Download this article in .PDF format
This file type includes high resolution graphics and schematics when applicable.

1. What are the rules for brainstorming, particularly for medical device product development?

It is really critical to create the right environment when brainstorming. At IDEO we actually have brainstorming rules plastered above all of our conference rooms. It is part of our culture. The most important rules are to defer judgment and to build on the ideas of others. A brainstorm should be when all participants feel comfortable sharing anything that comes to mind, even if far-fetched or not feasible. Otherwise, you will not be as likely to reach really innovative ideas.

Brian Mason2. Who should be part of the team when brainstorming ideas for medtech?

Really anyone can be part of a brainstorm. We encourage around eight people from varied backgrounds—design research, engineering, interaction design, business design, product design, industrial design. If the topic is very mechanical or technical in nature, then invite folks who can bring that level of expertise. But think about reaching out to other folks who may have a different perspective to bring.

3. What is the one essential thing to remember when medical device engineers and designers begin brainstorming?

I would say that it is most important to really give yourself the freedom to not "naysay" ideas that are presented. You will have plenty of time to judge and evaluate ideas later on. But if you spend the brainstorm time shooting down ideas, you really won't generate the quantity and breadth of ideas you need to uncover new innovations. Give yourself the space and permission to be creative—and that means saying "yes, and…" and not "no, but…"

4. What should designers expect to take away from a productive brainstorming session?

Designers should expect to take away over 100 ideas in an hourlong brainstorm. The ideas generated in a brainstorm should be like popcorn—quick. Encourage participants to jot down their idea on a Post-it note (no more than 10 words) and create a sketch as well to give it life. Then ask designers to share their idea as they come to mind—just as you would if you had 10 seconds in an elevator. Each idea does not deserve a long explanation. Share it, stick it up on the wall, and move on. It is about quantity.

5. How does brainstorming fuel innovation?

It is impossible to be innovative without giving yourself the time to think freely. Too often we overly limit ourselves (and others) with all sorts of constraints. If you just sit at your desk and think hard, you will come up with whatever ideas fit within the assumptions you have in place. A collaborative brainstorm allows you to concisely frame the problem ("how might we...") and then invite a range of people and perspectives to generate a lot of ideas. The most important thing is that the ideas will be prompted by other's experiences and expertise. They might have flaws, but those ideas will open up others to think about analogous ideas and soon you might have something new and innovative. It is all about people creating a mind-map right there, live in the room.

Remember, the rules of brainstorming are: defer judgment, encourage wild ideas, build on the ideas of others, stay focused on the topic, one conversation at a time, be visual, go for quantity.

Download this article in .PDF format
This file type includes high resolution graphics and schematics when applicable.