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Brainstorming is a group activity where participants work together to generate many ideas quickly and without judgement.

Why it’s useful

The value of brainstorming is that people working together can stimulate each other’s thinking — wild ideas prompt new thinking, ideas get built on, and new ideas emerge.

When to do it

Brainstorming is useful at any time in the design process, but is often particularly useful in the create phase and the develop phase. Try brainstorming when:

  • you have a blank page and don’t know where to begin
  • you’re stuck and don’t know how to progress
  • you have lots of information and you want to explore different aspects of it, for example, coming up with ideas in the create phase.

Create phase

Develop phase

How to do it

Brainstorming can be done in several ways. One way is to take a semi-structured approach.


  1. Frame the topic as a ‘How might we…’ statement.
    Frame this so that people can contribute ideas, not questions. The topic needs to be broad enough that people feel they can offer something new and ideas aren’t limited.
  2. Get the right people.
    Invite people who’ll bring a variety of views and experiences. Balance out technical experts with more conceptual thinkers. Make sure you get the numbers right so that everybody will be able to contribute. If it’s useful, provide people with light pre-reading.
  3. Choose your space.
    Find a space with blank walls and room for people to move around. Make sure you have enough paper, sticky notes and felt pens.

Facilitating the session

Aim to spend 10 to 15 minutes generating ideas, and 10 minutes creating themes for each topic.

  1. Set the scene.
    Before you get started, create a sense of energy and enthusiasm. Spend a couple of minutes explaining relevant context, and what you’d like to achieve with the brainstorm.
  2. Cover the brainstorming rules and give everyone permission to hold each other to the rules.
    Brainstorming rules
  3. Re-state the topic.
    Have the topic clearly visible. The ideas people come up with need to answer the ‘How might we…’ question.
  4. Start as individuals.
    For a few minutes, participants think about the topic and capture their ideas on sticky notes.
  5. Progress as a group.
    Ask for all the ideas to be shared aloud and listed under the topic. Continue to build on ideas (10 to 15 minutes).
  6. Group and theme ideas together.
    As a group, look for patterns or themes to group the ideas together. Name the groupings.
  7. Identify obvious winners.
    As a way to end the brainstorm, ask participants to vote on standout ideas or themes. Depending on your reason for brainstorming (quick generation or progressing thinking) you might ask people to note why they did or didn’t like the ideas.
  8. Thank the participants.

Brainstorming rules

  • Be open to all ideas — don’t make judgements.
  • Build on ideas — avoid ‘but’. Use ‘and’, explore ‘what if…’.
  • Explore even the most outrageous ideas — don’t jump to obvious solutions.
  • Make thoughts and ideas visible — enable all participants to contribute and build on ideas.
  • Stick to the topic — remember the purpose, focus on the outcome.
  • One conversation at a time.

‘6-3-5 brainstorming’

‘6-3-5’ is a technique for generating ideas. The aim of ‘6-3-5’ is to come up with 108 new ideas in half an hour. Like brainstorming, it’s more focused on the quantity of ideas than the quality.

6 participants sit in a group and are supervised by a moderator. Each participant thinks up 3 ideas every 5 minutes. The ideas are written down and passed on to the next participant. The participant reads the ideas and uses them as inspiration for more ideas. Participants are encouraged to draw on others’ ideas for inspiration.

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