Braindrawing: Another insight from UPA 2011

UPA 2011 Designing for Social Change

The last session I attended at UPA 2011 Chauncey Wilson’s “Brainstorming and Beyond: Ideation, Innovation, and Insight.”  The slides from his presentation aren’t yet available online (I’ll update this post with the link when available), but I’m including an earlier version that he presented with Amy Cueva. In the session he shares a number of alternatives to the traditional brainstorming techniques, including variations to ensure that all participants feel comfortable contributing.

One alternative technique that I particularly liked was braindrawing (see slide 26). Chauncey noted that this is a useful way to develop conceptual designs, ideas for icons, screen layouts, new feature designs, and even requirements. As I presented on the topic of usability requirements, this last benefit caught my attention. Early in my usability career, I led JAD sessions with SMEs, capturing their input in the form of white board drawings that they added to. The meetings were very successful and generated good design concepts and requirements. Still, What we might have created if we had used an approach like braindrawing to gather individual ideas and then combine the best rather than working on a single concept as a group.

I’ve also used conceptual drawings to test requirements as they were being developed. With a braindrawing session, instead of my presenting conceptual design sketches (usually in the form of incomplete user interfaces that I refer to as “sketchlets”), participants could sketch their interpretations of gathered requirements to test the soundness and completeness of requirements.

Another great application that Chauncey shared is to extract ideas from collected user research. I spoke about using user research in collaborative requirements workshops. Braindrawing would be a great technique to add to to the toolbox with analysis techniques such as affinity diagramming and relationship diagrams.

Chauncey noted a couple of cautions with the braindrawing technique. The most obvious is the potential for participants to try to opt out, believing they cannot draw. Chauncey said one of the main ways he reassures participants that any level of drawing is fine is by demonstrating that his own skills are good for communication, but aren’t exactly art. Having people work independently and then swap with neighbors in rounds is another options that minimizes the pressure of drawing in front of a group.

He also warned that braindrawing is limited to 3-4 rounds because people tend to fixate on particular images. As the rounds advance, the creativity tends to diminish from the open exploration of the first rounds.

I hope you find this technique as useful as I know it will be for me. If you are already using it, I’d love to hear your experiences, any lessons learned, and unique applications you’ve tried.

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