We've heard a lot of ideas and come up with a lot on our own. We can filter the bad from the good and inspire improvement and innovation. But what we love the most is when collaboration facilitates discovering that one gem of an idea, that one functionality, interaction feature, or design element that becomes the secret sauce and defines your idea's purpose.
We believe that if you're not growing, you're dying. This mindset motivates us to look for innovation in every corner of the world. We don't just watch television, we dissect the production, examining the elements and efforts that it took to bring it together, looking for inspiration and new ideas. We don't just surf the web, we look for beautiful sites and applications and study the code that brings them to life. And we don't just generate ideas, we make ideas come alive.
We've studied Stanford's Innovation through Design Thinking system and designed our approach to developing ideas based on those fundamentals. We like it because it generates lots of ideas by encouraging creativity, openness, and collaboration. Generating loads of ideas without a plan can problematic. You might find yourself on several different tangents, distracting you from developing the core idea, wasting time and energy, and getting nowhere fast. Our system avoids this common pitfall to concentrate all of our energies on productivity and progress.
The first stage of our process is defining the current context of the market. We research what's been done in the past, what's available currently, who the market leaders are and what they're doing. Then, based on the information we find as well as our preconceived notions, we create mind maps to capture and organize insights. We start with the insights that stand out the most, then make connections, branch those connections, and find new insights. We try to define use, usability, and meaning. Use — the basic functionality of the end product, its explicit need and what it has to do. Usability — the aspects of the product that give the user access to the functionality. Meaning — the user's expectations and emotional response to the product.
Mind mapping produces a visual diagram of problems that need to be solved. Without this information, any solutions could be misguided or misfit, resulting in lost time or, even worse, devoting resources to solutions that don't drive value.
We take the insights garnered by mind mapping and generate opportunity statements in the form of "How Might We" statements. This is where we generate the ideas. With the questions posed, we record as many answers as possible within a specified amount of time, encouraging even wild and crazy ideas without judgement or evaluation. We moderate the discussion to keep it flowing and maintain the positive energy. At the end, we're left with a large, diverse set of ideas, some good, some bad, but all important to the creative process.
Brainstorming is one of the most important steps to developing any idea successfully. Creativity can be fleeting and elusive. For this reason, we devote a lot of time to finding and exercising the best practices.
In the third stage, we take all of our ideas and decide on the top 3-5 to focus on. We consider each idea's independent quality, its character fit to the overall vision, its role in driving value, and its feasibility. Each idea gets its time and we treat every one with the same deference.
Down selection generates new ideas by itself as well. While evaluating the recorded ideas, new ideas and connections come into view, and for that reason, we often see visions mature the most during this stage. The focus ideas become the bedrock of the end user solution. We think of them as they relate to each other, bringing them together to find the perfect harmony in which they work together to create an end user experience that delivers value.
Prototyping is both connected to and separated from the first three stages of idea development. Prototyping can come in many forms — if you're developing a mobile app, we would use interaction prototypes and then functional templates; if you're developing a website, we would jump straight to implementation, using simple mock-ups and plugins; if you're developing brand images, we start with pen and paper sketches and then move to graphic design software.
The prototyping process takes on a life of its own, separate from the original brainstorm, but connected to its nature. Rapid prototyping is a kind of brainstorm by itself. Each idea must find its place within the vision, working together with the other aspects of the solution to create synergy. Sometimes, prototyping reveals problems with our most basic assumptions, requiring us to return to the beginning of the process and reassess the frame. Other times, prototyping will show the relative importance or uselessness of design elements, which can necessitate adding or subtracting ideas. For these reasons, prototyping stands on its own.
Just as with our brainstorming practice, our prototyping practice demands a lot of attention, so we've given it its own space where we explain our findings, current methodology, and more.