Design Sprints have been around for years, and the ideas from those sprints can fill the pipeline for years to come. As Design Sprints become a familiar process in product development, so too do the procedural structures and activities within the sprints. But if the purpose of ideation is to generate novel ideas, it is important to create a novel process to get there. So to stretch thinking and differentiate the ideas coming out of your next design sprint, get creative with the process.
Creative Design Process Background
While the words used to define them vary slightly, the Creative Problem Solving Model and Design Sprints boil down to the same idea: a series of divergent and convergent thinking modes to generate new and differentiated possibilities. We can even map the processes nearly one-to-one:
As we consider ways to infuse sprints and creative processes like these with even more creativity, this chart can help guide us through the entire process.
Step 1: Opportunity Identification + Framing the Problem
The first step of the Creative Problem Solving Process is identifying the right opportunity for your business. Framing the challenge is the first way to differentiate the output of any innovation session. You want to avoid taking the same approach your competitors are taking, because that can lead to the same solutions. By thinking about the issue from a different lens from the very start, you can create an end-to-end process that reflects a new way of thinking.
A great example of thinking about a problem through a unique lens is the way airport executives approached customer complaints about their baggage claim wait times. The executives took a broad look at a flyer’s journey from de-planing at the gate all the way to baggage claim. They found that ~12.5% of the flyer’s time was spent walking to baggage claim, and ~87.5% of their time was spent waiting for their luggage. Instead of looking for ways to get the luggage to baggage claim quicker, they decided to explore adjusting the ratio of time spent walking to the time spent waiting at baggage claim. And sure enough, by dropping the passengers off further away from baggage claim, walking time now accounted for 75% of the post-flight experience, and only 25% was waiting for luggage. And the flyers were more satisfied! A typical approach would have looked to streamline the luggage's journey to baggage claim, but the way airport executives approached the problem led to a truly simple and creative solution.
Let’s explore some techniques that you can use to approach Opportunity Identification from a different angle, enabling unique solutions on the backend.
Creative Ways to Explore Your Opportunities
SHOP ALONGS: Shop alongs put you into your consumer’s shoes as you follow a series of shoppers through their purchasing journey. Join them at the grocery store, at a restaurant, or even a mock store custom-designed by your research team. As the consumers shop, you get to learn and probe about how they make their decisions, which aisles they choose to go down, how they feel about different displays, and much more. Shop alongs go beyond what the consumers do and focus on why they do it. Plus, all insights come directly from the source—not interpreted through complicated data sheets.
The process is highly engaging too, bouncing from store to store, acting like your consumer and interacting with them directly. It is a chance to put a face to the data you are used to seeing through quantitative studies. The opportunities to uncover are endless, and shop alongs are a great way to explore new ways of framing the problem.
IN-HOME VISITS: Similar to Shop Alongs, In-Home Visits are the perfect way to empathize with your consumers. Instead of doing a deep dive on the purchasing journey, now you are diving into how they are using or consuming your products. Everyone’s home is unique, which can factor into their product experience. Get emotional insights into the exact moments of interaction between your customer and your product, understand the lives they live, and uncover unique ways to approach your next level of innovation. By starting with the consumer, you are able to tailor your pipeline toward their unique needs and wants.
EXPERT PANELS: Expert Panels are designed to get your team to borrow information and stimulus from related fields of interest. Speaking with experts in tangential fields brings different perspectives and ways of thinking to the content you are working on. As the experts elaborate on the subject matter and processes they are familiar with, your team takes notes on new language that stands out, methods they haven’t heard before and anything else they find interesting. Hearing the unique approaches from 2-3 experts over the course of 60 minutes can push to frame questions a little bit differently, guiding you to different solutions.
Example Expert Panel: If you are generating new ideas around the indoor dining experience, you might want to bring in an art exhibit curator (to talk about engaging presentation), an outdoor landscaper (to discuss designing welcoming and immersive environments), and a social psychologist (to share how people interact between one another, especially within a larger group of people).
