You may often find that you generate
ideas without too much effort. Just thinking about a problem is
likely to lead you to one or more ideas that may help to solve it.
Imagine yourself on a cross-country run standing on the bank of
a river. You need to get to the other side of the river but there
is no bridge in sight. You don't know how far the next bridge is
nor in which direction you should run to reach the nearest bridge.
You also don't know how deep the water is.
What do you do? Your first idea might
be to see if there's anyone around to ask where the nearest bridge
is or how deep the water is. Your next idea might be to find a stick
to probe the water and find out how deep the water is. After that,
you might think about finding someone with a boat that can ferry
you to the other side. Having collected together a few ideas you
will then have some options from which to choose. Which of these
you actually decide to follow might depend on how anxious you are
to complete the course and your assessment of whether or not the
option that you have chosen is likely to bear fruit!
In everyday life, ideas often seem
to flow naturally. When designing an engineered product or service
this is not always the case. Furthermore, if you can only come up
with a limited number of ideas (say one or two) you might need to
generate more ideas to provide you with a wider range of alternatives
In order to generate ideas we can
make use of one or two tried and tested ideas. The first of these
is called brainstorming. In brainstorming a group of people sit
around and fire ideas at one another.
There are several basic rules for
- Everyone in the group must contribute
and has an equal right to be heard
- All ideas (however unlikely
or preposterous) must be treated with equal respect
- Everything should be written
down so that no ideas are lost (usually one member of the group
is made responsible for this and ideas are recorded on a flip
chart so that all can see what has been written down)
- Adequate time should be set
aside for the exercise and there should be no interruptions
- It's important to avoid probing
ideas too deeply. This can be left until a later stage.
- Agree, at the end of the session
a selection (typically three or four) of ideas that should be
considered as candidates for carrying forward to the next stage
of the process. These are the ideas that the group considers
(by poll, if necessary) to be the most feasible in terms of
satisfying the design brief. Do not, at this stage, reject the
other ideas - you might need to come back to these later!
- At first sight, some ideas may
be considered less credible or less serious than others by some
of the members of the group (we often describe such ideas as
being off-the-wall). Nobody in the group should be made to feel
bad or inferior if other members of the group consider their
ideas strange or unworkable. Some of the most innovative engineering
projects have resulted from brainstorming sessions that have
unearthed ideas that, at first sight, have been considered unworkable
by the majority of those involved!
How to conduct a brainstorming session:
- You will need a flip chart and
- Form a small group to carry
out the brainstorming (four to six people is ideal)
- Set aside sufficient time to
meet and choose a venue for the meeting where you won't be disturbed
- Explain the design problem and
make sure that everyone understands it. Write down the design
brief on the first page of the flip chart. Tear this page off
and pin it up so that everyone can see it
- Decide on who will write down
the ideas that you generate using the flip chart (this
- person can also contribute to
- Invite everyone to contribute
to the discussion and make sure that they know that all of the
ideas generated will be equally valued by the group. Make sure
that everyone understands this and that they all know reason
- At the end of the session, thank
everyone for their contributions.
In order to make your brainstorming
session more useful you can:
- Summarise the ideas from the
flip chart on a sheet of A4 paper and circulate this to all
those who took part
- Set a deadline for comments
and further suggestions to be sent to you.