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Ideation Techniques: Conceptualizing New Products and Services

By Carlos M. Rodriguez posted 02-07-2021 15:02


PDMA Body of Knowledge: Product Design & Development Tools Insights #2
PDMA Body of Knowledge: Product Design & Development Tools Insights #2

Read time:
15 minutes

The kHUB Curator Team members have each been assigned a BoK section to own. This includes seeking, editing and sharing content related to that section.  The curators are also sharing their perspective of various sub-sections of their chapter and contributing personal examples, experience, or related articles corresponding to the subject matter.

Chapter 4 Insights – Product Design & Development Tools

Ideation Techniques: Conceptualizing New Products and Services

“The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: A thing that is constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.” –Charles Dickens

In today’s competitive and challenging environment, the management of ideation and developing ideation capabilities in organizations is an imperative. Finding ideas aligned with the firm’s strategy, managing ideation tools and techniques that provide quantity of ideas with promising business potential, well-crafted, and aligned with the R&D development portfolio are managers’ concerns in search for growth according to Arthur D. Little’s R&D Management Best Practice Study (Davies et al., 2015).

Ideation is at the front of the new product/service development process. Promising ideas when identified and enriched become good product concepts that eventually deliver top and bottom-line growth. This is the beginning of a successful product in the marketplace. Creativity has been equated to ideation and as such presented erroneously as something that you “have” or not. A clarification is needed regarding these two concepts.

Creativity is a transformational process that brings ideas, imagination, and dreams into reality through the application of design heuristics rather than algorithms. It involves not only the ability to generate novel ideas but to create and discover new solutions and possibilities. This process requires stimulation and a space to be nurtured, i.e., organization’s culture and working climate. Creativity is usually complemented by an entrepreneurial behavior that identify opportunities in the marketplace. And can be relearned when engaged in continuous practice, exploration of new possibilities, deconstruction of the status quo, being sensitive to everything around you, and non-fear of failing.

Ideation is the process that generates ideas, concepts, and solutions to inspire new products or services. It is the third stage in a design thinking endeavor and requires a deep understanding of the user, an emphatic approach, and consumption immersion (see figure 1).  Ideation focuses on the users, their needs and desires, their wellbeing, experiences, and provides insights about multiple possible solutions. Ideation questions beyond the usual, the obvious, the practice, and the common belief. As such, ideation is a component of the creative process.

In the early concept generation phase, ideation makes use of several design heuristics to assist in concept generation, extension of existing concepts, and exploration of design solutions. These design heuristics are source of inspiration for idea generation and introduce variation to form new solutions or variants (for a detail description of design heuristics and its application please access htpp:// (Daly et al., 2012;Yilmaz et al., 2016).

Figure 1: Design Thinking Process: Ideation is the third stage in the Design Thinking model. It is supported on a deep understanding of the user, the consumption context, expectations, and experiences carried out in the empathize and define phases.

Source: The author

Ideation in Sequence

The design innovation process starts with a clear intent (stage 1: sense intent). It follows an understanding of the user’s context (stage 2: know context), continues to a deep dive into the consumer’s world (stage 3: know people), mapping experiences and identifying profiles (stage 4: frame insights), and follow to stage 5, where designers frame the concept space and identify and organize ideas. This is the ideation stage as shown in the figure 2. Ideation is the backbone of concept generation and concept solutions (diversity of thinking goal) in new product and service development processes. For this reason, ideation approaches should avoid “fixation” or the tendency to focus on a single idea  at the expense of exploring other alternatives (Linsey et al., 2010).

Figure 2: The Design Innovation Process and the ideation moment.

Source: The author, adapted from (Kumar, 2012).

Ideation Techniques

Several ideation techniques are available to the designer, product and service developer, and new product development team. These are: Ishikawa diagrams (root-cause analysis), SCAMPER, Mind mapping, Brainstorming (including brainwriting and brain drawing), Morphological Analysis, TRIZ among others. For a detail description of all other ideation techniques, the reader would like to review the kHUB PDMA Knowledge Hub, Product Design and Development Tools, Chapter 4, NPDP Certification Body of Knowledge, Second edition, 2020 (Rodriguez, 2020). It follows a brief description of some ideation tools useful in starting the ideation process.

Ishikawa Diagram

During the ideation process, the Ishikawa Diagram (root cause analysis) is used to define the problem, understand the causal mechanisms, and identify the root cause of the problem. The Ishikawa diagram “precedes” the full ideation process (mind mapping and brainstorming). The purpose is to identify the “problem statement”. It identifies the underlying sources of a product, service or process failure (deep layers). A problem statement includes: what product failed, observation/data of the failure, number of units that failed, customers’ description of the failure. It is a data-driven approach, evidence based (qualitative and quantitative) to determine the foundation of the problem. Not intuition or gut-feeling! As it helps teams “categorize” potential causes of problems. A graphical depiction of possible “hypotheses” that explain the failure or deficiency is generated. The selected elements or factors should explain how/why the product/service failed. All potential causes should be included.


Brainstorming is an “associative technique”. The objective isn't to find the perfect idea. It is to generate lots of ideas, building collaboration, and openness to wild solutions through encouraging spontaneous reactions. The technique requires to conform a diverse group (different profiles) and assure that it is optimistic, positive, and focused on generating ideas. The session starts by posing a question or “challenge” and prompt it to the group to answer. Numerous ideas map the solution space and are clustered around similar topics and later subject to combination, replacement, and other associative processes before final ideas are selected (see figure 3).

Figure 3: The Brainstorming Method and Sequence Steps.

