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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

It’s no shame to reframe

During your sketching, you may reach a point where the original Solution Idea just doesn’t seem strong enough. Maybe something else you sketched made you think of another way to address the root cause of the problems.

You may even start to wonder if the “how might we” Spark you used to find a Solution Idea was really the right question to ask.

It’s not unusual for this to happen. Thinking visually activates more of your mind, and it may connect to something from your previous field research that you didn’t think of earlier.

Pay attention to this! The way you ask a question impacts the types of solutions you explore. It forms the frame of your solution, and sometimes the first frame you try doesn’t end up fitting as well as it might.

Changing the question that you ask is called “reframing.” It’s a natural part of the design process. Let’s say you wanted to make biking more luxurious for bald people, which led you to ask:

How might we make helmets more safe and comfortable against skin?

That question makes the assumption that you’re working only with helmts. Reframe by asking:

How might we make helmets unnecessary?

This reframe might lead you to design a shock-triggered force field around the biker, or air bag sunglasses that inflate when the biker’s head is about to hit something at high speed.

Reframing is an excellent technique for thinking even bigger. It helps you break out of current assumptions. Try writing three different sparks for our bald biker challenge.

Consider how we might:

  • Amp up the good
  • Remove the bad
  • Use unexpected resources
  • Challenge an assumption
  • Look from a different person’s point of view
  • Use an analogy (How might we make biking like flying? Or student dropoff like an assembly line?)

These questions are from: IDEATE Mixtape, Stanford -

Game: Reframe in the Membrane



Brainstorm new possibilities by introducing unexpected and downright strange elements to your Spark Frame.

What You’ll Need

  • Pen & paper

Step 1: Refit Your Challenge

Write down your Challenge statement at the top of a piece of paper. You are going to modify that statement by adding a physical or contextual constraint. Pick one Object or Scenario.

Step 2: Generate a List

  • If you picked Object, write down the first 25 objects that pop into your head. They can be anything: taco, cat, computer, fleas, etc.
  • If you picked Scenario, write down the first 25 possible scenarios for the challenge that pop into your head. They can be digital, such as “on a mobile device”; physical, such as “at the drive-in movie theater”; or even completely unrealistic, such as “on a world with no gravity.”

Step 3: Stretch Your Concepts

Referring back to your Challenge statement, retrofit it to include each term in your list, and quickly generate one to three ideas for the new Challenge. Be silly! Be weird! Have fun! For example, if your Challenge was: “Make going to the beach more fun for the easily sunburned,” and your Object was “coat hanger,” then maybe a concept is using the hanger as a DIY tent frame so pale-skinned beach-goers can relax in the shade, using their towel as a tent.

Step 4: Review Your Results

How did adding unexpected design constraints change the way you looked at your Challenge? Did you come up with any new concepts that you think might actually work?

More Ways to Play: For a Group

Pair people up and have partners generate the list of Objects or Scenarios for each other - without knowing the other player’s Challenge, of course.

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