Design Thinking Chronicles: A Beginner’s Guide to Productive Brainstorming [Online Brainwriting Template]

Brainstorming. A brilliantly simple concept for generating new ideas. No wonder it’s the most used ideation technique in a design thinking process. Yet, as simple as it is, not everyone is doing it well. In this blog post, we’ll give you a few simple suggestions for more productive brainstorming. 

Prepare the Brainstorming Environment

Before you start brainstorming, you need to set up some ground rules to be sure that everyone is on the same page. Here are five rules to create positive and motivational brainstorming environment.

1. No Negativity

There is a known brainstorming motto: No idea is a bad idea. Defer your judgment and stop your negativity. There’s no place for criticism in brainstorming sessions. Create a positive environment where all members can freely express their ideas.

2. Encourage Wild Ideas

Remember how every idea is a good idea? Well, then a crazy idea is the best idea! In the brainstorming session, nothing is too crazy or wild. Only after the brainstorming ends you’ll filter out unattainable or impractical ideas. 

3. Build on Other People’s Ideas

This is an advantage of a group brainstorming. By sharing their ideas at loud, other participants can start a real storm of ideas in your mind. You can build up ideas on other people’s proposals or combine two ideas into a third one.

4. Stay focused

No emails, no calls, no interruptions. Call off all the meetings and conferences. Turn off the sound on all devices in the brainstorming session room. You need to be fully focused on the ideas.

5. Everyone Takes Part

The person who guides the brainstorming session has to ensure that each member participates. There’s no hiding behind those loud ones. If there are introverts among brainstorming team, the moderator should engage them.

Brainstorming Rules. Photo Courtesy: Gavin O’Leary

Present the Problem

We have talked about problem definition in our last blog post. To be sure that everyone understands the goal of the brainstorming, you need to clearly define the problem.

Guide the Brainstorming Discussion

The main part of brainstorming is the ideation itself. Unless you want to end up in a chaotic clamor, this stage has to be guided. You can use one or more techniques to help you out through the processHere is a list of some of the most popular brainstorming techniques that will result in brilliant and innovative ideas.

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Reverse Brainstorming

This is a technique where you reverse the whole process of brainstorming. Instead of finding a solution to a problem, you are looking for any possible way of causing the problem. This is the most useful method when you can’t directly find a solution to a problem. The process looks like this:

1. Clearly identify the problem or challenge.

2. Reverse the problem by asking: “How could I cause the problem?”

3. Brainstorm the reverse problem to find reverse problem solutions.

4. Once you have gathered all solutions to a reverse problem, reverse them into solution ideas for the original problem.

5. Test these solutions.

Reverse vs Standard Brainstorming
Reverse vs Standard Brainstorming. Photo Courtesy: Eugene Shteyn
The Stepladder Technique

The Stepladder is another great brainstorming technique. This method helps you avoid falling into a trap of groupthink. Groupthink occurs when a group reaches a consensus without thinking critically about the lead idea. The method itself is very simple:

1. Group leader presents the problem to all the members of the group. It is important that he doesn’t direct the group in any way. Leave adequate time for each member to study the problem.

2. Form the initial group of two people who will discuss the problem among themselves.

3. Add a new team member to the group. The new member presents his/her ideas before hearing any previously discussed ideas.

4. Add another team member and repeat the process from the step 3 until there is no team member left to add.

5. Made a final decision after hearing ideas from all team members.

Brainstorming - stepladder
The Stepladder technique. Photo Courtesy: Rebecca David

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Brainwriting is an easy alternative to the classic verbal brainstorming. In the classic version, each participant contributes with only one idea at a time. But, brainwriting allows each member to write down as many ideas as they want at the same time as others.

There is a modern, online version of brainwriting. It is carried out on online whiteboards, instead of their traditional counterparts. In the online brainwriting, every member participates at the same time on the same online board. The big plus of using online whiteboard is the possibility of remote brainstorming. You don’t need to be in the same office or even on the same continent. This is very convenient for international businesses.

Brainwriting vs Brainstorming
Brainwriting vs Brainstorming

Click the interactive online whiteboard below and start your own brainwriting session.

