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The “backstage” of an ideation workshop

The “backstage” of an ideation workshop

Author: Carmen Calvo del Valle, Service Design Manager

„Making a huge improvement to customer experience does not necessarily include a big investment. Very often, rather, it takes just a bit of creativity to make a difference.

Service Design is all about creating SPACE to come up with such new IDEAS“

From the book “This is Service Design Doing”

When people think about innovation, creativity process or Service Design, the first thing that comes to their minds is a board covered with plenty of post-its and guys having fun around it. And that happens! Ideation is funny and magical, BUT… creating synergy between different actors in the same room in a meaningful way is demanding and difficult to make happen.

Ideation is engaging. New ideas are more appealing than the tough work of researching, preparing and interpreting results…

Ideas are not the product of magic

I understand the distrust among managers and decision makers about designers and innovation consultants “generating new ideas” in order to “solve problems” with colourful notes and lots of drawings. They only see the tip of the iceberg and that’s what they judge. Can something valuable come from a two hour’ workshop and a board full of drawings and post-its? Of course not! I agree with them!

The thing is that ideation is much more than this, it is only a link in the chain. Idea generation makes sense when it follows good, deep and empathic research and a reliable data-synthesis (with tools such as persona, customer journeys, maps, blueprints, etc.) and as a beginning of the creation process (that includes idea prototyping and testing in the real market). It demands hard work before, during and after idea generation. It is not as “magical” at it seems. It is the result of hard work. After 2 or 3 hours of ideation workshop facilitation you feel as if you had run a long-distance marathon!

Ideas matter, of course. But what matters more is the work required before and after the ideas.

Idea generation chemistry

Having said that, I would like to share with you some tricks I have learnt in my facilitation experience. It is not easy to boost and encourage creativity and innovation! It is not easy to stand aside and let participants surprise you, nor is it easy to create constructive and positive communication among them.

I would say that the key to an ideation workshop success is good preparation:

  • choose the right participants,
  • prepare your visuals, panels and materials to show relevant research outputs,
  • ensure focus: what are we trying to solve?
  • think about the workshop flow: creating a safe space, set limits, “yes and…” vs. “yes but…”
  • plan your methods for generating ideas and prepare each and every required detail
  • have in mind the expected outputs without being too attached to them,
  • don’t forget to vote and cluster ideas; a good beginning could be the famous three lenses:
    • desirability (human),
    • viability (business),
    • and feasibility (technical).

Go wide – diverging and generating lots of ideas, and then go narrow – converging and choosing the viable ones which would deliver value to the company.

The result is a set of ideas or “ideas portfolio”, varying from little changes to strategic new designs, from a new app to a service gamification. Here the butterfly effect is fulfilled and the possible outputs are unpredictable. Welcome to the creative chaos!

Creativity and innovative ideas have a huge potential to improve customer experience and they have a big impact on company revenue. They can really make the difference. The point is being brave enough to allocate resources (time and money) and work hard to produce and implement them.