100 User Experience (UX) Design and Evaluation Methods for Your Toolkit
Brainwriting is an ideation method for quickly generating ideas by asking people to write their ideas on paper (or online) rather than shouting them out as they would in group brainstorming (Brahm & Kleiner, 1996).
When to Use:
You can use brainwriting at any phase of product development.
Brainwriting can be used when you have limited time to gather ideas, questions, or issues from users or other stakeholders. It is also useful when you have a team where there is some contentiousness or a mix of people who don’t know each other well and might be shy about expressing their ideas.
- Describe the procedure for brainwriting to a group. The basic instructions are quite simple. Here is a very basic script.
- “Today we would like to get your ideas about [state the topic]”
- “Since our time is limited, we are going to use a simple technique called “brainwriting”.
- “I’m going to hand out a page of paper and ask each of you to spend several minutes writing ideas and then ask everyone to pass their page to their right (or left).”
- “Please read each person’s ideas and then add new ideas or ideas that were prompted by the ones written by the previous person.”
- “You will have X minutes to write your ideas and then we will repeat the process a few more times.”
- “Are there any questions?”
- Hand each person a page of blank paper and put some extra paper on the table.
- Describe the question or topic of interest and make sure that everyone is clear on what you are asking.
- Tell the group how long they will have to write on the page. Then give them a “Start” signal.
- Write ideas on a page for a specified time (usually several minutes).
- At the end of the first writing interval ask the people to pass their pages with ideas to the next person in the group.
- Ask each person to read the ideas from the preceding person silently and add new ideas to the list without speaking to anyone else.
- Pass the pages with ideas from the first two people to another person.
- Repeat the process several more times.
- Hand in the ideas to the brainwriting leader.
At the end of the interactive brainwriting session, all the ideas can be collected and analyzed by the UX practitioner using affinity diagramming, tagging, or content analysis.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
+ Brainwriting is easier than group brainstorming because it does not require an experienced facilitator or many ground rules.
+ Brainwriting often produces more ideas than group brainstorming. Since each person is writing down ideas at the same time, the process is mostly parallel in contrast to the serial technique of “one idea at a time” in group brainstorming. You can use this method to gather ideas quickly from a busy group since it will only take about 10-20 minutes.
+ Brainwriting is a way to get input from new or shy colleagues who would not necessarily speak up in a group brainstorming session.
+ Brainwriting reduces the possibility of social conformity.
+ Brainwriting can be appropriate if you are working in a culture (or with a multi-cultural group) where brainstorming participants might be embarrassed to express extreme ideas or ideas that they believe may not be viewed positively by their more senior colleagues.
- Brainwriting is less well known than group brainstorming.
- Brainwriting is not as social as group brainstorming. Participants are generally asked not to talk as they write ideas down.
- Participants may feel that they cannot fully express their ideas in writing.
Tips and Tricks:
One lost-cost approach for remote brainwriting is to use a collaborative tool like Google® Spreadsheet where participants can be assigned a column and then enter their items while also seeing what others have typed in other columns as inspiration. A collaborative spreadsheet is something that could be kept open for a period of time so people can see other ideas and add theirs when convenient.
Brahm C., & Kleiner, B. H. (1996). Advantages and disadvantages of group decision-making. Team Performance Management. 2(1). 30-35.
CreatingMinds.org. (N.D.). Brainwriting. Retrieved on December 23, 2010 from http://creatingminds.org/tools/brainwriting.htm
Geschka, H. (1983): Creativity techniques in product planning and development: A view from West Germany. RbD Management, 13(3),169-183.
Geschka, H. (1996). Creativity techniques in Germany. Creativity and Innovation Management 5(2), 87–92.
Higgins, J. M. (1994). 101 Creative problem solving techniques: The Handbook of new ideas for business. Winter, Park, FL: The New Management Publishing Company.
Mycoted. (ND). Brainwriting. Retrieved on November 8, 2010 from http://www.mycoted.com/Brainwriting
What’s Next in the Series?
The next UX methods posting will describe “Freelisting”, a method used to gather data to understand a culture or gather information from very large groups quickly.