Brainstorming: The Root of All Great Product Designs

The best product designs often represent the outpouring of ideas from many individual contributors with different perspectives and objectives. A great analogy to describe this process is to compare it to eight people standing around a statue and describing what they see from their perspective.

Each person will view the same object from a different position and thus describe it from their point of view. The culmination of all these interpretations will provide a much truer description of the statue, versus a single viewer’s point of view. This process of collaboration is often referred to as brainstorming.

Effectively managing a brainstorming session takes skill and is somewhat of an art form. The moderator must encourage individual participants to express their ideas and challenge those of others without fear of embarrassment or retribution. In addition to encouraging participation, the moderator must also focus comments and ideas on specific critical features required by the product design. A good moderator must also balance objectivity with the goal of identifying the optimal specifications for a product.

Well-managed brainstorming sessions are exciting and extremely productive. Countless ideas can quickly emerge from a small group of individuals. Conflicting ideas are often expressed by the contributors throughout these sessions,. It’s up to the moderator to record these contradictions and prioritize them based on management’s priorities. The focus of topics can be broad or specific depending upon the phase of design development.

For example, during the first phase of product design a project manager is often faced with a simple question: “How should this product be configured and what features must it have?” There may be some basic idea for the product’s function, but a detailed description of how it is configured, how it should look, what it should cost, or what features it must have are not specified.

Assembling a group of individuals from marketing, manufacturing, upper management, engineering and service will provide a diverse pool of opinions from individuals with very different job responsibilities. A different assembly of individuals may be more appropriate if the product design cycle is it a later stage of development. If the design is being detailed for production, individuals from manufacturing, tooling and engineering might be a more appropriate group to brainstorm technical challenges encountered during that phase of development. The focus of these brainstorming sessions could include tooling complexity versus a number of parts, aesthetic features versus tooling cost, structural requirements versus material selection and mold design, etc.

I have personally designed hundreds of products throughout my career and have discovered the benefits of brainstorming and collaboration with others throughout the design process. My experiences working with others have dramatically accelerated the completion of my design projects, as well as providing my clients with designs that have proven to satisfy everyone’s expectations. This high level of satisfaction is a direct result of the synergy derived from diverse points of view and the creative contributions of numerous collaborators.

Hopefully, this brief editorial will encourage you to consider structuring a well-organized brainstorming session during critical milestones of a product development cycle. I assure you that your design solutions will prove to be much more successful versus those that have been developed by isolated individuals with teams.

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Michael Paloian, President, Integrated Design Systems, Inc.

Mike Paloian, an authority in industrial and commercial product design, is an inventor, lecturer and educator. He is president of Integrated Design Systems, Inc. (IDSYS), an award-winning industrial design firm. Mr. Paloian is a faculty member, Plastics Engineering, University of Massachusetts Lowell, and a Contributing Design Editor for industry publications.