Brainwriting Best Practices

What Is It:

Well, brainwriting is just brainstorming with less verbal interaction. The concept is to have everyone try to, cumulatively, come up with one hundred eight new ideas topical to the subject at hand. It usually consists of six participants, and each one is asked to come up with three ideas every five minutes.

The philosophy behind it is … well, I frankly don’t know what the point of this is, beyond just exhausting all permutations of a vague idea in a somewhat controlled environment. Honestly, there are vastly better solutions to that problem.

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Why I Don’t Like It:

Almost all the ideas, due to the rush and quota inherent to the method, are going to be rushed and useless. It lacks any real control or organization, and in my experience, it never accomplishes anything particularly useful. The data from it is impossible to analyze or measure or compare in any real data processing framework.

Plus, from my observations, it puts a lot of stress on the participants, which further degrades the idea quality all around. Now, brainstorming, which it is an attempt to be a revision of, can work quite well. But, only as a preemptive thought exercise, and only without all that ridiculous pressure on the people involved.

Ways to Make It Suck Less:

Well, the biggest problem is too much reliance on this kind of thing. Spit balling techniques like these are a really good idea to just throw ideas and less than complex solutions to problems.

Never let it be said that I straight up hate the concept this came from, but honestly, this “refined” concept is bloody pointless and stressful. So, if you want to get more out of this, drop all this nonsense about forcing so many ideas at so much speed, because any idea rushed and pressured that much is going to be a horrible idea without fail.

Beyond that, maybe gamifying it more, if you really want to use this idea. Make the ideas need more value than “new” and “thought of fast enough”. I’ve seen that variant of this model implemented before, and it does work but I’m still not a fan.

No Salvaging This:

I’m left to conclude there’s no real salvaging on this concept. Usually in pieces like this, I try to actually salvage an idea even if its default form is garbage, and tell you how to get the most out of it, rather than spend most of it talking about how the idea just does not and cannot work. But in the spirit of balance and lack of complicity, I must say that finally, here’s a model that I downright recommend not using.

If you must use brainwriting, then drop the timing and other silly rules and just have a regular brainstorming session, because that actually works. And only use this in early steps, never in R&D or thereafter.

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Jessica Miller
Jessica is the Lead Author & Editor of UsabilityLab Blog. Jessica writes for the UsabilityLab blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to usability.
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