Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ideation Methods: Brainsketching

Strong ideation can take many forms, and involve many different techniques and approaches.  Knowing which methods to use for certain types of innovation initiatives and problems can be challenge.  Some methods are well suited for complex technical challenges, while others are better suited for aesthetic or form challenges.  Some approaches work reasonably well on an individual basis, while others are most effective in a group setting.  I will devote a series of posts to discussing various ideation techniques I’ve found to be effective, how to do them, and when to use them.

Sketching During a BrainsketchThe first ideation method I will review is “brainsketching”.  Most people are familiar with the term “brainstorming” and there are certainly many challenges that traditional brainstorming works well with.  But, what if you’re trying to innovate a solution to a problem and words just aren’t sufficient to convey a winning idea?  Perhaps you’re trying to determine what your product’s next release should look like, or how to make your office environment look friendlier.  Brainstorming can create a lot of verbal ideas for these questions, but typically leaves questions about what the solutions look like.

Brainsketching is a group creative method that uses sketching and drawing to generate a large breadth and quantity of ideas.  Each participant spends time drawing, doodling, or visually diagramming solution concepts.  Artistic talent is not a requirement, and developing works of art is not the goal.  The goal of the exercise is to get ideas on paper through sketching.

Methods:  There are several methods that work well for this technique, and you should certainly tailor methodology to match the personality of your group.  For any method, the facilitator should introduce the problem/challenge and pace the event.  Remember to focus on generating a large quantity of ideas, rather than allowing participants to go too deep into any one idea; using an egg timer works well to keep the pace going.  There will be plenty of time for deeper analysis and exploration after the ideation process.

Example Method 1: Each person doodles/sketches concept solutions.  After a time, each participant passes his or her sketch to the next person who continues to build and grow the idea.  After several people have contributed to the concepts, all ideas are pulled together for evaluation and discussion.

Example Method 2: Each participant doodles/sketches concept solutions.  The facilitator introduces new problem aspects, constraints, etc. every few minutes.  All ideas are pulled together for further evaluation and discussion

Example Method 3: Each participant is assigned (secretly if you wish) a particular and unique aspect of the problem, such as “the product must be easy to carry”.  After doodling and sketching for a while, each person passes the concept to the next person (focusing on a different aspect of the problem), who continues developing the idea.  This approach ensures that each aspect of the problem is addressed, and that each aspect is the original basis of at least one concept.  After everyone has contributed to all the ideas, collect and evaluate the concepts.

When to use: Brainsketching is well suited for aesthetic and form development challenges, layout challenges, process mapping, and similar visual problems.  It can work well with other types of innovation challenges so long as sketches or diagrams might be meaningful.

When not to use: Brainsketching is not an ideal solution for highly technical problems.  Sometimes it also does not work well with broad, blue sky challenges such as “what new features should we introduce next year”.

Caution: It is important to remember that drawing quality and sketch quality are not the key element of brainsketching.  If someone in the group is a particularly talented artist, be careful not to gravitate toward their concepts just due to artistic merit.  The best ideas may well be communicated with stick figures.


  1. The technique of passing the paper seems pretty neat because it gets everyone involved. Sometimes my company brainstorms and a lot of people don't say much.

  2. You're experience is not uncommon. It's often difficult to get everyone to participate, in which case they are just wasting time by being in your brainstorm. A good moderator will work hard to get ideas from everyone, and there are certain techniques (like brainsketching) which help as well.


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