Inside Whipsaw: The Creative Brainstorm

By Gabrielle Whelan

There’s no right way to reimagine a product, but creating a truly awe-inspiring design does require a certain mix of chemistry and synergy behind the scenes. Here at Whipsaw, we invite members of our industrial design, mechanical engineering and UX divisions to each contribute their unique perspectives when conceptualizing a design. That said, as seasoned brainstormers, here are our top five tips on how to problem solve in a collaborative setting.

 

1. Think like a user

You will likely come armed to a collaborative meeting with a variety of ideas on how to improve a product if you already use it in your everyday life. In other words, to think like a user, you must become one. To get the brainstorm juices flowing, the Whipsaw team first tests out existing products and talks to users in a client’s intended market at the beginning of the design process. Says Ari Turgel, Director of Industrial Design, “Talking to users—both novice and expert—allows our design team to look past biases and find key opportunities and insights they might not otherwise uncover when working in their local creative bubble.” This emphasis on communication helps our designers get to the heart of the matter faster and improve a product’s form and function in a way the user will genuinely appreciate. The second ingredient for stirring up a brainstorm is passion. While you may not feel instantly passionately about every product a client tasks you to redesign, it is possible to manufacture passion. To achieve this, go out there and use the similar products on the market that do not incite passion in you and identify why. Once you locate that missing wow factor, you can incorporate it directly into your proposed redesign. 

 

2. Next, think like an extreme user

One surefire way to think on a macro level about all the potential experiences your product’s future users will have is to think like an “extreme user” (i.e., the users with the most specialized needs). Says Whipsaw Senior UX Designer Brian Leach, “I strongly believe in talking to people and doing qualitative research with users, and most importantly, finding the extreme user of a product.” The classic example of the extreme user paradigm is when Oxo set out to reimagine the potato peeler and considered the needs of their product’s extreme users to inform their redesign. In this case, the extreme users were those suffering from arthritis, so Oxo focused on creating a peeler that was larger and easier-to-grasp. The redesigned peeler, known as the Good Grip Line, employed this extreme user approach and went on to become a bestseller for all types of users.

 

3. Think outside the box

Leach also recommends looking beyond normal spheres of influence, taking cues from other industries, and contributing those ideas to the think tank. For example, a company hoping to reimagine the hospital experience began by researching hotels. They then pulled the components that bring hotel guests the most comfort into their vision for hospital stays. Another strategy to remain outside of that dreaded box is to think of analogous products during your brainstorm. If you are tasked with redesigning a cup, for instance, rather than looking at other cups on the market, you could examine other container-like products such as bowls or vases for inspiration. 

 

4. Throw out what you know

We are all trained as children to think in structured ways, and as a result we lose some of the inherent childlike creativity that the design process demands. To get it back, it’s sometimes best to discard what you know. Says Industrial Designer Yale Shaw, “To come up with something fresh and exciting, you need to break down everything you know about the product, along with all the laws and principles in the industry that say this is what the product has to be like. Throw the product out the window and come at it in a new way.” Thus, approaching a project from a non-linear perspective, and determining what kind of product you would have created to solve a specific problem from a blank slate is crucial in brainstorming sessions, and it’s a way you can stay ahead of the curve.

 

5. Bring a unique point of view to the table, but stay open to feedback

When conceptualizing a new design, the Whipsaw team thrives on communicating their unique opinions and then giving and receiving feedback. Each team member’s personal perspectives and insights shape the idea into something tangible. Says Industrial Designer Mark Hearn, “I especially enjoy the start of each project at Whipsaw. We always have a good open debate in terms of strategy, what’s best for the client, and what’s best for the brand. We have a shotgun approach to design where each designer is given leeway to come up with their own vision and strategy, and we then relay that to the team for constructive debate that leads to innovation synthesis.”

 

Once the core concept is created, naturally, the client will want to see options within that range, so leaving room for variations in textures, colors, etc, is also invaluable. In other words, don’t get attached to any one of your concepts before a client has had a chance to provide input. Instead, get wedded to your overall design concept. (Because if you’re passionate about it, chances are, the client and consumer will be too.)

Obviously, there is no official playbook for how to navigate the creative think tank, but these guidelines continue to serve us well. We view each challenge as a fresh opportunity to introduce a meaningful and exciting design into the world. Industrial designers are in a unique position because the ideas that result from brainstorming sessions could save a life—or simply make life easier or more enjoyable while also just looking super cool—and at Whipsaw, we know that to make our mark requires every innovative mind in the room.