1. Click the tool menu and choose the sticky note tool

2. Invite other team members by clicking the invite/share button and have your creative juices flow.

3. Move sticky note by clicking it and moving it with the four-headed arrow.

4. Add as many sticky notes as you want by double-clicking anywhere on the board.

5. Change the color of the sticky note by clicking the sticky note and color wheel tool.

Crawford’s Slip Writing Approach

Crawford Slip writing is designed to generate ideas from large groups of people. Using this method you’ll be sure that everyone is participating and no one is dominating. The process is simple:

1. Present the problem to the entire group.

2. Hand out the certain amount of “slips” of paper to each participant.

3. Give participants the time to write down ideas. They need to write down each idea on a separate slip.

4. Collect the slips and remove duplicate ideas.

5. Assess the ideas.

Have you tried some other brainstorming method yourself? We want to hear them  – email us at

Design Thinking Chronicles: How to Define the Problem [Free KWL Chart Template]

Defining the problem is an integral part of design thinking process. It requires the clear understanding of the user’s needs and it’s often the hardest part of the process. Follow these practical steps and look at how we defined the problem with a help of Space Saturate and KWL Chart. 

Making a Good Problem Definition


You need to frame a problem statement according to the specific user and his needs. The human is in the center of the problem, so avoid defining the problem around a technology or a product.

Broad enough to allow creativity

Don’t be too specific about the implementation of the solution of the problem. Of course, you can’t build a spaceship if you are an interior design company, but try not to focus on the specific solution. Give yourself a space for creativity and various designs.

Narrow enough to make it manageable

On the other hand, don’t be too broad with your statements. It will cause the confusion about the clear actions your team members need to take. There have to be some constraints that will show you the right direction of the next steps.

Design thinking problem definition

A Problem Definition Process

I’m gonna guide you through the problem definition process that we have made in AWW app. The goal was to find out which functional and user experience problems are users facing while using different visual collaboration tools.

We decided that testing out tools ourselves will bring the best results. Firstly, we have defined the most common use cases with the help of our customers. Then, we have selected few most popular visual collaboration tools. We have rolled up our sleeves and tested three collaboration whiteboard tools during a three-day period.

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Since we got very broad results, we decided to focus on one specific use case. So, we selected visual concept building for developers. Then, we picked another three tools to test out. This time tools were more specific as well.

We picked up the list of online concept mapping and workflow visualization tools that were ranked as most used and best one. That enabled us to see and feel the same worries that users are facing when using certain tools every day. So, we ended up with the list of observations and suggestions from the user point of view. 

Space Saturate and Group

Space saturate and group is a method of bundling ideas, observations and experiences that you have gained in the first phase of design thinking process. It is a collage of findings from entire team gathered in one place.

Design thinking , Space Saturate
Space Saturate and Group. Courtesy of The Interaction Design Foundation.

We have made our space saturation on a separate Trello board. But then we realized that’s not visual enough, so we copied all our observations on a clear AWW board. Then, we grouped the observations and synthesized them in clusters. The result was a clear vision of the problem users are facing when using visual collaboration tools.

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KWL Chart

To visualize the path of our learning, we made a KWL chart inside AWW board.

Design thinking , KWL Chart
KWL Chart in Design Thinking: Visualization of the Problem Defining Process

The above KWL chart shows what we had known, what we wanted to know and what we have learned. So, our testing process resulted in these facts:

  • there are a lot of specialized tools for concept mapping and workflow visualization on the market
  • most of them are not user-friendly in terms of accessibility and intuitiveness
  • you need to go through several steps of the registration process before starting using them
  • tools offer a limited set of highly specialized features
  • they are not flexible enough on the things you can do in your own style
  • tools are overpacked with the pre-made assets, so it’s hard to make a way
    through them
  • there are the limited number of users with whom you can share the concepts

Here is the interactive KWL chart that you can edit with your own findings and observations. You can even invite other team members and colleagues to take part in brainstorming and knowledge sharing. After you’re done, you can save the board in your repository to review the chart with new findings, as you learn more.

A Point of View = A Problem Statement

Having all these facts in mind, we have structured a meaningful and actionable problem statement. In other words, we have formed our POV – a point of view.

Define your point of view with this easy guideClick To Tweet

Design thinking POV
Defining the Point of View. Courtesy of:


POV: Developers need a flexible, easy-to-use visualization tool which they can access immidiately because they need to visualize their concepts.

With the clearly defined POV, we can proceed with further steps of the design thinking process. How are your experiences? Do you have something to add? Please let me know at

Design Thinking Chronicles: How to Get to Know Your Customers [Free Empathy Map Template]

Empathy. All people have it. But oftentimes, we forget how to use it. We are used to having presumptions about people around us because it’s easier to have biases about someone than to actually get to know him/her. However, empathy is a vital part of design thinking process and crucial part of getting to know your customers. It requires time and effort, but it is the right thing to do, and in the end, it pays off. Follow these steps and learn how.

