By Mike Hudspeth
A good way to do this is through what's known as ideation.
Similar to brainstorming, ideation begins with getting a general idea of the design problem and developing different ways to tackle it. This can be one of the most fun and productive stages in the development process. For one thing, it's a gas to go through numerous "what-if" scenarios without making concrete decisions. Here, you can freely express your "pie-in-the-sky" ideas. Jot down any idea that pops into your brain without worrying about practicality. The goal is to get creative juices flowing.
In addition to being fun, this stage boosts productivity because when designers don't classify ideas as good, better, and best, they can come up with piles of approaches. That's good! Remember, every idea has a potential application. Don't refine ideas. This stage is all about quantity, not quality. I can practically see the hackles going up at this statement, but bear with me.
Once you have acquired several different ways to do the job, then go back and whittle down. It's simple. Just go through the different options and find the ones that are feasible. By all means, use a line-item-veto method. When an idea isn't quite working but there are elements worth considering, extract the elements for inclusion in the next go-around. Pick, choose, and recombine. Look for what works for you. Michelangelo summed the method neatly: It's easy to chip a masterpiece out of a slab of rock. Just remove what doesn't belong.
As mentioned, the first round is for collecting ideas and the second whittles the pile down. The third stage is all about refinement. At this point, designers should have a fairly good idea of where their designs are headed. Now is the time to place limits. List three, and only three, concepts. Start adding the elements you definitely want in the finished product. This stage is a little harder than those previous. But at the end, you'll have three clear and complete concepts ready for presentation to a customer or management.
Mike Hudspeth, ISDA, is an industrial designer with more than two decades of experience. Got a question about industrial design? You can reach Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org