Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Visualizing Ideation - My Project Proposal

I just completed a quick write-up of what I intend to produce in my Systems Visualization course this semester. Since I'm obsessed with the Customer-to-Ideation-to-Design process, I figure a visualization of Ideation as a system was a worthy goal. Here's my write-up. Please provide feedback if you have any. 

The development of new ideas is traditionally viewed as an unpredictable and ambiguous process best left to creative people and brainstorming sessions. Yet, history has shown us that ideas do not as haphazardly as one may think. In fact, the most well-known ideas often emerge, adapt, and evolve in predictable patterns. More specifically, the majority of “new” ideas are not new at all, but simply existing concepts that are re-purposed, evolved, or merged to create some new instance of the existing idea. As these ideas come together, they collectively behave in a Darwinian manner, slowly evolving, branching, and discarding as necessary with each innovation. Ideas can be as grand or as simple as one would like, from Einstein’s Theory of Relativity down to a homeowner’s clever fix for a creaky floorboard.

 In the course of this semester, I am going to attempt to visually represent the ideation process as a functioning, evolving system of interconnected components. The two primary components of the system are the internal mind of the idea developer and the surrounding external environment. At any given time, each component contains its own intentions, capabilities, knowledge, and problems in need of solutions. When the two components interact, an environment for ideation is developed. To pull a concept from the discipline of system design, ideas are the emergent properties of the internal and external components. I will put particular focus on visualizing the “patterns of ideation”, as I believe that these provide a critical foundation for an improved pro-active ideation framework. A major challenge in this effect will be in the representation of the full spectrum of ideation sources, from accidental discovery of the “adjacent possible” through the pro-active adaption and evolution of existing concepts.

 While I develop this visual model, I will be coordinating with the work of classmate Matt Harper, who is exploring the management and ultimate realization of ideas. One of the outcomes that I hope to achieve from this work is a visual representation of an optimal model for repeatedly developing innovative, high-quality ideas. After all, any organization interested in innovation should model their process after the way ideas emerge, connect, and evolve in nature. The concept of “ideas as connections” is interesting as it suggests value in an organized, patterns-driven, connection-based ideation system over unstructured ideation. Some may suggest that an attempt to structure and constrain the ideation process would only hinder the creative mind. However, it is this tension itself brought forth by constraints that often brings about the most innovative solutions. I will attempt to visualize how this tension emerges across the components of the ideation system.   

Finally, I will attempt to validate and iterate the ideation visualization by mapping some of the most influential ideas in history against my model. The source I will use for this will be Time Magazine’s recent publication: “100 Ideas That Changed the World”. I would like to visually demonstrate this full range of influential ideas within my visualization in hopes that it will reveal insights about the ideation system. In this project, I will leverage insights on ideation developed over the past decade as a professional designer entrenched in the creative process. I will also draw from the readings of leading ideation and innovation experts, including Steven Johnson, W. Brian Arthur, Tim Brown, and many others. 

Concept design from February 9, 2011


  1. Nice, Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Creating a quick write-up of your systems visualization was certainly a good idea. It can certainly help with thesis writing as all of the information and data you need are properly organized. Anyway, I do hope everything went well with your project.