All great websites start with raw, creative ideas. Brainstorming is the process of birthing these ideas and then determining ways to bring them to fruition.
When most people brainstorm, they just come up with ideas and nothing more. But in order for brainstorming to be effective, you must filter your ideas and then figure out how to put your best ideas into action.
It’s widely believed that brainstorming with more people leads to more ideas, but there are also benefits to brainstorming alone. When you brainstorm solo, you don’t worry about what other people think about your ideas, and you don’t have to wait till someone is finished talking to share your thoughts. You are completely free to jot down all of the ideas that occur to you. The downside of brainstorming alone is that you don’t have anybody to bounce ideas off of and collaborate with, so you’re limited by your own experiences and knowledge.
There are also disadvantages associated with brainstorming in a group. Generally, one or two people end up stealing the show and others forget their ideas while they wait for their turn to speak. Furthermore, criticism can pervade group brainstorming sessions, killing good ideas before they even have a chance to survive.
Overall, it’s a good idea to combine brainstorming alone with brainstorming as a group, so you can get the best of both worlds. Creativity comes from a blend of individual and collective brainstorming. The members of a team can brainstorm alone first and then present all of their ideas in a group. This gives everybody in the group a chance to express their opinions but at the same time benefit from the knowledge and experience of others.
If you decide to brainstorm as a group, limit the group to five to six people. Make sure that your brainstorming meetings are productive by assigning a skilled and experienced moderator to guide the sessions. Although it’s important to let ideas flow freely, it’s also crucial to bring things back on track if they start veering off in unrelated directions.
Ideally, the moderator will be an outgoing, extroverted person who is capable of directing a team without seeming like an authoritarian. It’s important to pick a moderator who makes people feel comfortable because you want people to feel safe sharing their ideas and opinions.
In order to come up with web design ideas that wow your audience, set goals for your brainstorming sessions. For example, if your website’s sales have dropped, perhaps you need to design a more effective website and the goal of your brainstorming session should be to create website features that encourage repeat business. Avoid vague goals like, “Build an awesome website”, and focus on achievable, measurable goals like, “Create a new logo and color palette for our website.”
Don’t just end a brainstorming session when people stop talking. Set a time limit so that people are encouraged to stay on track and come up with as many ideas as possible within a given time limit. The time limit you set should depend on the scope of the project. People get burnt out easily, so it’s ideal to split up brainstorming sessions for a larger project to give people time to recuperate. The more time you provide during a brainstorming session, the less likely participants are to focus.
Prepare sketchpads, post-it notes, whiteboards, and images for making collages. Every idea that the group comes up with, whether good or bad, should be sketched out or written down. If you don’t take note of everyone’s ideas somehow, you’ll likely forget them.
Walt Disney, one of the greatest film producers and innovators of all time, broke up the brainstorming process into three stages. Each stage of the process took place in a different room. Disney’s effective brainstorming method can be used for any creative process, including web design.
1. The first stage of the brainstorming process takes place in a spacious room with a high ceiling. People sit in a circle facing each other to collaborate more effectively. This stage is all about coming up with ideas, no matter how crazy they may seem. There are absolutely no restrictions or limits during this stage.
2. The second stage of the brainstorming process is all about execution. This is the moment when the whiteboards, dry-erase markers, and sketchbooks come out. The group sits in a semi-circle facing the facilitator and everyone fleshes out the best ideas from the first stage of the process. The question everyone tries to answer during this stage is, “How can these ideas be achieved and executed?” Factors that the group will take into consideration include timing and logistics.
3. During the third stage, the group analyzes all of their ideas, shares their doubts, and asks hard questions to determine whether the ideas they’ve come up with are truly capable of meeting their objectives. It’s best to do this type of in-depth analysis in a small, constrained space. At Walt Disney Studios, the crew used a small room under the stairs to hold these meetings. The members of the group sat in a single row facing the plan they came up with to encourage criticism of the plan and not each other. The ideas that survive this third stage are the ideas that your team can work on.
In a typical brainstorming session, people don’t even get past the first stage. Disney’s brainstorming strategy is useful for transforming your creative ideas into practical, real-life solutions.