“idea generation is a critical part of the creative
design process likely related to the quality of the
final design solution”
(Shroyer, Lovins et al. 2018)
2016 Dyson Award winner, a “folding, recyclable, vendable helmet for bike share” by Isis Shiffer
We name this the assemblage hypothesis of ideation:
“The quality of a final solution consists of an assembly or
aggregate of the qualities identifiable in early ideas generated
in an ideation session”
Where is the evidence?
What may be wrong with this assumption?
• Elsbach, K., D. and R. Kramer, M. (2003). "Assessing Creativity in Hollywood Pitch
Meetings: Evidence for a Dual-Process Model of Creativity Judgments." The Academy
of Management Journal(3): 283.
• Shih, P. C.-P. (2011). Brainstorming Beyond the Laboratory: Idea Generation Practices
in Software Development Firms. PhD, University of California, Irvine.
• Shroyer, K., T. Lovins, J. Turns, M. E. Cardella and C. J. Atman (2018). "Timescales and
ideaspace: An examination of idea generation in design practice." Design Studies 57:
• Sutton, R., I. and A. Hargadon (1996). "Brainstorming Groups in Context: Effectiveness
in a Product Design Firm." Administrative Science Quarterly 41(4): 685-718.
Early ideas for Pixar films are “not beautiful, miniature versions of the adults they will grow up
to be. They are truly ugly: awkward and unformed, vulnerable and incomplete. They need
nurturing—in the form of time and patience—in order to grow” (Catmull 2014, p. 131)
“If you sat down and watched the early reels of any of our films, the ugliness
would be painfully clear. But the natural impulse is to compare the early reels of
our films to finished films—by which I mean to hold the new to standards only
the mature can meet. Our job is to protect our babies from being judged too
quickly. Our job is to protect the new.” (p. 131)
Ideation research Ideation “in the wild”
Single (early) ideation session Ideation throughout a project
Facilitation often lacking or incomplete Facilitation adheres to guidelines and rules
Output are ideas Outputs include capacity building, etc.
Quality metrics applied to early ideas to
select good ideas
Quality of final solutions not observable in
One-off assessment of performance Iterative assessment of potential
Formats: annotated sketches, audio and
video recordings, models
Formats: demo derbies, creative pitches,
“living on” ideas
Early ideas discrete and unitary Early ideas fragmentary, unformed,
incomplete, and connected
Anticipated performance ratings by expert
external agents (judges)
Periodic discussions, conversations, demos,
pitches by internal agents
Characteristics of ideation in research and professional practices
• Ground ideation research in practice (“design rigour”)
• Metrics of early ideas ≠ final ideas
• Justify deliverables/outputs of ideation sessions
• Assessment of process rather than outcome
• Assessment of potential rather than imagined performance
• Analogies from other growth processes: memory formation,
embryonic development, planetary accretion
• What is an idea in design?