The Creative Ideation Process vs Client Requirements

by Alex Hopkins, Design Enterprise Studio Member , Feb 2021

Throughout any project, creative ideation and client requirements are entangled and often totally dependent on one another. And, in an industry filled with creative individuals where they dream of coming up with sensational new ideas, the last thing they want is the feeling of being constricted with client requirements.

I’m Alex Hopkins, a junior creative with a background in code and design. In this blog I want to provide some insights and my own experience with the unseen battle that takes place between ideation and the client requirements from the perspective of an emerging designer in the creative industry.

My Experience

Now, I would like to start by saying that every project is different and what worked for me might not work for another project. Though, I’m sure a few of you have had an experience with a client being not particularly specific about what is expected to be delivered, and in my case, this was specifically the technical requirements of the web app I was making and collaborating on.

The project I was a part of had multiple clients, though I was largely in communication with the lead developer. Following the briefing and initial meeting I had a good idea what the project was about and leapt into developing, feedbacking to my senior developer as I progressed with any ideas and changes as they formed, with most of them being received positively.

Turning Point

Now some of you might have seen this coming, but as the web app evolved even with feedback and confirmation from the senior developer, the final product differed from what the other client had in mind for the users despite the other clients being fond of the interface and interaction that was developed.

I think the takeaway from this is that while the app was usable, the lack of involvement communication between the developers and client due to different skillsets and language resulted in a dissociation in the project between the team.

Nathan Ingram (2017) has an interesting blog about some common problems you can run into with clients, with the problem of ‘Differing Expectations’ perfectly defining the issue I’ve had, where clarity of requirements wasn’t established between the team and clients.

If the time had been taken to involve all the clients and keep them up to date with progress and design decisions such as confirming with them what was to be delivered according to the requirements before developing, the project might’ve not run into as many issues or at least there would be an appreciation for the time and reasons behind the design choices that aimed to fulfil the requirements.

The Rebuttal

It is without doubt that involving as many of the stakeholders as possible in the creative ideation process and the rest of the project can accelerate research and lead to more innovative designs (Trischler, 2018), this is considered as a type of participatory design also known as co-design. Though without precautions, it can also result in the final product being appropriated by stakeholders other than the immediate user group (Bjögvinsson, 2012) and requires time and money invested from the design agency early on that will only see results that pay off in the long run.

It is not uncommon for a client to be so specific in their requirements that there is no room for any ideation. This can be great as it provides clear direction on what is needed unless the requirements are technically unfeasible or even solve the wrong problem, in which case it becomes restrictive for the designer and can often lead to a poor design experience.

This presents a difficult situation, where it is difficult to raise concerns without isolating the client through criticisms of their project. Ideally another solution could be found through ideation and presented to all stakeholders (so you don’t make the same mistake I did!).

Ideation Approaches

Double Diamond Model Illustration (Digi-Ark, 2020)

An acclaimed approach to approaching design problems is the Double Diamond Model developed by the British Design Council (British Design Council, 2005) from the Divergence-Convergence Model (Banathy, 1996). This will involve scaling the project back to its core requirements, both what is required of it from the client and above all the target audience.

The problem itself needs to be researched and defined before design even begins, only then can the creative ideation process truly begin to form potential solutions. Had I employed this in my earlier web app, I would have contacted the other stakeholders in the ‘Problem Definition’ phase, for feedback before beginning development and testing rather than waiting till the later stages of development for feedback and involvement. For a professional opinion on the Double Diamond Model, Carole Eissa (2019) has an insightful article on using the model and how it can benefit your teams design decisions.

Final Thoughts

There is no one way to approach the creative ideation process for a design problem, and while some clients may have more vision with their requirements, they may not speak for the project’s immediate users. I can’t stress how important it is to communicate with and involve all the stakeholders, so now it’s my turn to involve you, the reader, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic, and if you’ve had any experiences like mine!

Further Reading and References

British Design Council, (2005) “Eleven lessons. A study of the design process”

Banathy, Bela H. (1996). “Designing Social Systems in a Changing World” Springer US. p. XV, 372

Bjögvinsson, E., Ehn, P., Hillgren, P., Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts, School of Design and Crafts, Konstnärliga fakulteten, Göteborgs universitet, Högskolan för design och konsthantverk, Gothenburg University, Faculty of Culture and Society, Malmö University & School of Arts and Communication (2012), “Design Things and Design Thinking: Contemporary Participatory Design Challenges”, Design issues, vol. 28, no. 3, pp. 101-116.

Digi-Ark (2020) Double Diamond Illustration, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Double_diamond.png (Accessed 13/01/21)

Ulcej, Dejan (2019) “Focus Session: defining design requirements with stakeholders” Site available from  https://uxdesign.cc/focus-session-defining-design-requirements-with-stakeholders-c1df1b32b27e (Accessed 03/02/21)

Trischler, Jakob; Pervan, Simon J.; Kelly, Stephen J.; Scott, Don R. (2018). “The Value of Codesign”. Journal of Service Research. 21: 75–100.

Ingram, Nathan (2017) “9 common client problems” Site available from https://ithemes.com/9-common-client-problems/ (Accessed 10/02/21)

Eissa. Carole (2019) “How the Double Diamond process can help you work in a more user-centred way” Site available from https://www.testingtime.com/en/blog/double-diamond-process/ (Accessed 11/02/21)

Leave a Reply