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  • Alana

BRAINSTORM: How to Use a Design Thinking Approach

Part 2 in a series exploring how we use the Engineering Design Process to create Momentix. The second step in the engineering design process is BRAINSTORM.

Brainstorming is quite possibly my favorite part of the Engineering Design Process. It's an opportunity to think creatively, wildly, and expansively: there are no wrong answers.

Brainstorming noun: a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from all members of the group

The key to a good brainstorming session is to ignore the skeptical, judgemental part of your mind-- the part that says “that’s not possible” or “that’s a dumb idea”-- and write down all of your ideas, unfiltered. You never know how one seemingly ridiculous idea may evolve! This unfiltered, creative type of thinking takes practice, so refrain from categorizing yourself or others as "uncreative" or "bad at brainstorming."

When Anna and I need to brainstorm something, we often turn to the design thinking approach. It looks something like this:

Start with a Question.

Write it down so everyone can see it. Read our last blog post on how to think of a good question, or see an example on our Instagram. This example was inspired by one of our Momentix Challenge cards.

Gather Supplies.

We use Post-it notes, stickers, markers.

Set a Timer and Think Limitlessly

Set a timer for say 5 minutes and write as many ideas as you can on separate post-it notes. Do this silently. The goal is to not overthink it or second guess yourself: we’re trying to think as divergently as possible! So don’t worry if it’s a doable idea or a good/bad idea, just write it down and move on! Whacky and absurd ideas welcome (and encouraged).

Display the Results

After the timer goes off, put everyone’s post-it note ideas on a board, wall, or table so they’re spread out and visible. Read them out loud as you go.

Group the Ideas

Rearrange the post-it notes into groups based off of similar ideas and themes. This isn't an exact science, so just start shifting ideas around until groups start to appear naturally. If working in a larger group, have two people be in charge of this. If you want, you can label the groupings to add more clarity.

Choose your Favorites

Give everyone 3-5 stickers (you can also use markers). Use the 3-5 stickers to mark your favorite ideas. They can be your own ideas.

Analyze and Discuss the Results

Which ideas have the most stickers? Which groupings have the most stickers? What patterns do you notice? Have people explain why they chose the ideas they did. Try combining multiple ideas into one!

Repeat (if you want)

Maybe there was a clear favorite idea or idea grouping, and now you want to expand on it. Repeat the process with a narrower question, zooming in on the results of the previous brainstorm.

Whether you're thinking of entirely new ideas or revisiting old ones, the brainstorm process injects excitement and life into a project.

Here are some questions to practice the brainstorming process with:

  • How might we make a _____ machine? (A confetti-tossing machine? A balloon popping machine? A doorbell-ringing machine?)

  • How could we move an object across the room without it touching the ground?

  • Pick an object. Brainstorm as many new uses for it as you can.

  • How could we make a ramp?

  • What other objects could we use as dominoes?

  • Instead of a ball, what could we use as instead? Brainstorm as many things that roll as you can.

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