Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Art of the Brainstorm

In this article, game designer Sande Chen provides the ground rules for a successful group brainstorming session.

When handled badly, brainstorming hurts!
We all know about unproductive meetings.  They're frustrating, annoying, and mostly a waste of time.  It's even worse when it's a group brainstorming session gone wrong.  I remember being in a room full of mobile game developers with the boss at the whiteboard.  He shot down suggestion after suggestion.  We felt such immense pressure over the name of this mobile game!  Why couldn't we come up with an approved, awesome name?  I left the meeting feeling like my brain was fried.

The pressure, the boss, the environment.  All of this was terrible in terms of encouraging creative insight.  Let me tell you, we creatives will do better work in a non-judgemental zone.

If you want to get better at group brainstorming, here are some guidelines:

1)  Can the criticism

Nothing shuts down a brainstorming session more than criticism and defensiveness.  The purpose of brainstorming is not to cause arguments, but to generate ideas.  The mantra should be Quantity, not Quality.  You want to get as many ideas out as possible without stopping to think if they're lame or not.  You can sort out the ideas later.  And who knows, maybe that first idea will lead to better ones as the session goes on, but if you had stopped it there, you would have never gotten to the pearls.

2) Even the environment

If you use a facilitator, then the facilitator probably shouldn't be the boss.  You want the participants to feel that all opinions are valued and that it's a safe environment to share.  Sounds mushy, but that's the way of it. The brainstorming session is going to go better if it's not dominated by a few, loud voices.  Let everyone mingle in a room that's free from pressure and make it a fun activity.

3) Bring out the toys

As in most prototyping sessions, there should be supplies such as sticky pads or index cards or whiteboard markers.  If you've got a doodler, then this is the best time to doodle.  For something like names, you can play word association.  In fact, at the last Global Game Jam I attended, we simply went around in a circle and asked each other what associations or feelings the jam theme word evoked.  This inevitably led to more ideas and furious sketching about what the gameplay may be like.

A successful group brainstorming session is a joy.  Everyone feels energized and excited to continue on the project.  Next time you have a group brainstorming session, try these tips for a more productive meeting.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.


Shalin Siriwaradhana said...

Brainstorming is just the initial step of generating ideas. Mind maps gives a meaningful picture to brainstorming. Mind mapping helps in many situations. It can be used for work, for organizing a personal or family schedule, for setting your life goals and of course, you can also do a case study analysis using mind maps. Find these mind map examples to be used freely.

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