What Is Ideation and How Is It Used?

Ideation is the creative process of generating, developing, and communicating new ideas, where an idea is understood as a basic element of thought that can be either visual, concrete, or abstract.[1] Ideation comprises all stages of a thought cycle, from innovation, to development, to actualization.[2] Ideation can be conducted by individuals, organizations, or crowds. As such, it is an essential part of the design process, both in education and practice.[3]

3. Design Thinking: Ideate

Why is ideation important?

After you have empathized with the consumer and defined the problem, you can use ideation to try to list as many potential solutions as possible. It is important to try to do so without deciding which ideas you think will work best. This part of the process can be enjoyable because it is an exercise in judgment-free creativity. Ideation can provide many options for solving a problem and help you generate a greater diversity of innovative ideas.

What is ideation?

Ideation is the third step in the design thinking process, which includes empathizing, defining, ideating, developing and testing. Ideation is an important part of this process because it helps designers and other professionals solve problems for consumers in innovative ways. The goal of this step is usually to think of as many ideas as possible. Then, you can sort through all of your ideas and choose the ones that can solve your problem most successfully.

Preparing for ideation

Ideation is usually most successful in groups. For a group ideation session to run most successfully, you will probably want to identify a group leader, recruit group members and find a physical location to gather. Depending on the circumstances, you might also complete these steps remotely using digital collaboration tools. Consider establishing rules such as a time limit and permitting only positive interaction to support an efficient ideation session. You might also consider providing posters, whiteboards and other physical materials to help your group work as creatively as possible.

Ideation tips

Here are some tips for successful ideation:

Brainstorm openly

Brainstorming involves thinking of and writing down ideas in an open-ended collaborative way. For example, an ideation group might use sticky notes to write down their individual ideas and then post them on a shared bulletin board. Consider starting your ideation session with open-ended brainstorming to generate the most ideas possible.


Some people find that its easier to think of creative ideas when they feel relaxed. Try encouraging a calm, friendly environment in your ideation group to get ideas to flow more freely.

Use mind mapping

Mind mapping is a strategy that is similar to brainstorming because it involves writing down as many ideas as possible. A mind map is different, however, in that it also involves beginning to organize those ideas based on how they relate to one another. Consider visually diagramming the relationships between different solutions in your ideation session.

Make it a game

Making your ideation process more like a game (also known as gamification) can make this step productive and fun for the people involved. Consider ways to integrate friendly competition or other elements of gameplay into your ideation session.

Stay positive

Ideation works best when every idea is accepted before moving on to selecting which ideas will work best. When everyone in an ideation group knows their ideas will be heard, they will be more likely to generate more ideas and more creative solutions. Try to foster positive communication to maximize the benefits of ideation.

Keep your goal in mind

Periodically returning to the definition of your problem might help your ideation group stay focused while encouraging creative thought. You might choose to do this by stopping to review your goals after a set period of time. You may also consider writing your problem definition on a poster or projecting it on a screen as a visual reminder of your objective.

Visualize your solution

Visualization, or picturing the problem as already solved, can be one way to think of creative ideas during ideation. If you are leading an ideation group, consider facilitating a group visualization exercise. You might also ask your group members to sketch or write down details of their visualization exercise to share with the group.


Consider taking on various roles in your ideation process. You might assign group members to the customer role, for example, when talking through a potential solution.

Take a break

Taking periodic breaks from the creative process can keep everyones thinking fresh and innovative. Consider setting an alarm to build in occasional breaks during ideation, or be mindful of fatigue and break when it seems that group members could benefit from mental rest.

Get moving

Physically moving, either in your creative space or to another location, can help inspire creative thinking. For example, if the flow of new ideas has slowed, consider relocating to a new room or even outdoors. Physically enacting the dynamics of a problem can also help you think of innovative solutions.

Think of bad ideas

Consider intentionally brainstorming bad ideas during the ideation process. This strategy can help group members think more creatively. Purposefully thinking of “awful” ideas can also lead to a conversation about what, specifically, makes those ideas bad and how they could be transformed into good ones.

Challenge assumptions

Ideation is usually most successful when you explore every possible angle on a problem. It can be helpful to identify and challenge mutually held assumptions to do so. For example, you might start by brainstorming everything you believe you already know about the problem and then listing one reason why each of those observations might not actually be true. This can allow you to reveal hidden complications and biases that can be addressed through your creative problem-solving.

Collaborate electronically

Working in a group is usually the most productive way to engage in ideation. If that is not physically possible, however, consider collaborating electronically. Digital tools, such as shared documents and video calls, can be an alternative to the physical ideation environment if necessary. You might also use electronic forms of communication to reach out to colleagues who might have good ideas but cannot be physically present at an otherwise in-person ideation session.


Freewriting means writing openly for a set amount of time about a particular topic without worrying about making that writing ready to share. Consider freewriting as an entry point into the ideation process or periodically throughout as a way for each individual to generate more ideas and organize their thinking.


Design thinking professionals sometimes use social media and other public platforms to crowdstorm, a combination of the words “crowdsource” and “brainstorm.” Leveraging the public for ideas can significantly expand your options for potential solutions.


What does ideation meaning?

Definition of ideation

: the capacity for or the act of forming or entertaining ideas suicidal ideation.

What is ideation example?

Innovation – An example of innovation ideation is the process of a pharmaceutical company developing new medicines. Such a type of ideation often involves doing extensive research and experimentation as part of the ideation process.

What is ideation in psychology?

The Three Phases of Design Thinking: Immersion, Ideation and Prototyping.

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