Old Problems, New Perspectives

Thus far, our coursework has introduced us to the various technologies and processes at our disposal as we begin our journeys as 3D makers. This week’s content encouraged us to engage all we have learned about the ideating process, as we began developing potential ideas for our final projects. Our brainstorming session was entirely focused upon identifying a need (or a problem to solve), and then developing a solution; we were to avoid immediately deciding upon a product, as this would streamline our thinking at too early of a stage. This concept of total freedom and creativity was introduced in “Creative Sparks”, which discussed the infrastructure necessary to effectively brainstorm.  It also ensures that the product or service at hand will fulfill a real need or provide a solution to a problem existing in the real world, as discussed in “Ten Ways to Evaluate a New Business Idea.” These articles provide an excellent framework to consider when pursuing a given idea, and serve as excellent guidelines for developing a product that will translate to real world success.

This approach is crucial when partaking in any sort of creative brainstorming process. In Mary Barbour’s “Better Content Ideation Through Lateral Thinking”, she discusses the importance of being able to approach age-old problems from a new perspective. It is this ability that distinguishes innovators from the rest of the population; one does not need to be presented with a new problem in order to develop a unique solution. One of my favorite takeaways from this article was the point that sometimes the most effective way to brainstorm is to identify the most obvious ways to proceed when faced with an issue, and then ask oneself how to proceed if those options were not viable. This helps structure the ideating process. Dorie Clark’s “How to Think Like An Innovator” brings these ideas into context on a more personal level, urging you to assess your own strengths and weaknesses when developing a concept (this idea was prominent in our assigned readings for the week.) Finally, Clark encourages assessing from both an industry perspective (perhaps through a SWOT analysis) as well as considering the opinions of specialists far removed from the industry; this provides an accurate depiction of the product’s role from both an internal and external perspective.

I now have a much stronger understanding of what questions I should be asking myself as my group and I being to refine our ideas, and define exactly how our product will function. These articles brought up issues that we did not consider in our initial brainstorming sessions, and therefore will overturn some of our previous assumptions. For example, Clark highlights “What trend is most threatening to your industry right now?” as crucial question to consider. When developing our idea of a contraption that can be attached to trash cans in order to compact and push down trash; in doing so, a household can reduce the number of trash bags they go through in a given amount of time. While this has financial incentive for students such as ourselves, one of the largest threats to the plastic goods industry is the environmental impacts – therefore, we can market this product as an environmentally friendly option, and tap into a large demographic of customers that may previously have been less interested in our product. In summary, these lessons have been formative in how I approach product development and creative thinking.

Brainstorming for the Problem Before the Solution

This week we were back in the Maker Lab after two weeks away. At the beginning of class we broke off into our groups and were able to start discussing our projects. As we learned from our session with Design for America, the best designs do not start immediately from a solution. Instead, we took an approach that had us start from a broad problem before narrowing it down to a single specific problem that a unique solution could be developed to solve that problem.’


The Interaction Design Foundation says, “the first step of product thinking is to determine the problem that your users are looking to solve.” If a problem exists, consumers will have a reason to purchase a solution. Therefore, successful designs should begin with the problem and affected users. We also considered the “10 ways to evaluate a new business idea” article when generating ideas to work with. Our group thought about problems we encountered in our lives and identified these three problems: overcharging laptops and cell phones, reliability of self-storage options in public spaces, and keeping athletic equipment up to specifications over time. While these were good to use for this exercise, Charlene, Carter, and I agreed that for the purpose and scale of the semester project, these problems are not realistic to find a solution for.

A valuable part of our class session was peer review. One member of each group rotated to another group in order to offer constructive feedback on the problems each group identified as they worked towards a solution. Going forward, we now know how valuable it can be to receive an outside opinion on a project or idea. An outsider can find flaws or even alternatives that were previously overlooked. UK based Corintech defines design peer review as “a process whereby a design project (or aspect of) is reviewed and evaluated by a person, or team, not directly involved with the project, but appropriately qualified to provide input that will either reinforce a design solution, or provide a route to an improved alternative.” It continues on to say that utilizing the experience and expertise other people will add valuable insight. As we develop our project, we will be sure to reach out to classmates or others who are familiar with the topics we are working with for their feedback.


In the second half of class, Mike Bohlmann, Assistant Dean of Technology in the College of Media and self-proclaimed Maker came to discuss many of the projects he has worked on. It is important to note that all of the examples he showed us started from a problem that he then worked to solve by making something. He did not begin his process by making a product and finding a problem to associate it with. From digitalizing a Star Wars game to making a holder for his airplane radio, he identified problems in his life then developed a solution. Another takeaway from the presentation was that Making can be a fun, affordable hobby that can be pursued at anytime. On top of professional and family obligations, Mike still has time to make prototypes, often supporting his other hobbies and passions. Even after this class ends and I am working full-time, I hope that Making can be an outlet for learning and having fun.