Why Is Empathy Good For Your Business?

Empathy is the first out of five phases of design thinking process which we covered in the last blog. It is often highlighted as the crucial part of the whole process. But, why is it so important? Can we go without it?

Although there are various market research methods, none of them can explain why people act like they do. While traditional research methods focus on facts about people, empathy gives us an insight into another dimension – consumer’s motivations, fears, thoughts. And these are all important to portrait a full picture of a customer.

In order to build things people want, you first need to understand people, put a human into a center. Only with a full picture of a customer, you will fully understand his needs. That means, without an empathetic understanding of a customer, you will build products that you want, and not him.

You can't build a solution for a problem without a clear understanding of a problem.Click To Tweet

Going to the Core of the Problem

We in AWW app are trying to empathize with our customers and find out about the struggles they are facing at their jobs. We believe in building a relationship from the start. So, we use email tool to communicate with customers as soon as they register. In the welcome email, we ask our customers these questions: “Why did you sign for AWW? What do you hope it will help you with?”

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When they answer those, we are asking further questions – sometimes called 5 Why’s. With every question, we go deeper into specific details of their problem until we get a complete picture of the customer. For example, we can ask them to describe the way they think AWW will help them with a certain task. Or which aspects of the certain task were they struggling before they did it with AWW. And most important of all – what is their end goal, the purpose of doing the task anyway

Sometimes, when we feel the customer is willing to give more, we schedule a call to make a stronger connection and have a better insight into customer’s needs.

It is important to ask your customers about their problems. Don't only try to validate your product.Click To Tweet

Final Illustration of Your Customer – Empathy Map

Now it’s time we put all that data on a paper. Or maybe it’s better to say – a map. Empathy map is a useful tool for putting together all the information you have gathered in your research. In our case, it is a general problem-defining map and not a UX – evaluation empathy map. In an example below, we have portrayed a product owner from an international software company.

Empathy map is divided into six segments:

  1. Pain – All the frustrations, obstacles and struggles customers are facing in their everyday life, that your product can solve.
  2. Gain – Needs of the customer in the area your product is covering.
  3. Say & Do – Attitude in public, behavior towards others, actions.
  4. See – Environment, what the market offers, current solutions to the problem.
  5. Hear – Tips from friends, family, and colleagues. Advice and suggestions from influencers.
  6. Think & Feel – Things that are really important. Worries and preoccupations. Aspirations.
Empathy map example
Empathy map example for AWW customer

As you can see, our product owner is facing the problem of the different time zone as she is in the USA office, and the development team is in Vietnam. She is facing the language barrier as she doesn’t speak Vietnamese, while Vietnamese team is struggling with English. At last, she finds written treatises hard to process and lacking visual aid.


Her goal is to get on the same page with all the members of the international team in real time. Also, she wants to cut down any possible misinterpretations that might happen due to poor language skills from both sides of the team.

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The way she tackles the problem right now is not satisfying. She does have a physical whiteboard in her office, but it’s not practical to access it at 5 am when the meeting is usually called. She prefers a solution which she can access from the comfort of her home. Also, the whiteboard has a limited space and she can’t collaborate with the rest of the team members on the content of the board in real time.

Think and Feel

Very often she feels overwhelmed with the size and density of the treatises in a written form. Sometimes she feels frustrated over the language barrier between her and her Vietnamese colleagues. 

Say and Do

She would prefer a visual tool which will enable her team to section off a part of the written form on which they agree.


She has heard of AWW app from her colleague, as a possible solution to her problems and she decided to give it a try.

Free Empathy Map Template

Want to try it yourself? Click the Start drawing button on the interactive image below and doodle out your first AWW empathy map. Use the text tool to fill out the map, and zoom in the image if you feel you don’t have enough space. 

You can share it with your team members and colleagues or you can do it on your own. When you’re done you can click invite menu and download the image to save the map to your computer. To have the best drawing experience try our premium features for free.  



Design Thinking Chronicles: Introduction into Human-Centered Problem Solving

Despite having a word “design” in the name, design thinking is not an exclusive methodology of designers. Many leading international brands like Apple, Google, Samsung, and General Electric use design thinking approach to solving problems in a creative and innovative way. Many leading universities in the world like Stanford and MIT teach design thinking method. But, what exactly is design thinking and why is it so popular? 

