Bad Ideas

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What are Bad Ideas?

Bad ideas is a method design teams use for ideation and divergent thinking, to focus on the quantity—not quality—of their ideas and explore the design space. In a relaxed, judgment-free setting, designers think outside the box and imagine ideas that seem bad but which they can analyze to see the bad and good qualities.

Using Ideation to Build Castles in the Sky, then the Bridges

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Divergent Thinking is vital to Finding the Good in Bad Ideas

The term “ideation session” might suggest an image of design teams striving to produce “the best solution” to a design problem as quickly—and as rationally—as possible. However, this approach is often counterproductive since:

  1. People feel restrained by the logical, analytical linear thinking mode which they’ve learnt to practice elsewhere.

  2. The pressure to keep on this track as they search for “the right answer” creates an atmosphere of judgmentalism.

So, someone might have a “crazy-sounding” (but potentially useful) idea and hesitate to declare it, perhaps fearing it might make them look foolish, time-wasting or even anti-management. Pressured to think up “good” ideas, the team member silently considers that idea—without really assessing its value as a potential solution—then abandons or forgets it as the ideation session grinds onward. So, it becomes almost impossible for everyone to pool the best of their creative talents; unless they can channel their cognitive activity freely and explore the design space in all directions.

That’s where divergent thinking comes in, ideally early in the ideation stage of your design process. A “less than” sign (<) visually represents how the thinking starts at one focal point and expands outward as more novel and unique ideas and combinations get added. Similar to another brainstorming technique—worst possible idea—bad ideas is about being free to truly focus on ideating. It’s both a method and a tool that involves disruptive and lateral thinking. As the name suggests, you deliberately go for bad ideas. Everyone can explore fearlessly and think outside the box to generate as many ridiculous-sounding ideas as they can. Then, you analyze these to see what’s bad about them, but also what’s good and which aspects might work as part of a great idea.

© Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0

Take 4 Steps to Find the Good in Bad Ideas

Try these steps to come up with something good from bad ideas: 

  1. Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes. Write down as many bad ideas for the topic you’re working on as possible.

  2. Analyze what’s bad about your ideas. For each idea, ask yourself:

    1. What’s bad about this idea?

    2. Why is this a bad thing?

    3. Are there any other things that share this feature which aren’t bad?

    4. If so, what’s the difference?

  3. Analyze what’s good about your ideas. For each idea, ask yourself:

    1. What’s good about this idea?

    2. Why is this a good thing?

    3. Are there any other things that share this feature which aren’t good?

    4. If so, what’s the difference?

  4. Make your ideas better. For each idea, ask yourself:

    1. Are there good aspects you want to keep?

    2. Are there bad aspects you want to change?

    3. What if the context were different?

    4. Describe the modified idea.

For example, if you imagined an app that automatically uploaded a user’s photos to all their social media sites at once and transcribed what the user said (while taking the picture) as the caption, you might begin analyzing it like this:

  1. Bad – The danger of showing every photo without considering consequences.

  2. Bad because – It’s too easy to record unflattering comments, accidentally tag people, violate privacy, maybe activate it unintentionally, etc.

Now you have some reasons for “I can’t create something like that!”. However, as you work through these steps and build up a vocabulary to understand your design space, you may find aspects that suggest you can create it. For instance, what if you substituted some parts of that bad idea with their opposite? You might end up considering a “safety-catch” to prevent accidental/alcohol-fueled uploads. Or how about a pre-set filter so customers could share only with family/friends while journalists could take advantage of the sheer power of conveniently capturing history as it happens?

Overall, with bad ideas you have immense freedom to explore, analyze and adjust. So, if an idea really is awful, you have maximum leeway to discover why and what bits of it you might just be able to turn into something helpful.

© Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0

“There are many reasons why we, as a society, abandon creative thinking as we enter adulthood. For one, creativity is messy and uncertain; it goes against everything we learn along the way in formal education and through socialization.”

— Yazin Akkawi, Founder & principal designer of MSTQ UX design studio

Learn More about Bad Ideas

Take our Creativity course for a fuller understanding of bad ideas in ideation.

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This UX Collective blog nicely explores aspects of what bad ideas can do and why.

Read one designer’s insightful take on bad ideas.

Literature on Bad Ideas

Here’s the entire UX literature on Bad Ideas by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Bad Ideas

Take a deep dive into Bad Ideas with our course Creativity: Methods to Design Better Products and Services .

The overall goal of this course is to help you design better products, services and experiences by helping you and your team develop innovative and useful solutions. You’ll learn a human-focused, creative design process.

We’re going to show you what creativity is as well as a wealth of ideation methods―both for generating new ideas and for developing your ideas further. You’ll learn skills and step-by-step methods you can use throughout the entire creative process. We’ll supply you with lots of templates and guides so by the end of the course you’ll have lots of hands-on methods you can use for your and your team’s ideation sessions. You’re also going to learn how to plan and time-manage a creative process effectively.

Most of us need to be creative in our work regardless of if we design user interfaces, write content for a website, work out appropriate workflows for an organization or program new algorithms for system backend. However, we all get those times when the creative step, which we so desperately need, simply does not come. That can seem scary—but trust us when we say that anyone can learn how to be creative­ on demand. This course will teach you ways to break the impasse of the empty page. We'll teach you methods which will help you find novel and useful solutions to a particular problem, be it in interaction design, graphics, code or something completely different. It’s not a magic creativity machine, but when you learn to put yourself in this creative mental state, new and exciting things will happen.

In the “Build Your Portfolio: Ideation Project”, you’ll find a series of practical exercises which together form a complete ideation project so you can get your hands dirty right away. If you want to complete these optional exercises, you will get hands-on experience with the methods you learn and in the process you’ll create a case study for your portfolio which you can show your future employer or freelance customers.

Your instructor is Alan Dix. He’s a creativity expert, professor and co-author of the most popular and impactful textbook in the field of Human-Computer Interaction. Alan has worked with creativity for the last 30+ years, and he’ll teach you his favorite techniques as well as show you how to make room for creativity in your everyday work and life.

You earn a verifiable and industry-trusted Course Certificate once you’ve completed the course. You can highlight it on your resume, your LinkedIn profile or your website.

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