching its full context; armed with this knowledge, the team agrees on what the problem is, before moving to the next phase of ideating and testing in the Develop stage.
Before embarking on your ideation journey to fix or optimize a design, remember to always make sure that you’re solving the right problem. It is critical that all the participants in the ideation session already understand users’ needs and that they ground ideas in these needs, and not into novel design trends or convenient technical solutions. (This is why ideation occurs within the Explore stage of the design-thinking framework, after the Understand stage, where user research occurs.)
Timeline or budget should not be an excuse for skipping user research. A variety of methods may be appropriate for your situation. We have long advocated for discount usability research — simple, fast, cheap studies are infinitely better than no studies at all. Even for small redesign efforts, there is always time to run a quick unmoderated remote usability test on the existing design to gain insights into the issue. If you don’t understand your users, the ideas you generate will be worthless: they may not be on target, and, even worse, you won’t have the correct evaluation criteria for determining which idea is the best and should be implemented.
Use your research findings to define the ideation problem that you want to solve. Be clear about the difficulties that users encounter. For instance, you might say, “According to our diary study, nonnative English speakers have difficulty using the voice interface to report mechanical problems in the field.” The level of detail, needed for this problem statement will vary, and there are many pros and cons to both a wide scope and a narrow one — for example, a narrow scope may stifle creativity, whereas too wide a scope may generate unfocused ideas. Regardless, ensure that the focus in the ideation session is on improving the user experience; set aside any real-world constraints such as technical feasibility or business viability. Remember, at this stage, no idea is too farfetched: It is much easier to scale back a crazy idea that addresses a true user need, than to try to make a mundane idea desirable.
Ideation should occur before any solutions have been prescribed for the design problem, and before creating any UX prototype. Some ideation sessions, such as design charrettes, may include making sketches of the interface as a way to generate and document a large number of diverse designs, but these should be seen purely as artifacts of the session, and not as final prototypes to be actually implemented without subsequent evaluation.
Designer/Facilitator Service staff Users Experts Stakeholders
Ideation Promotes Parallel Design
Spending time ideating several possible solutions before beginning to design is seen by some as a waste of effort, especially when facing short timelines and limited budgets. According to these naysayers, why entertain creating a multitude of designs when almost all of them will eventually be rejected in favor of a single design? Don’t fall into this trap! The benefits of parallel design have long been documented and quantified: we should not limit ourselves to a single design solution and leave most of the design space unexplored.
Ideation and investigation of multiple solutions (as opposed to a single one) give us a better chance to uncover the optimal design path, rather than merely the first path. Generating many ideas highlights different facets of the problem and also different potential approaches to the solution; each proposal’s pros and cons can be later evaluated, and then ideas can be combined to create the ideal solution. Do not satisfice on your first idea, nor on an idea handed to you by your higher management. Remember:
The probability of hitting the optimal region of the design space with a single idea is low.
The probability of having one idea out of many come close to the ideal is high.
Time spent ideating is time well spent.
Evaluating the Outcomes of an Ideation Session
Once a wide set of ideas has been generated, it’s time to relax and take a break! Stepping away (at least mentally) from the proposed solutions is a necessary step before any successful evaluation can occur. Whether you ideated on your own or with a larger group, have a snack, get more coffee, take a walk, discuss some unrelated topic for a few minutes — anything to break up the ideation session and signal moving into this next phase. By giving the mind a chance to rest, you and your team will avoid making decisions fueled by fatigue and can better approach the assessment and prioritization of the ideas.
This group evaluation at the end of the ideation session is critical to demonstrate that all ideas contributed are equally heard and considered, and show how each person’s involvement will impact the end result. If the participants in your ideation session don’t feel heard and valued, it is unlikely that they’ll ever participate again.
Discussing the documented ideas with the ideation group — or if alone, contemplating each of your produced ideas — and deciding which to move forward with can occur in many ways. Methods range from using affinity diagrams to cluster ideas, to having each proposed design critiqued by the group (don’t forget to point out the positives!), to taking a “vote” on the different suggestions. This process will help you understand the various goals and benefits of each idea, and which concepts resonate with the group when the time comes to move on to the prototyping stage. Keep in mind that you needn’t choose a single design — prototype the top three ideas (or combinations of several ideas) to test and discover which is the best concept.
Whether formally or informally, individually or as a team, every time we design something we go through an ideation process. Ideation is not only for generating the next “big idea” — rather, all UX designers should engage in ideation when facing any design problem, big or small.
By avoiding any early evaluation of ideas, we open our minds up to deeper exploration, and ultimately to more innovation and insight. It is highly unlikely that the first idea we come up with will ever be the best, so it is important to allow ourselves the space and time to continue dreaming up more ideas. Only by casting this wide net can we hope to uncover the optimal solution.
Methods and activities
Card Sorting ›
Issue Cards ›
Concept Walkthrough ›
Evaluation Matrix ›
Hypotesis Generation ›
Tomorrow’s Narratives ›