What Exactly is Design Thinking

Let’s put it in a simple way: Design thinking is a methodology for solving a problem in an innovative and creative way, with human needs as a starting point. As in everyday life, in order to solve a problem, you need to define the problem first. Defining the problem requires a bit of investigating the needs of people who use your service/product. So, it all starts with getting to know your customers and their motivations, fears, emotions, and hopes.

But, why should you bother your team with some new method? Isn’t that just for designers? The answer is, you are already guessing, no! Design thinking is in a way a synonym for building things people actually want.

It is really not just a design in a narrow sense of the word, it is a way of doing things. Doing things in a way that will benefit both your customers and your company. Implementing design thinking into your business model offers a framework for innovation that contributes to the organic growth of your company.

Design thinking puts a human into a central focus of your business and consequently, it adds value to your customers.

5 Steps of Design Thinking

What is the right way to implement design thinking into your business? Are there any steps? Although there are several proposed methods in the use, we’ll demonstrate the 5 stage model, proposed by leading design thinking school, Hasso- Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University.

5 Steps of Design Thinking
5 Steps of Design Thinking. Photo Courtesy of Dee Lanier

Empathy is crucial to a human-centered model such as design thinking. In the first stage of the process, you are focusing on gaining the empathetic understanding of the problem you are trying to solve. Getting to know your users includes observing, engaging, and empathizing with users to find out their motivations. However, the best way to gain understanding is by immersing yourself in the matter of concern and developing the personal experience of the issue.

Let’s say you are a cosmetic company and you’re trying to figure out the problems your users are facing in their everyday life. You’re gonna need to talk to your customers and find out facts like what they do for a living, what is their daily cosmetic routine and what skin conditions they have. But also, you’re gonna need to try your products for yourself and see how they work for you.

Empathizing with customers allows you to set aside assumptions and gain a real insight into user’s needs.

Once you have gathered all your data, it’s the time for your team to analyze and synthesize it into a single sentence that illustrates the problem. Rather than putting the problem as your own wish or need, build it around your user’s need. So, instead of defining the problem as “we need to increase our cosmetic products market share among women between 35 and 45”, it’s better to define it like “women need nourishing skin care without parabens to revitalize their face skin”.

design thinking process
Design thinking process. Photo Courtesy of Designshack

At the end of the second phase, you ended up with the human-centered problem statement. That is the perfect starting point for the next phase – ideation. Your team can now start thinking outside of the box to come up with different ideas of a solution to a problem. Various points of views can generate different kinds of solutions.

Following the example from above, your team members can think of a nourishing woman serum, cream or emulsion. There are various techniques for generating ideas like brainstorming, brainwriting, mind mapping, SCAMPER, and visualization. AWW can help you out with writing down and visualizing your new ideas and sharing it with the other team members.


It’s time for building some prototypes. You need to turn out the ideas you came up with in the previous stage into scaled-down versions of a real product. Prototypes may be shared and tested by the team members or on a small number of people outside the team. In this phase, you will create set of prototypes, each of them implementing one idea from the previous stage.

For example, you can test out the prototypes of the serum, cream and emulsion on 35-45 women focus group from our scenario. The goal of prototyping is identifying the best possible solution to a problem defined in the second stage. So, at the end of this stage, you will decide whether you’ll go with the cream, serum or emulsion.


Finally, in a testing phaseevaluating team tests out complete products using the best solution prototypes. Although it is the last stage of the model, the process itself is iterative. Often the result of testing phase is used to redefine the problem to some extent from the step two, or to inform the understanding of the users from step one.

Let’s say, your tests have shown that the cream has had the best results and you decided to launch the cream. Based on the feedback from the market, product designers will be able to make even better versions of the original cream.

Non-Linear Character of Design Thinking Process

design thinking non linear process
Non-Linear Process of Design Thinking. Photo Courtesy of The Interaction Design Foundation

Design thinking process is not a linear process. The information and resources are constantly flowing between each of the phases in both directions.

Even stages themselves are flexible and serve more as a guide for undertaking certain activities when implementing design thinking concept. They can be repeated, switched and conducted at the same time if that’s what’s necessary to find the best solution possible.

Design thinking is not just a popular idea which will fade away in few months. It is here to stay for next generations of great product developers and designers. Implementing it in your company will gain you the knowledge and a better understanding of your users and allow you to build better products. Admit that you are already falling for this concept and the only thing you need is a little push. So, jump!