Step 2: Divergence + Ideation
Divergence is what most people think of when they imagine creative problem solving process designs. This is where all the ideas are generated, exploring all potential possibilities before making strategic decisions. The focus is on quantity—the more ideas you have, the more likely you are to identify a winning idea that stands out. You can compare divergence to the job of a wedding photographer. The photographer doesn't go to a wedding, snap 10 photos and call it a day. They are there for the full day, capturing every moment possible. The more photos they take, the more likely they are to capture the magic. After the wedding day is where they sift through all the photos to select the best of the best (Convergence).
The goal of divergence is to capture as many ideas as possible, without worrying too much about elaboration and feasibility (save that for convergence). Ideation can be done internally with the right variety of team members, or through co-creation, incorporating the voice of your consumers or other creative stakeholders. The benefit of working directly with your consumers during ideation is the blend of business expertise from your team and the direct input from the consumers—they know their own pain points and what they want!
Creative Ways to Approach Ideation
IMMERSIVE ENVIRONMENTS: Environment plays a vital role in creativity. If you are stuck in the same office every day thinking about the same products and services, you will definitely want a change in scenery when it comes to the creative work about those same products and services. Divergence is about imagining new ideas, not the same ideas you have already considered.
For your creative processes, hold your ideations in creative, immersive environments that relate to each project. For example, if you were looking to generate new food ideas around the grilling occasion, consider renting an Airbnb with a backyard and large kitchen. As you generate new possibilities, participate in activities like grilling out and being social, or preparing food in the kitchen. Really submerge yourself in the occasion to get into the right mindset. This level of immersion will put you in the right head space to begin thinking like your consumer and consider creative solutions that wouldn’t have crossed your mind sitting at a desk.
ACTIVE EXCURSIONS: Excursions and environment go hand-in-hand. Let’s switch focus now and pretend we are a beer brand looking to generate new promotions and activations around football events. The great news about football (for us, in this imaginary scenario at least) is that games are roughly once a week. Which means the stadium is empty on the rest of the weekdays—immerse yourself in the environment by renting out a sweet at a football stadium! But we can go further than the immersion, with active excursions.
To stretch thinking even further, we want to get creative and pull in unrelated stimuli to apply it in a novel way—which is the goal of excursions. What better way to get creative than getting active as well? Instead of staying in the football suite, let’s go out to the parking lot and tailgate for an hour. An active excursion might be playing bags (or corn hole, or whatever you choose to call it) and thinking through ways you like to socialize at sporting events. The combination of stimulus and physical activity are sure to get the creative gears spinning and thinking in new directions.
If you are interested in active excursions, consider signing up for the 6-week Kinetic Creativity Challenge which introduces kinetic excursions to get you away from your desk and thinking creatively. It should provide some creative fodder to bring into your next design sprint.
Step 3: Convergence
Divergence and ideation tend to receive most of the attention when it comes to the Creative Problem Solving Model and Design Sprints, but arguably the most important component is Convergence. Convergence is the process of considering all your possibilities and making strategic decisions to keep ideas moving forward and eventually bringing them to market. Having a list of hundreds of possibilities is not a useful form of output when it comes to strategy. Those possibilities need to be distilled into the best ideas and at some point, developed into concepts or prototypes.
Creative Ways to Converge
REVIEW CONSUMER INSIGHTS: As you narrow down the ideas into your top contenders, it can be easy to jump directly into feasibility and ignore the original path of how you ended up here—consumer insights and unmet needs (Opportunity Identification). As you go through and select your favorite possibilities for consideration, have the original consumer research next to you with verified consumer insights. Images, direct quotes, videos and even consumer-generated output will help inspire your thinking moving forward. Don’t forget who these ideas are for, and don’t be afraid to stretch yourself into products and services that might be challenging to execute. If the consumers like the idea enough, you will be able to identify an efficient solution and bring it to life.
