Design Thinking Stage 2: Ideation



Tina Seelig's Innovation Engine

Tina Seelig’s Innovation Engine


Design Thinking: Ideation



This is week 3 of the Design Thinking course by Eduro.  Last week, we looked at the first stage of Design Thinking and that was Empathy.  This week, we look at the second stage and this is Ideation.

Ideation is asking yourself, “What can I create?”  It’s the process of brainstorming to generate as many ideas as possible.   Ideation makes us pay special attention to details that we may not necessarily pay attention to, but they affect the output:  a powerful topic title, a diverse group of people, 45-60 minutes to do it, being visual when we record ideas, starting with a fun warm-up,


There is a joy in creating that many people miss because their education was one of memorization and regurgitation of what they’ve memorized.  If we did any sort of “art”, it was so bound full of rules that all the life was sucked out of the experience.

It’s exciting to see education move to produce creators now, in an environment where self-expression is valued, even if it upsets the traditional “rules”.

When I hear the word, “Ideation“, I think of the word Creativity.

To that end, I wanted to share with all of you a really fantastic talk about Creativity.  It is Tina Seelig speaking on “The 6 Characteristics of Truly Creative People”.

I really like it because Tina Seelig actually offers some real practical advice on how to increase creativity and it’s advice backed by her research in Stanford.  She calls it her “Innovation Engine” (see image at the top of my post).


There are so many talks on Creativity that are just airy-fairy inspirational talks.  (I honestly don’t know why people rave about Ken Robinson’s Tedtalk on how schools are killing creativity.  I understand his points, but I want to hear some solutions and he’s short on practical ideas on how to fix the problems.)  Tina Seelig actually has some concrete things to act upon to increase creativity and she calls it the “Innovation Engine”.



Toolbox for the Imagination

One of Tina Seelig’s points that I appreciate the most is when she says that knowledge is the toolbox for the imagination (see 6:54 of the video).  “Yes!” I said to myself when I read that.  “Finally, someone cares about knowledge!” Ideation and creativity is not about just about being wild with your ideas, and content is an obstacle to avoid.  The truth is,  if you don’t have a body of knowledge, your toolbox will be lacking resources to build creativity.

Rituals for Ideation

They say that we need more down-time and unfocussed time in our lives in order to be creative.   Being tied to our devices negates creativity because we’re always consuming or doing when we’re on our devices.   Research says that we need to allow our minds to wander to its periphery in order to be creative.

So, if you haven’t done so, create a regular ritual in your life to allow your mind to wander.  In my life, I take baths.  I’ve never liked the chilling effect of stepping in a shower so I’ve taken baths for as long as I can remember.   During those years when I was home with 4 young children, it was my only respite when I didn’t feel guilty that I wasn’t available to them. (Hey! Everyone needs to wash each day!)

In our hectic lives, it’s difficult to find time to watch videos and there is so much good stuff to watch!  Sometimes, I will put on a Tedtalk or similar during my bath.  After I watch it, I contemplate it while soaking in bubbles.

So, I challenge you to take a leisurely bath this week and to watch and contemplate Tina Seelig’s talk on “The 6 Characteristics of Truly Creative People”. It’s truly worth the time!


Our assignment this week was to discuss

How can ideation and synthesis be used in your classroom in relationship to your curriculum?

Well, I joined this course thinking that we were going to look at the Design Cycle and the application I had in mind was for creating in Maker Education <—-my magazine article in an international parent magazine!

So, my application for Ideation is the stage where children come up with ideas of projects they want to try in their “Passion Project” time or their “Genius Hour”.

Paradoxically, many children are frozen with fear or indecision when they have to come up with their own project idea.  They’re still stuck in the old model where they are used to being told what to do and what the parameters of success will be.

Interestingly enough,  a number of parents commented on my Maker Education mag article by saying that this is called “Design & Technology” in their schools. Uh, well no.  I thought it would be obvious the differences when they read the article.  My article said that the Maker Education movement was about giving children open-ended time to try any project they wanted to.  This isn’t D&T classes with its unit plans, rubrics, and teacher-directed activities etc.  (It shows me that parents know very little about what happens in the D&T classes.)

So, somehow we need to make a bridge for students and parents to cross from teacher-directed activities (Design & Technology) to open-ended activities (Maker Education).   The part that I suspect they will get stuck at is the Ideation stage.

If students are able to Ideate regularly, they’ll not run out of ideas for themselves or run out of ideas to jump-start their classmates who are plagued with fear or inertia.  (It’s a scary and sobering thought that there are children who don’t want open-ended time at school as they’re not motivated or inspired by the opportunity to be autonomous!)

A star and a wish…

So, what I liked (a star) about Ideation is where teachers pay careful attention to developing a generative topic title.  This is a fancy of saying that we need topic titles that are catchy and that also allow us to be expansive and deep in our research.  (In PYP, we would call this creating a Provocative Central Idea.)

What I didn’t really get (a wish) was the real difference between Ideation and what we used to call Brainstorming.   Is there something really different because the fact there is a new term implies there is a difference.  I don’t see it and then I feel frustrated that I’ve missed something.  I don’t appreciate new jargon for the sake of new jargon when I don’t see anything new (Hello IB!).  I find it confusing and counter-productive.

