kHUB All Member Forum

 View Only

The Creative Process: Ideation and Divergence Methods

By Carlos M. Rodriguez posted 06-23-2021 12:13


Product Design Develop Tools

PDMA Body of Knowledge: Product Design & Development Tools Insights #4

Read time:
5 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

The Creative Process: Ideation and Divergence Methods

“When you are curious, you find lots of interesting things to do.” – Walt Disney

Curiosity Image

New ideas come from an evolutionary process. The creativity may be incremental, evolutionary, and sometimes revolutionary. Overall, the evolutionary process should have diversity and structure. This process entails divergence and convergence stages that foster new perspectives on how we visualize and conceptualize possibilities. This process should allow us to “create, expand, and delimit” the design space. Design spaces are creative ponds that open our mindset toward new possibilities. This occurs when we start to better understand the design problem we face.  

Creative facilitators use the Integrated Creative Problem Solving (iCPS) (Buijs and Van der Meer, 2016) process to solve design problems (see figure 1). This project management process extends the creative diamond 2.0 that includes: divergence, clustering, and convergence stages and add two additional extra steps: task appraisal (figuring out what the next step is) and reflection (an analysis of what happened in the execution of the convergence diamond). This essay centers on the “idea generation” stage, i.e., the divergence diamond.

During NPD projects, a critical activity is immersing the design team into a “divergence” mindset so many new ideas are generated. Ideas as creative solutions to problems; as such they should be novel and useful; They should solve a problem or need. This idea generation requires an incubation stage, one that opens your mind to all possible ideas, even radical, nonsense, or crazy ones.

While conducting creative team workshops or innovation sprints, project leaders emphasize the need to “think outside the box”. But how do we do this? This is done with lateral thinking and divergent ideation methods.

ICPS Creative Process

Figure 1 The iCPS Creative Process.

Source: Buijs, J. and Van der Meer, Han, (2016), iCPS: Delft’s Expansion of the Classical CPS Approach, Kindai Management Review, Vol. 4, pp: 124-132.

Lateral thinking allows the designer to investigate wider and more broadly while breaking out of rigid and linear patterns. The method requires challenging assumptions, revisiting problem boundaries, what we thought was irrelevant, and seeking more options. Techniques such as bad ideas and random metaphors propel lateral thinking outside the box. Parallel thinking takes lateral thinking to a wider inquisitive level searching for new possibilities in the design beyond what already exists. Linear and binary thinking are only used during convergent creative processes.

Divergent Methods that are Useful.

Oxymorons: This method requires that the designer “eliminates” or “removes” elements of the product or service. This element could be at the core, product attribute/function level, or augmented product. By removing this essential element, your thinking focuses on what the product will be or how it would function without this essential characteristic. Generate ideas on how the product could be used and different usage contexts. Then consider the original product and possible new improvements from the ideas previously found. The oxymorons methods builds on the notion that eliminating essential features becomes the springboard to generating new ideas and the thinking moves towards visualizing new uses you miss while working with the original product. A couple of examples may follow this method: the creating of Uber and the purchase of cloth. Uber eliminated steps in the need for a cab while in the future virtual changing rooms may be the result of eliminating the need to return items that do not fit (see figure 2).

Uber Experience

Figure 2 The Uber experience as result of eliminating features and reconceptualizing.

Source: Tom Littler, it’s not about what you add, it’s what you remove, UX collective, July 15, 2020. 956e89622e1a.

Random metaphor: This method broadens the design space by identifying possible “metaphors” for a product or concept you are working on. These metaphors are items chosen at random. Attempt to find a commonality between this metaphor and the item you are designing. Then use the metaphor to improve or modify your product. The Firephant design adopts the metaphor of an elephant (see figure 3).

Fire Extinguisher

Figure 3 Fire Extinguisher the Firephant (Red Dot Design Award).

Source: The design of this everyday object reflects gently flowing lines vaguely reminiscent of an elephant. A gently curving handle rises from its cylindrical body and is used to spray the extinguishing agent directly at the flames.

Brilliant designer at awful things: This method is used when you have identified one or more problems and you attempt to design or redesign a product. Generally, the first step is to identify the attributes or features that are problematic and analyze why each feature may be problematic. Then, take the posture of the “most brilliant designer” who designed these features for a good reason or particular purpose. With these good reasons in mind (you are now expanding your design framework), test them since most probably there was a good reason why they were included in the initial product. The validation of these good reasons should expand your design space allowing for new ideas and considerations. 

Arbitrary constraints: This method’s main goal is to allow the designer to think outside the box. This is done by pushing your thinking (expanding the design space) and placing some constraints during the ideation process. The designer starts by identifying several arbitrary constraints, writing them on pieces of paper and placing them upside down. Randomly, select one of these constraints and “think about” it in conjunction with the product you are working on. Considering the product with the constraint, attempt to generate possible ideas that will suffice the functioning of the product with the constraint you attached. Finally, explore your ideas detaching the constraint and ask: would the product work in this new context. At that moment you are outside the box. The Olympus Tough TG-6 results from confronting the initial design with the constraint “can be used underwater” (see figure 4).

 Olympic Tough Image

Figure 4 Olympus Tough TG-6.

Source:   This waterproof compact camera may have been the junction of traditional features such as video recording capabilities, optical zoom, and LCD resolution with underwater microscope mode and “can be used underwater/ while in water” initial design constraint.

Divergent thinking requires that we feel comfortable with complexity, are flexible to stretch our ideas, practice our curiosity and originality, accept independent thinking, as well as have the readiness to dare, be adventurous and take risks. Without these personal characteristics and NPD team capacities, engaging in the creative process is limited and of no organizational value.

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 Research, Journal of Business to Business Marketing, Journal of International Marketing, International Marketing Review, Management Decision, International Journal of Business and Social Sciences, Journal 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.

Further Reading

Buijs, J. and Van der Meer, Han, (2016), iCPS: Delft’s Expansion of the Classical CPS Approach, Kindai Management Review, Vol. 4, pp: 124-132.

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.

Tassoul, M. (2006), “Creative Facilitation: A Delft Approach”, Delft: VSSD.

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.

Related Content