Step 4: Develop
As you prioritize the handful of ideas that move forward, it is time to start developing them with additional details. This can be executed a couple of ways, including prototyping and concept development. At ITG we often go directly to written concepts, with the intention of sending them to quantitative testing or qualitative reaction groups (Step 5). Carrying the excitement from Divergence into the written concepts can be a challenge—they need to illustrate the pain point, deliver an effective benefit, and explain what it is—all in a few sentences or paragraphs.
Prototyping can also be an engaging process and, depending on the category, provide quick learning. The hands-on experience can elicit additional feedback that goes beyond the product communication. Instead of simply reading about the product, consumers can now interact with it and experience it for themselves, often providing a more emotional context.
Creative Ways to Develop Ideas
PROTOTYPE DURING DIVERGENCE: This seems counterintuitive and actually breaks the structure of the Creative Problem Solving Process, but rules are sometimes meant to be broken! Instead of waiting until after Opportunity Identification, Divergence and Convergence, consider working the prototyping process into Divergence. The in-the-moment stim and direct feedback can inspire further creativity and more ideas. For example, if you are exploring new menu items for your restaurant, it can be extremely useful to bring chefs into the mix to work with the marketing and brand teams (and consumers if you are co-creating). Assuming you have an immersive environment (it all ties together!), you will have a kitchen prepared with ample ingredients. As you generate new menu possibilities, any time an idea receives particular excitement, the chefs can go into the kitchen to create that item on the spot. This gives you the opportunity to visualize your ideas, taste them and optimize them to work toward an even greater product. Get creative with the Creative Process—blend steps, break rules and work fast!
Step 5: Testing + Learning
Testing and learning are the final frontier before spending money on official development and bringing the product to market. It is your chance for confirmation from consumers and to fine tune language, features, or anything else that needs optimization. At this point, consumer insights have led to hundreds of possibilities, which have led to 5-10 winning ideas. Step 5 is the polish that readies the ideas for broad market adoption.
Creative Ways to Test and Learn
WORK WITH CREATIVE CONSUMERS® ASSOCIATES: If you have ever sat through a focus group before, you know how much effort it can take from the moderator to pull out valuable information from consumers. A good moderator will likely get actionable learning out of any focus group, but there are other ways to add a creative spark to the process.
Option 1: Include Creative Consumers® associates in the backroom during regular focus groups. Yes, that means having consumers on both sides of the glass. Creative Consumers® associates are great at interpreting what regular consumers are trying to say and turning those thoughts into functional changes to concepts and prototypes. And since they are still your consumers, the optimizations are still grounded in consumer insight. This process will result in the key learnings from the focus groups, as well as in the moment adjustments to your concepts from a creative voice. Integrating Creative Consumers® associates end-to-end in the process like this can help articulate the original excitement on paper in the final concepts.
Option 2: Go directly to Creative Consumers® associates through an optimization process. This works particularly well with prototypes. Instead of showing the ideas to focus groups, the Creative Consumers® associates can experience the product on their own and provide a focused Forness® response for it. A Forness® response elicits everything that is good about the product, their FORS—what they like, the benefits, how they see themselves using it, etc.—and everything they WISH FOR in the product—areas for improvement, broad wishes, direct optimization possibilities, and more. The benefit here is that you aren’t just hearing what consumers don’t like about the concept/prototype (see: Focus Group), you are getting new ways of making the idea better. It is a quick optimization process that eliminates interpreting what focus group consumers are trying to say.
Design Sprints and the Creative Problem Solving Process are great methods for developing new ideas quickly, but each project you take on has its own set of challenges. By approaching the designs to each session with a creative lens, you can incorporate engaging, unique process designs that stretch your team's thinking into new territories. Creative challenges deserve a creative process to deliver the breakthrough products and services your consumers want.
Try incorporating one of these creative design techniques into your next design sprint, and slowly evolve your process to suit your brand's needs. See what delivers the most value and continue refining your process. Over time, these creative process ideas will come naturally to any project design, and the output will reflect that.
Tyler Thompson is a Creative Process Designer and Facilitator at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.