As a chatty, opinionated copywriter who also happens to be fairly creative and who thrives on learning new things, “Brainstorm!” is my favorite thing to see blocked off in Google calendar. It’s never even written like that, with the capitalization and the exclamation mark; that’s just how my emotions see it.
Finally, I think, time to sit at the casual conference table (as opposed to the formal one, in the formal conference room) and look at pretty websites, talk about color, and finally learn what parallax means! Never mind that I’m probably only invited to advise on how the content should inform the site’s structure; my design colleagues humor us copywriters by allowing us to voice our opinions on design features, colors, and layouts.
All of these components that make brainstorms exciting for me also contribute to their creative powers. Successful brainstorms are born through a mixture of stimulating conversation and disciplined habits, all carried out in a specific environment. With the right balance, your team can dream up beautiful solutions, but when discipline is lacking or creativity is blocked, your meeting is likely a wasted hour that won’t please your boss (or, in our case, the designer tasked with creating her client’s dream site). Below are simple steps you and your team can take to conduct a successful brainstorm.
Strategize your location.
We conduct our brainstorms at a meeting table in our open office, not in our formal conference room where consultations with clients are held. This offers a few benefits: the chairs are comfy, the space is associated with togetherness, and there are knick-knacks on the table (a mini bowling set!) that fidgety thinkers like me can use to stimulate ideas. Plus, we can cast to a screen above the table that makes for easy group viewing. Going for comfort is just one option, though; stepping out of your team’s box and circling up outside or in a restaurant can offer new perspectives and inspiration—just monitor the noise level and distractions.
Outline a purpose or end goal.
I don’t suggest setting a time limit, as you don’t want people who are supposed to be focused on generating ideas constantly checking the clock, but identifying an end goal will help your team focus and realize when the brainstorm has run its course. For us, this involves analyzing the information our client provided in consultation and deciding how much creative license we have. Does a site structure need to be created? Are branding colors in place? Are there other websites that the client mentioned liking or gravitating toward? Answering these questions helps us understand the scope of our brainstorm and what steps need to be taken.
Be intentional in assigning roles, but allow everyone to contribute ideas.
As I mentioned earlier, our designers are gracious about letting us copywriters in on the fun, and who knows? Maybe one day we’ll strike on something genius. Allowing a free flow of ideas keeps the energy high and makes room for innovation, so by all means encourage everyone to contribute! To keep progress headed in the right direction, however, appoint a facilitator and an official scribe. At Key Web, those roles fall naturally to the project manager and a copywriter, respectively. The designer assigned to the project briefs the team on what she knows and, if she’s already generated any thoughts or ideas, she’ll make those known as well.
Identify what you don’t want.
Especially in the wide world of web design, it’s often easier for people to identify what they don’t like whether than what they do. For our clients, this usually begins with their existing website (if they have one). They know they no longer want an information dump, or sliders, or a three-tiered navigation, etc. etc. Sometimes the “no ways” are identified by the designer, who has already assessed the client’s needs and called on past experiences to designate layouts that won’t work. Knowing what to stay away from will slash any wasted time presenting ideas that are against the clients’ wishes or that don’t align with the designer’s expertise.
If you’re the scribe, record EVERYTHING.
Now’s the time for fast and furious. Start by writing down the project parameters and purpose or end goal, and then record every idea, question, and piece of information mentioned—you never know what may prove useful later. Include sketches or rough designs when useful. Try to summarize your notes with aspects or ideas that have been decided on, and sign off with a bulleted list of next steps. Does the designer need to mock up a homepage skin? Ask the client a question on which the proposed design hinges? Does the copywriter need to gather more content that will inform design? Make a list and distribute it.
Brainstorms sometimes get a bad rap because ineffective team leaders can utilize them to create a false sense that all employees are contributing to projects or workplace practices, when really one person is in control. But when executed correctly and with proper purpose, brainstorms can be the birthplace of innovative ideas and creative solutions—ones that may not exist without the input of, say, a lowly copywriter who won’t stop fidgeting with a mini bowling pin.