Source: The author 

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is an inventory technique mainly used in the ideation stage. Its purpose is to collect and recall all kinds of information around an issue and represent them in a relational map. This framework organizes what you have learned, visualize how things connect, and help you find patterns.

A Mind Map is a visual and graphic holistic thinking tool that can be applied to all cognitive functions, especially learning, creativity and analysis. Mind Mapping is a process that involves a distinct combination of imagery, color and visual-spatial arrangement. The technique maps out your thoughts using keywords that trigger associations in the brain to spark further ideas. It develops your intuitive capacity. When creating a Mind Map, there are several elements to consider including the map’s central image, branches, colors, key images and words. Mind maps are excellent as inventory techniques.


SCAMPER is a lateral ideation technique that utilizes a set of directed, idea-spurring questions as stimuli which act as sparkers, idea-spurring, and provocations. SCAMPER is based on the notion that much of what is new is a modification of something that already exists. It was developed by Bob Eberie.

It helps us ask seven kinds of questions to come up with ideas either for improvements of existing products and services or making new ones. A learning tool that fosters awareness, drive, fluency, flexibility, and originality. SCAMPER is an acronym with each letter standing for an action verb.  See figure 4 for an example:

  • S – Substitute
  • C – Combine
  • A – Adapt
  • M – Modify, Magnify, Minify
  • P – Put to another use
  • E – Eliminate
  • R – Reverse or rearrange

Figure 4: Scamper ideation: The application of the action verb “combine” in the case of a measuring spoons set.

Source: The author

Customer Experience Mapping

A customer experience map analyzes a general experience of the customer focus on the customer service process. This ideation tool is extremely useful when designing and ideating services. In a customer journey map, a typical customer is chosen and his/her experience from a specific perspective/context is analyzed. The technique can be used for: Understanding and diagnosing experiences, designing experiences (redesign existing, create new), implementing (as blue prints), and communicating (align, train, orient, share).

In customer experience maps, the identification of a “persona” which is a fictional representation of segments of buyers based on real data reflecting their behavior is critical. This profile describes: Behavioral drivers – customers’ goals, what they want to accomplish, their journey to finding your business, Obstacles to purchasing – Take into consideration the hesitations and concerns your customers have. How do they view your product or service and how does that impact how much information they need to make a decision? and Mindset – Your customers come to the buying experience with expectations and preconceived notions. Are they shoppers who want the thrill of the bargain or expect a more refined experience? Selling a weight loss program will be more emotionally charged than, say, selling routers. Figure 5 illustrates an example of a customer experience map applied to a hotel booking in the hospitality industry.

Figure 5     Service Blueprint Canvas: Hotel Reservation and Check-In Example.

Source:      The author.

Attribute Dependency

This method identifies the product’s internal and external variables. Internal variables are those within the control of the manufacturer and external variables are outside its control but in direct contact with the product. The goal is to elaborate a “forecasting matrix” and identify possible “dependencies” between independent variable pairs. The ideation process starts with the lift of these dependencies which trigger new solution options that match customer needs and expectations. The technique assumes that the central motivation to reconceptualize a product starts from the product itself.


Several ideation tools and methods are available to the product and service designer and design teams. The tools vary in their focus, specificity, and usability. Brainstorming generates ideas and possible solutions opening the solution space to the design team. Ishikawa diagrams are critical when a clear definition of the design problem is needed and is inclusive as all the factors that impact the problem. Mind mapping methods generate provocative dimensions and features around a design problem centered in the user and is well complemented when using with lateral thinking as more diverse ideas are triggered. Scamper offers more specific guidelines and suggested transformations to existing concepts through a battery of action-verbs. Finally, service blueprints and customer journey maps are the perfect ideation means when diagnostic and analysis of touchpoints and emotional triggers are needed to enrich the product or service experience.


Daly, S. R., Yilmaz, S., Christian, J., Seifert, C. and Gonzalez, R. (2012), "Design Heuristics in Engineering Concept Generation", Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 101, pp. 601-629.

Davies, C., Thuriaxu-Aleman, B. and Van Oene, F. (2015), "Arthur D. Lillte R&D Management best Practice Study", R&D Viewpoint, Arthur D. Little p. 4.

Kumar, V. (2012), 101 Design methods: A structured approach for driving innovation in your organization, John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Linsey, J., Tseng, I., Fu, K., Cagan, J., Wood, K. and Schunn, C. (2010), "A Study of Design Fixation, Its Mitigation and Perception in Engineering Design Faculty", Journal of Mechanical Design - J MECH DESIGN, Vol. 132.

Yilmaz, S., Daly, S. R., Seifert, C. M. and Gonzalez, R. (2016), "Evidence-based design heuristics for idea generation", Design Studies, Vol. 46, pp. 95-124.

About the Author

Carlos Rodriguez

Carlos M Rodriguez is an Associate Professor of Marketing and Quantitative Methods and Director of the Center for the Study of Innovation Management, CSIM in the College of Business, Delaware State University, USA. His publications have appeared in the Journal of Business ResearchJournal of Business to Business MarketingJournal of International MarketingInternational Marketing ReviewManagement DecisionInternational Journal of Business and Social SciencesJournal of Business and Leadership, and Journal of Higher Education Research & Development among others and several conference proceedings. Currently, he serves in the editorial board of several journals. His research interests are in the areas of entrepreneurship and strategic capabilities, luxury branding and experiences, product design and new product development teams, and relationship marketing. He recently published the book entitled Product Design and Innovation: Analytics for Decision Making centered in the design techniques and methodologies vital to the product design process. He is engaged in several international educational, research, and academic projects, as well, as, international professional activities.

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