Design Thinking Vocabulary

Design Thinking Vocabulary


I’m looking forward to the next step of Design Thinking and this will be the practical application of our creativity while we prototype.


Do you have any rituals to generate ideas in your life?  If so, please share!


About Vivian

Vivian @ChezVivian is a Canadian-born Chinese, currently living in Switzerland. She has also lived in Hong Kong and Indonesia. She holds a M.S. (focus: Educational Technology Integration), B.Ed and a B.A. and graduate studies in Kodály and Orff music pedagogy. She is an elementary school classroom generalist, but has also taught as a music specialist, ESL/EAL and also in Learning Support. Most of her teaching career was in International Schools in Hong Kong. She is excited about the IBPYP and the possibilities of using technology to Inquire. Recently, she has been looking at the opportunities that computer programming gives to put #TECHXture back into the hands of children. In other words, technology need not be just about looking at screens. It can be about building things with our hands; and computer programming levels-up what children can do with the things they build---encouraging higher thinking skills. She is a Coetail Post-graduate Certificate grad ('13-'14), a former Coetail Coach and one of the co-founders of #CoetailChat. Her blog home curates her assignments for Coetail and her M.S. graduate studies about Educational Technology integration and anything else educationally-related that she feels inspired to write about. Her twitter tagline sums it up: "Mom to 4, Mentor, Educator, Musician (in that order)".
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6 Responses to Design Thinking Stage 2: Ideation

  1. Andrew White says:

    Hi Vivian,

    I love what you have to say about creativity. Sharing the idea that “knowledge is the toolbox for the imagination” was a huge relief for me. I feel at times that we may be attempting to swing the creativity pendulum way too far over to just letting the kids do whatever they want. Some of my biggest frustrations with my own creativity is a lack of knowledge of using the tools I need to achieve my creative ends. Your distinction between the Maker Movement and D&T is right on the mark. The difference may seem like a subtle one to some people but I agree that the maker movement is all about working on a project that you are passionate about. As a STEM teacher (which is very closely related to D&T) I feel that one element of my job is to fill the knowledge toolbox for my kids so that they can become a participant in the Maker Movement. I also expose them to ideas that might attract them to wanting to make. Getting back to my first point I often have to strike a balance between total creativity and filling that knowledge toolbox.

    • Vivian says:

      Hi Andrew @andrewwhite

      I’m glad you feel the same that knowledge is just as important as creativity. One doesn’t necessarily fight against the other. In tech ed, I fear that sometimes we too easily throw out the “old” in favour of the “new” because we can’t fit everything into our already packed curriculums.

      I want to expose my students to as many experiences and tools as possible, too, because who knows what will be the spark for them?

      I’m only at the beginning of learning what the differences are between the Maker Movement and Design Thinking. It’s a work in progress, but hopefully it will be a lot clearer in the weeks to come!

  2. Tara Ogle says:

    Hi Vivian,
    Thank you for distinguishing D&T and Maker Ed for me, I have been longing to understand the difference. The Ideation phase seems perfect for students approaching Passion Projects or Genius Hour. All too often I hear of teachers struggling to support students who can’t come up with their own project, so having them ideate regularly would certainly assist students looking for inspiration.
    I agree that Ideation is very similar to Brainstorming and would love to hear a distinction between the two if ever you find it. My only thought here is that in the ideation process focus questions are used rather than thematic headings, but this variation is slight.

    • Vivian says:

      Hi Tara @taramo

      I feel that I’m only at the beginning of understanding the differences between Design Thinking and the Maker Movement. Hopefully it will become clearer as the course goes on.

      The google hangout with Dr Nash seemed to say that the Maker Movement is mainly about making whereas DT is more about helping others, empathy, and being mindful about going through the process of design. I can see those attributes being in the Maker Movement too. So, at the end, I asked Ben @bsheridan if maybe it’s less a question of what we call it, but more a question of how the teacher is treating and leading the process. If that is true, maybe it should be called the “design thinking process” (without capital letters) implying that it could be a part of anything, really. Calling it “Design Thinking” with the capital letters makes it seem like a unique separate thing from everything else.

  3. joewinston42 says:

    I like your comment about giving students the opportunities to ideate more regularly. Coming up with ideas seems to be a difficulty with students at my school . I feel that they’ve been spoon fed what to do for so long (both in and out of school) that their creative juices need a fresh start. This won’t happen with a one and done. The opportunity to include them in the brainstorming process needs to happen more consistently.
    The time to allow your mind to wander is so important. I’ve noticed the growing need in my students for constant stimuli. The art of being bored I feel is almost lost.

    “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” ― Ellen Parr

    With curiosity comes ideas such as: what if…?, why can’t…?, how can…?.
    Then the creativity.

    • Vivian says:

      Hi Joe @cupofjoe

      I agree that we don’t know how to be bored or to handle boredom any longer. I have to consciously make myself not reach for the internet when I am bored but to consider other options like reading a novel or listening to some music.

      It seems that “being curious” seems too hard and too much work for young people today, when there are quick fixes like gaming too readily available. Maybe regular experience with ideation (brainstorming) can motivate them more.