Yesterday I was kicking around campus, dropping off fliers about my wife’s resume service on bulletin boards. My 3-year-old loves to go to work with Dad and drink chocolate milk, write on the whiteboards, and play chase through the halls. Anyway, she starts drawing on a whiteboard in a conference room, and I notice seven large cards above the whiteboard about brainstorming. As someone who does a lot of this, I found these rules quite good.

Encourage Wild Ideas

Like mutations, they keep evolution moving

Defer Judgment

Silly ideas lead to good ones

One Conversation

This is not a free-for-all

Move On

Get it out and captured, then search for new ground

Build on Ideas

Stand alone solutions won’t do us much good

Stay Focused

Remain within the boundaries of the problem

Get Physical

Create a record with works and pictures

My favorite rules are to Encourage Wild Ideas and Move On. Many times I find we box ourselves into a particular solution too early, without exploring non-obvious solutions. One of the most common interview problems I see in potential candidates is fixating on one solution and limiting vision because they think they have a solution too early. In creative problem solving, push the boundaries, explore ideas and give them a chance to mutate. Don’t be afraid to spend some time thinking about the opposite perspective and looking at it from different angles. Identify what you like and move on.

Some ideas work well and others won’t. Keep what seems to work and look for new ground. Early in the development cycle is a perfect time to explore different solutions and try things out. Some elements of the ribbon were inspired by a couple outlandish proposals about how to make Access easier to use. We take lots of crazy ideas into the usability lab looking for things that stick and resonate with users. Most of it is left in the scrap yard but some ideas pop.

Most important—don’t be afraid to take big risks. When the user experience team started talking about the ribbon most people thought it was a crazy idea. Nobody could see it in its current incarnation but a small group of passionate and driven people gave the idea a chance to grow and mutate. I think it is fairly safe to say the ribbon is a huge improvement from what everyone thought was the best way to surface commands--that wasn’t the conclusion in the early in the development process.

BTW - I'm working on a post about forms design. If you have any tips, rules, guidelines--send them my way!