3.2 Ideation

The ideation phase focuses on refining your ideas. You don’t need to use expensive or cutting-edge tools. Many of the following ideation techniques can be completed using paper and pen. Thus, the following section focuses on everyday tools and techniques you can integrate into your work with youth.


The brainstorming technique often occurs throughout the different stages of the design process or within a Participatory Design session. You’ve probably used brainstorming in a variety of ways such as discovering programming ideas, planning community partnerships, or collaborating with other youth librarians. In addition to sticky noting and big pieces of paper, some other everyday tools you can use to assist in brainstorming sessions include:

  • Photos, Magazines, or Found Images. Incorporate photos or found images into your brainstorming session to elicit responses or opinions. For instance, you or youth can flip through magazines as inspiration or to collage out ideas. You can also use imagery to display the direction of your ideas or inspire you to think in new ways.1 For more about the use of visuals in the ideation phase, see our section on Design Representations.
  • Sketchbooks. You or youth can jot down your ideas and notes on the fly or develop sketches of a working design.
  • Online brainstorming tools. Explore brainstorming tools, like Bubbl.us or LucidChart to collaborate with others on ideas.

Here are some general tips from youth librarians around the US on how they approach brainstorming and ideation:

  • Moderate and lead the brainstorming session to keep order and allow all voices to be heard. “Rissa”, a youth librarian at an urban, Eastern library uses candy as a motivator for young people to take turns during a Teen Advisory brainstorming session: “To begin a [Teen Advisory] meeting, I put a piece of candy in front of each guest. I say, “Don’t eat it.” And I say, “Okay, now if you give me another good idea like something we could do, I’ll give you another piece of candy. Don’t eat it. Keep it all in front of you. Now, if you interrupt someone, they get to take your candy.”
  • Use online communities and create a system to collect ideas. “Amelia”, a youth librarian at a rural, Southern library subscribes to several LISTERVS where librarians share ideas. She keeps a running list within her email account and keeps track of some of the different things she hopes to try.
  • Stay open. David, a librarian at an urban, Pacific Northwest library focuses on a “sky’s the limit approach” to developing new ideas. During the initial brainstorming, he says that things like budget or timelines should not be a focus. Remember: Criticism of any ideas should also be avoided! You can worry about particulars at other stages of the design process.

Design Representations

Along with brainstorming, other techniques for idea generation include design representations, or methods to encourage hands-on experience in designing and bringing ideas to life without using complex or expensive tools. For instance, ideas can be illustrated through or by drawing the ideas out on a whiteboard during the brainstorming session. Design representations help you and your audience understand what you’re trying to build, offer a proposed solution, or provide a chance for feedback.

A few design representation methods include:

  • Mock ups. Using just a sketch pad or a whiteboard, you draw out what your design or new service might look like. If you can have a potential audience who will use your design to sketch out their own ideas–even better! Think about how you might use mock ups in presenting your ideas to potential stakeholders.
  • Personas. Using the personas method, you and/or youth will visualize and write out the key characteristics of the different users of your design or idea. This method helps you tailor your design to specific demographics or communities. Ideally, you have completed interviewing and observations of people to form your personas.2 Questions for building personas include:
    • Who am I?
    • What are my interests?
    • What’s my personality?
    • What is my work and home environment?3
  • Photo Essays. Through photo essays, you have potential users photograph their experiences throughout a day. This gives you a visual “day in the life” of that person.4 This method helps you understand a person’s everyday, lived experiences.
  • Prototypes. As we outlined in our section on Participatory Design, prototypes are models that let you test your ideas cheaply and quickly.5 Prototypes can represent objects, services, or spaces. For example, as a youth librarian, you might introduce a smaller, pop up low-fidelity (or simple) prototype of a makerspace using paper sketches or printouts before investing into a full-scale maker environment.
  • Storyboards. As a low cost prototype to help you envision a project or story from start to finish, consider the use of a storyboard, or a sequence of images and words that form a narrative.4 You and youth can use storyboards to map out your idea using tools like post-its and white boards.

1: 7 Tips on Better Brainstorming OpenIDEO, 2011.

2: “Triangulation in social research: qualitative and quantitative methods can really be mixed” by Wendy Olsen. Developments in Sociology, 20.

3: Personas DIY Toolkit, 2016.


5: Design Thinking Maximizes Maker Spaces, by L. Jacobsen, 2016.