Using creative exhaustion to foster idea generation

  • Colin M. GrayEmail author
  • Seda McKilligan
  • Shanna R. Daly
  • Colleen M. Seifert
  • Richard Gonzalez


Numerous studies have shown the value of introducing cognitive supports to encourage the development of creative ability, and researchers have developed a variety of methods to aid in generating ideas. However, design students often struggle to explore more ideas after their initial ideas are exhausted. In this study, an empirically validated tool for idea generation, called Design Heuristics, was introduced as a means of productively pushing past creative exhaustion in an industrial design course at a large Midwestern university. Students worked on a simple design task on their own, generating an average of 6.1 concepts in a 30-min session; then, after 10 min of instruction on the Design Heuristics tool, students generated an average of 2.8 additional concepts for the same task using Design Heuristics for an additional 30 min. The concepts created in this second session using Design Heuristics were rated as higher in novelty, specificity and relevance. These results suggest that students benefit from introducing support tools following a period of working on their own ideas. Once their own ideas are exhausted, students may be more open to using and learning from support tools, and these tools may support skill development while producing higher quality outcomes.


Creativity Design education Design Heuristics Idea generation Creativity skills Design methods 



This research is funded by the National Science Foundation, Division of Undergraduate Education, Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (TUES Type II) Grants # 1323251 and #1322552. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Purdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  2. 2.Iowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  3. 3.University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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