top of page
IDEO: Painting with Ideas
Creating an exercise to rapidly generate dozens of ideas
Toy Invention
As a Toy Inventor at IDEO, I had the constant need to come up with innovative ideas. I created the Painting with Ideas exercise to enable fast and thorough ideation.
Inventing an ideation exercise

The Toy Invention team at IDEO was an idea factory. Our goal was to sell 5 concepts per year. With a sell rate of 5%, we needed to prototype 100 concepts per year. For every idea we prototyped, there were about 50 we cut. That's 5,000 new ideas per year from a team of 6 inventors.


Painting with Ideas was spawned by my need for toy ideas. However, I continue to use the exercise whenever I need to come up with fresh ideas in any industry.


Painting with Ideas

Rapid Idea Generation
Combining things to create better things
The Painting with Ideas exercise is based on a simple premise: 1 + 1  = 3. The exercise builds upon this premise by using 'ideation palettes.' The palettes enable the ideator to access inspiration that can then be combined to generate more ideas.
How might we create a gift that will make a dog lover feel extra special?  
The Design Thinking Process
Design Thinking is a 5 step process. The Painting with Ideas exercise occurs during Ideate, the third step.
Defining a brainstorm topic
Once I am in the ideation phase of the Design Thinking Process, I write a 'how might we' question based on the research insights.

For the purpose of this case study, I am designing a DIY tutorial platform that enables people to find and complete tutorials. One of the pain points identified in the research was users not feeling confident about having the right supplies. Therefore, I am coming up with ideas to help the user feel confident about their supplies.

How might we enable users to feel confident about having the right supplies?

Laying out ideation palettes
The first activity is to gather inspiration in the form of categorized lists that I like to call 'ideation palettes.' First, I choose categories for lists and assign simple titles to them. The categories are relevant to the user needs I am designing for. Then I list user research insights, competitive features, observations, opportunities and more. As I build the palettes, I'm taking mental notes of the relevant aspects of that item. I usually end up with 3-6 ideation palettes of about 30-50 items each. Any more than that and it gets hard to sort through, any less and I'm leaving ideas on the table.
Organized palettes makes painting efficient. The same is true for ideation palettes.
Since I am coming up with ideas to help users feel confident with their supplies, I created 'Confident in Choices,' 'Finding Supplies,' and 'Engaging Experience' palettes. The 'Confidence in Choices' palette lists features from competitive products that create user confidence. The 'Finding Supplies' palette lists items that enable people to obtain supplies. And lastly, the 'Engaging Experience' palette list ensures I will include elements of fun in the ideas.
Ideation Palette 1
Confidence in Choices

  • customer reviews rating
  • clothing fit feature
  • Amazon QA feature
  • user photos/videos feature

  • Comments
  • View counts
  • User subscribers
  • Video demonstration
  • Affiliate links in description
Home Depot Projects
  • Difficulty rating
  • Duration rating
  • Materials list
  • questions feature
Ideation Palette 2
Finding Supplies

  • 2 day delivery
  • Store is split by country
  • Has everything

  • Discount items
  • You don't always get what you think you're getting
  • Promotions
  • Custom fabric
  • Print outs
  • Marketplace to buy from other people
Local Events
  • Yard sales
  • Thrift shops
  • Flea Markets
Ideation Palette 3
Engaging Experience

  • Endless types of content
  • For You feed
  • Short clips
  • Easy to create polished videos
  • Simple experience
  • Trending music/effects
  • Focused on building and maintaining connections
  • Real friends
  • Groups with people you've never met
  • Large variety of features
  • Low cost
  • Always new content
I organize ideation palettes in a way that is easiest to find the inspiration when I need it.
Mixing palette items to create ideas
Once I've finished the ideation palettes, I pick out two items that spark curiosity and fit within the product's goals. If I can come up with a few ideas right off the bat, I know it's worth the exploration. Next, I write a new 'how might we' question and begin ideating. I record any ideas that pop up, even if they're off-topic or wild. If my velocity slows down, I repeat the process with two new items from the ideation palettes.
A painter mixes colors to create new shades. A designer mixes ideas to create new products.
How might we combine the usefulness of YouTube's affiliate links with the usability of Amazon's shopping experience to improve our supplies feature?
The user can see the cost on the tutorial so it's easy to know if it would fit the budget.
The user can create a wishlist of the supplies they want to get.
The user can see color choices of the product on the tutorial.
The user could see a picture as the link to the product.
I'm combining the YouTube Affiliate Links item from the Confidence in Choices palette with the Amazon Has Everything item in the Finding Supplies palette.
How might we combine the consumer confidence of Amazon's reviews feature with the social features of Facebook groups to improve our supplies feature?
The user can upload photos of how their project came out with alternative supplies to a social group.
The user can post links to the group with alternative supplies that will also work.
The user can upload a photo or video of them working with the supplies to share any tips or tricks.
The user can ask questions to the group about the supplies in case they have accessibility needs.
I'm combining Amazon's Reviews Feature from the Confidence in Choices palette with the Facebook Groups item in the Engaging Experience palette.
How might we combine the engagement of the TikTok for you page with the motivation from Joanns time-limited promotions?
The user can scroll through a feed of items to purchase and click to see what projects they can do with it.
The user can scroll through a feed of engaging tutorial videos that are filterable by materials that are on sale.
The user can browse a feed of tutorials that are created by a particular store.
The user can see the number of tutorials that the item is used in.
I'm combining the TikTok For You page from the Engaging Experience palette with the Promotions item from the Finding Supplies palette.
Painting with ideas
While ideating, I keep an eye on the big picture so I don't ignore the needs of any users. In this example, I'm sensing the users who want to use supplies they already own are getting frustrated. Just like a painter might say, "This tree needs a bit more warmth," I'm thinking, "This needs to work with stuff that's lying around." I referred back to my ideation palettes because I knew I had a category of options for this - aha, Flea Market. Flea markets are a hodgepodge of people, environments and stuff. The visualization of the flea market experience made it easy to find ideas that fit the need.
A painter paints emotions on canvas, a designer paints emotions into products.
Flea Market
The user can scroll through a feed of items to purchase and click in to see what projects they can do with it.
The user can sort through the tutorials based on the supplies they have.
The user can check items off a list when they already own them.
The user can see the reduced  cost of the tutorial's supplies based on what they already own.
The user can upload a photo of an item at the flea market for image recognition.
The user can enter how many yards of fabric that they own to see if they have enough for a project.
Creators can sell their own supplies through a virtual flea marketplace in the platform.
If the user has a cricut machine, the creator can post usable files.
The user can see a feed of tutorials that only need common household items.
The user can indicate what pets and family members they have to get recommendations for them.
I chose one of the best ideas and wanted it to work with random stuff. I chose to combine it with Flea Market from the Finding Supplies palette.
Understanding how it works
The Painting with Ideas exercise creates fluid pathways to jump from idea to idea. The organized sets of items stored in ideation palettes make it easy to access new inspiration without losing creative flow. The sheer bounty of ideas that this technique generates makes for a high probability of producing something groundbreaking.
Toys invented by Painting with Ideas
These are three of my best toy inventions that stemmed from the Painting with Ideas exercise. Read their case studies to learn more.
bottom of page