Design methods #45 – Brainstorm Graphic Organizers

Apr 17 2017

Source: Wikipedia (

Brainstorming typically generates lists of new ideas and concepts, although these are often unstructured. Brainstorm graphic organisers help to structure ideas visually and in doing so often help researchers and designers to create new ideas, linkages and inter-relationships relating to a specific business challenge or problem space.

One of the mantras for idea generation is “quantity before quality” by withholding criticism and building on other people’s ideas iteratively. However, without inhibitions, it can then become challenging to keep a “big picture” view of the themes and spaces that emerge in relation to the original question. Graphic frameworks are a great tool for helping teams to build a more holistic perspective and make connections across all the ideas generated.

A number of different frameworks are typically used, but the most common are:

Mind Maps (sometimes called brainstorming webs, read more here) build a map of ideas as they emerge from a central question or concept by identifying the main themes and ideas, and then sub-themes and their relationship to the core question. Such maps are best built from the inside out (starting with the core question) although they can also be developed by taking a large number of ideas and then abstracting back to the core themes.

Source: Lifehacker blog (

Tree Diagrams help create hierarchy and can help provide a greater sense of categories and the relationship between the key ideas and supporting items. They are typically constructed from the top down or from the bottom up, reflecting either inductive or deductive thinking in the brainstorming process (and are often based on the outputs from primary research – read more here, here and here).

Flow Diagrams help document a series of events in sequence (see above). They can represent the actions of different people or parts of a system, showing a process and the inter-relationship (cause and effect) between the elements or events. Therefore, flow diagrams almost always have a beginning and an end and implied sequence in time, although sometimes they may close into closed-loop systems.

Such brainstorming graphics help model the way the brain processes and stores information by mirroring the architecture of networks of ideas, helping designers and researchers find sense and structure in sometimes complex ideas, For a brain that is primarily a pattern recognition machine, these visual approaches help us to see the patterns and make the connections that can help us to find winning ideas.


Universal Methods of Design by Martin & Hanington

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