Some brain exercises to kick start your thinking

With the last two blogs I’ve written I’ve outlined the ways to solve a problem with design thinking and the design sprint method.

However, the hardest step for most with these methods is the ideas phase. Especially for those who are not used to breaking barriers and letting your creativity run the show. So here I’m going to go through some of the top ideation techniques to pair with your new design sprint method, kicking off with one that is tried and true;



Now if you haven’t heard of this technique then I frankly don’t know who you are or what you’ve been doing since primary school. Brainstorming is all about sitting down with a group and creating a whole bunch of ideas in large quantities... And a little less about the quality of them (at least for the first stage). The key is to think as a group, bouncing ideas off each other and building on ones that look as though they may have some legs.

In order to get the most out of any brain storming session some the below framework can help hone in and focus the group as a whole.

  • Set a defined time for the session, and only come up with ideas, no judging or shooting them down.
  • Kick it off with a “how can we…” question, or frame the topic as a single problem.
  • Do not criticize or evaluate anyone or any idea within the session. This way people are more likely to share their ideas uninhibited.
  • Encourage the crazy. Make sure people are aware that their most outlandish ideas are welcomed just as much as the more practical ones.

As a bit of a spin off from the traditional brainstorming technique as above, Gamestorming can be used to help get people into it more through the concept of gamification. This helps to create a level of energy, engagement that lends itself perfectly to collaboration and problem solving. To do this you can kind of take your own liberties, as there are a heap of techniques out there that can act as your prompts from turning a regular thinking session into an impactful, highly engaged and gamified thinking sesh. Note, post-its are encouraged.



Scamper is an acronym designed to help get those brainwaves firing. Each letter stands for a word designed to work you through a range of motions

S – Substitute

The substitute technique focuses on the areas if the issue, product, service or solution that can be swapped out or replaced. Whether that is substituting it out for another element that already exists, or with something completely different. Asking Questions that guide the types of thinking. Some Questions to get you started are below

  • What part of the process can be substituted without affecting the whole project?
  • Who or what can be substituted without affecting the process?
  • What will happen when we replace part of the project with another?

C – Combine

The combine technique is used to think about the possibilities of merging concepts or stages of the process or product. This can lead to new innovative ideas on their own accord and can also be used to streamline any process, by combining steps and making things more efficient.

A – Adapt

Adapt intends to work to help you realise ways you can tweak or adjust your existing product and project for a better output or solution. This can facilitate massive changes or really small ones designed simply to optimise. To work this in you need to ask yourself and the team questions that guide thinking towards imply improvements, rather than replacements.

M – Modify

The modify technique refers to changing the process in a way that unleashes more innovative capabilities or solves problems. This change is more that just adjustment as it focuses on the overall process. For example, it can target reducing the project’s process or change our perspective of how to look at the problem. The questions asked under this rubric include:

P – Put to another use

This step is designed to get you thinking laterally rather than in a linear format. You have a product or system, but can it be used in any other way? Be applied to any other industry? Would it function differently if you popped it somewhere else? Or maybe you can think of a way to use the waste of this product or turn it into something completely different?

This part of the exercise is the best at facilitating pivots, which can be a fantastic activity for startups to consider when still developing their market.

E – Eliminate

This is when you are starting to hone in on the design of your product and make sure it’s got everything it needs, and not everything it doesn’t. Some of the questions to ask yourself and your team to get this thought process started are below:

  • How could you simplify this product?
  • What elements seem unnecessary?
  • What features could you eliminate without effecting the end result?
  • How could you make it smaller, faster, lighter, or more engaging?
  • What would happen if you took away part of this product? What would you have in its place?

R – Reverse

This step helps you think from the counter argument or counter product’s perspective. The way to go about this is to literally think about what would happen if you did the exact opposite of what you’re doing now. Whether that’s taking a design direction to the opposite end of the spectrum or swapping out the order of your existing user flow to see if you can see an alternative way to go about things. Reversing your thinking can help you see an alternative point of view and sway away from the generic.

And that, is SCAMPER in a nutshell. It can be used in anyway that really makes sense for what you want it to and the questions we’ve provided are simply examples on how you can use this technique to hone in your thinking and ideas


Worst possible idea

It may seem counterintuitive to start thinking up bad ideas when you have problems to solve and clients to make happy, but hear us out. The psychology behind this concept works best when you are plain stuck. If you’ve been thinking your head off but not coming up with anything new, innovative or creative, then turn to the reverse and think of the strange wonderfully-impractical things that will simply never work. This process helps you to free your mind up a little, ignore limitations that are set through the boundaries of what is practical or sellable, and exercise some creative thinking… and typically speaking when thinking about what is not going to work, you may just come up with the idea that will.



This technique works as a way to gather all the ideas and give your team a chance to really talk about their ideas, with no judgement or criticism. The concept comes into play by having two groups, splitting your team in half. They both make a circle individually, with one group sitting outside the circle and the other sitting inside the larger circle. The small group in the middle then take turns to think, bounce ideas off each other and dream up solutions and new concepts, while those sitting in the outside circle listen, think for themselves and take notes. They then reverse roles and repeat the exercise.

At the end, you bring both sets of notes, ideas and discussions to the table and can determine where to go from there, with everyone having had their turn to share ideas, increasing diversity of thinking and also creativity.


Creative Pause

A simple concept that isn’t actually anything new or innovative. Giving yourself time to pause, stop and reflect on your ideas is an important part of the process. Fresh perspectives and time away from projects can help you establish any new ideas and refine your existing ones. You’re also more likely to see problems the second time you look at something after a break in between. So that, is the simple concept of Creative Pause.



This is another technique that goes way back. Most people will have created mindmaps in the past, but they’re still an effective way to string together your ideas and solutions. Start by putting the main issue or key phrase in the centre of a page, then you simply write solutions or ideas around, creating connections with lines and grouping as you go to link similar ideas or combine ideas. By the end of the exercise, you should have a pretty clear idea about some of the best possible routes or directions to take.



Storytelling is at the heart of everything. Every design has a story and every user also has a story. It’s the number one medium for communicating. With Storyboarding, you develop a visual representation of the problem solution or concept, which helps you to explain or explore your ideas. Storyboarding brings solutions to life and it can show you what happens over time. You can create these for a website user experience or for a video concept, and they can be adapted to work in any industry. A lot of people are also visual learners, and storyboarding is a great way to speak to those types of people, helping to really understand and decide what it is your trying to articulate.


Challenge Assumptions

Challenging assumptions is a good way to test your thinking, and make sure you haven’t relied on guess work and falsely filled in information for yourself. This practice is particularly good when you’re stuck in the same thought patterns or have run out of ideas. It’s also good to implement when you are at a refining or testing stage - asking yourself if function, features and ideas are crucial and perfect for the market or if they’re simply there due to habit. The are particularly good when tackling a new user experience, making sure you’ve researched thoroughly and are thinking clearly about the scope and what is needed for the project to tick all the boxes.

Although there are plenty more ideation techniques where those come from, this collection is tried and true. A quick search however will lead you down a path of no return were you will find endless amount of information on different techniques to get the creative juices flowing. The important thing to consider is which one will work best for you and your team, as well as for the task at hand. With some tending towards more practical and problem solving thinking and others leaning further into the creative world, there will be a way to inspire and cultivate innovation within your company.