Logical Brainstorming

Morphological Synthesis is a logical method of forcing yourself to explore multiple configurations to solve a problem.

As I was preparing for my session at the upcoming Front End Design Conference on “Learning to Love Ideas”,  I was searching high and low for some interesting brainstorming techniques. I first stumbled across a method called  Morphological Synthesis when I was reading an older interview with Frank Ze.

At its core, I like to think of it as a “grid of extremes”.  It forces you to combine concepts in a logical way and explore ideas that you might not have otherwise. You combine two attributes in the form of a grid. You can also create a three dimensional grid of possibilities, but for the sake of simplicity for this exercise, I chose a two dimensional version. In this case, my example will look similar to a logic puzzle.

Traditionally, Morphological Synthesis seems to be used more in the scientific community as a means to problem solving. A good overview on the topic can be found from the Swedish Morphological Society.

Adapting this brainstorming technique to the design and advertising industry seems to work quite well when it comes to storytelling or creative executions for the web.  And it can really produce a LOT of ideas so you’ll need to narrow them down to just a few.

Step 1:

Define the problem or objective at hand.

For this exercise, I chose a topic that requires a collaborative experimental concept for our creative team. The main stipulation is that the project can’t require any developers.


Define the problem or objective

  • The Problem: “What kind of project can we do to exercise our creative muscles that won’t require any developers or coding skills.”

Step 2:

Identity and define the parameters of the problem.

The next step is to define 2 parameters that can have sub parameters listed under each.  For this project I selected 2 main pillars. The first being “creative execution” -  or where the results of our collaborative efforts will live. This could be a wall mural, a calendar, something that lives on Flickr, on our blog or perhaps it’s an installation in our office.

The second parameter I chose is the “project concept“. This might include selections of materials such as paper, or clay. Tools might be our computers or hands. Themes might include the 4th of July or Metamorphosis. The possibilities are endless but the point is to come up with configurations by crossing the possibilities within a grid. Again, any ideas cannot require any developers – that means no coding.


Define the parameter

  • X-AXIS: Project Concepts: materials, styles, themes & message
  • Y-AXIS: Creative Execution: digital, physical product, physical space & video

Step 3:

Create a grid of “values” based on the parameters.

The next step is to create the grid. On the X and Y-axis you list the sub parameters of the 2 main parameters you have chose. This gives you a wide variety of possibilities as you go up and down the grid making combinations of ideas.

(click to enlarge)


Grid with parameters

Step 4:

Eliminate the impossible or unwanted ideas.

The final step is to use the grid. You can cross-examine multiple options leaving no stone unturned. Once you have reviewed the options and selected your favorites, take some time to clarify and review the concepts.

Remove combinations that are impossible or undesirable. Ideally, you should try to narrow down to 5 or less. There are also no hard set rules about having to use everything in the grid as it should be a tool to aid your brainstorming process in a logical way.

4 ideas I chose based on my grid:

  • Handmade paper info-graphics with statistics for  “you are what you eat” posted as a Flickr set
  • Illustrative posters made from a mix of clay and Photoshop with the phrase “The world is the canvas to the imagination”
  • A monthly theme site where we illustrate comics of a funny topic of the month
  • How to videos of monster creations in Photoshop posted on ANidea

And these ideas are not the end of the journey. They are just the beginning. I will bring them to a group to be added on to, torn-apart, refined and so on. It’s all a part of the brainstorming process.

Brainstorm Image Credit: by andymangold (CC – share, remix with attribution) Flickr /4455910733