Team collaborates and writes notes on post-it notes organized on a window


Brainstorming is a concept that most people learn in school at an early age, as it has been the go-to method for idea generation since the 1950s. The goal is for a group to generate as many ideas as possible without passing any judgment. Ideas are refined and built upon as the session goes on. With no fear of judgment, participants feel comfortable sharing more unusual ideas.


Schedule Time & Gather Materials

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Schedule Time:

  • Time Needed: 15 Minutes – 1 Hour
Gather Materials

Gather Materials:

  • Paper or surface for recording & displaying ideas
    See Step 5 Below

Carry Out This Method

  1. Get a group of between 3 and 12 participants together. Recruit participants with a mix of backgrounds and talents to increase the variety of ideas.
  2. Present the group with the problem that needs to be solved. Be specific, but do not present known feasibility issues.
  3. Remind the group that there is a strict “no judgment” rule. No ideas can be critiqued, either verbally or with facial expressions. This ensures a welcoming environment for unconventional ideas that lead to innovative solutions.
  4. You can have the group share their ideas in one of two ways. With smaller groups, allow participants to call out ideas as they think of them. With larger groups, go around the table and ask everyone for one idea at a time to ensure all group members are able to participate.
  5. Record ideas in a way that makes them visible to all participants.
  6. At about 30 minutes, announce a 15 minute warning. Have participants submit any last-second ideas for that time. After 45 minutes of brainstorming, idea fatigue will set in.
  7. Discuss the merits & drawbacks of all ideas. Only now will you be eliminating ideas that are not feasible.
  8. Organize similar ideas into groups.
  9. Either vote or discuss the ideas to determine what should be prioritized for implementation.

Try These Tips

  • A moderator will need to keep the session focused on the brainstorming, otherwise conversations can spiral out of control.
  • Offer participants the option of sketching ideas. This can improve accuracy and help facilitate creativity.
  • Encourage creativity and sharing by making the session playful. Put inspirational items on the table like fidget toys, electronic gadgets, or pictures. Give participants colored markers, and play upbeat music if your group will not be distracted by it.
  • A group of more than 12 will generate more ideas, but is harder to manage in person. Consider remote conferencing and whiteboard tools for such groups.

Learn About Variants & Sub-Methods

  • Brainwriting. Participants write down a series of ideas for several minutes, then pass their list to the person next to them. They then add ideas to this list for a few minutes, pass the list around again, and so on.
  • Discovery Studios. Stakeholders, designers, and potential users sketch designs and features, then present them for discussion. Participants vote on them, then do more sketches to narrow down ideas.
  • Free-Listing. Participants are presented with a problem or category, then write down as many ideas as they can think of on their own.
  • Love Letter/Breakup Letter. Team members or users write to an existing product twice: once to express what you love about the product, and once to express what you dislike. Participants collaborate to find commonalities and generate improvement ideas.
  • Reverse Brainstorming. When a brainstorming session has begun to stagnate, try Reverse Brainstorming. Participants suggest ways to make a product frustrating or confusing.
  • Sketchboarding. Participants sketch ideas and put them on a wall for other participants to be inspired by.

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