My very first job was as an Ergonomist in an Industrial Design team. In such a small team, just 3 designers, I was able to have my hands on all of their projects.
Industrial Design is an incredible art form, the ability to distill a problem, produce multiple “concepts”, detail one or more idea to a point where you can prototype it, and then work with the engineering team to go to manufacturing. All of this requires a breadth of understanding, across domains, that is not common. Having an Ergonomist to provide a Task Analysis, Anthropometrics, and a sounding board seemed to work very well. (At least I enjoyed it)
The creative spark to take a problem to a conceptual solution is much debated. Inspiration, dedication, hard work, a flash of brilliance, a side conversation, time in the shower – where do these ideas come from.
Innovation cannot be forced, or can it? Brainstorming sessions, forced into a room with other people and told to “Brainstorm” – is that innovating? Focus groups, very marketing, but, you bring people together (maybe current users, maybe target users) and ask them to do something, or to answer some questions – what is happening in those minds? What ideas walk out of the room from an un-asked question?
How can we capture the essential concepts?
Is my first idea the best?
Are there truly no stupid questions – only the un-asked questions?
If you cannot explain your concept – today – does it really mean you cannot make it in the future?
As my career moved into Software products, and Usability – the whiteboard became my main tool for collaboration. The design process was the same as with the Industrial Designers. Creating concepts. Being able to sketch (not very well) a user interface design on a whiteboard to show the software engineer how the user might work with this new tool was fantastic. Communicating the concept via the whiteboard to a skilled craftsman who “got it” and could build it made my day, and my life very fulfilling.
The key here is “Concepts” – more than one – the first one may be the best, but without others to test it against how would you know. So – how many? – more than one? yes, but how many? Easy, as many as you can, or as many as you have time to dream up.