CHI Ideation Sessions | A Tool for Brainstorming

Project Description

Another intern and I were tasked with creating a tool for ideation while at Roundarch Isobar. The goal was not for meaningful talk, but to be loud, cramped, crazy, and beer-and-pizza-fueled fun. The goal was to reach into the heads of the brilliant people at Isobar and root around in their collective subconscious, and “yank out whole handfuls of awesome.” Topics could be anything — answering questions on existing projects, how to break into new markets, or simply what the company is thinking about any topic at any given moment.

We conducted 3 pilot studies, allowing us to fine tune the process and make sure that different personalities felt included.

Project Details

Client Isobar
Date 2013
Skills UX, research protocols, qualitative coding
Role UX lead, 2 person team with guidance from Dave Meeker

Starting the Session

We started each session by discussing the ground rules, the Rules of Brainstorming, developed by Stanford’s D-School. Once the session had started, we initially designed it intentionally so that it couldn’t be paused or stopped.


The Question

Once started, you’d be given a few seconds to prepare yourself and a question would pop up on the screen for 5 minutes. A countdown on the right would let you know how much time you had left and the screen would blink, warning the group that time running out. Discussion could get heated, so having a secondary method for alerting participants was useful.

After the second pilot study, we reduced the discussion time down to 3 minutes and provided participants with buttons that could stop and restart the timer, allowing them more control over the system.

Visual Capture of Discussion

We had integrated microphones and leveraged Google’s NLP api to allow us to visually display the most common, yet meaningful words and phrases.

What we learned

  • People can talk about anything. Topics spanned between “Ironman vs. Superman” to “What is the value of administering tests during the interview process?” to a random image.
  • Invading people’s spaces is a good thing. We added features that were intentionally disruptive, such as buttons to press when they wanted to talk, because they took people out of their comfort zone and forced people to adapt to the conversation.
  • Facilitation is necessary for focused topics. Discussion can get heated or serious and our goal was to not have one participant overpower other participants.
  • Balancing real topics with fun topics made for more fruitful discussion. It allowed people to tie different discussions together.
  • Active participation vs. passive participation. We had recruited participants with purpose for the first two pilot studies. The first time we sought the rowdiest people and the second time, we asked much quieter people. We wanted to see how the session would change across personalities. We found that adding the button to the discussion allowed quieter people to participate in their own way, whether it was pressing the button so that they could passively participate and control the conversation, or be an active participant by being vocal.

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