Why bad ideas are a good idea

Alan Dix1, Tom Ormerod2, Michael Twidale3, Corina Sas1, Paula Alexandra Gomes da Silva1, Lorna McKnight1, 2

1. Computing Department, Infolab21, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
2. Psychology Department, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
3. GSLIS, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL, USA

< Alan on the Web > < Tom on the Web > < Mike on the Web > < Corina on the Web > < Palexa on the Web > < Lorna on the Web>

Paper at The First Joint BCS/IFIP WG13.1/ICS/EU CONVIVIO HCI Educators? Workshop
"HCIEd.2006-1 inventivity: Teaching theory, design and innovation in HCI", Ballina/Killaloe, Ireland. 23-24 March 2006

Download full paper (PDF, 292K)


What would happen if we wrote an Abstract that was the exact opposite of what the paper described? This is a bad idea, but it makes us think more carefully than usual about properties of Abstracts.  This paper describes BadIdeas, a collection of techniques that uses ‘bad’ or ‘silly’ ideas to inspire creativity, explore design domains and teach critical thinking in interaction design.  We describe the approach, some evidence, how it is performed in practice and experience in its use.

Keywords: Bad ideas, design fixation, creativity and innovation, critical thinking, lateral thinking


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  3. de Bono, E. (1985).  Six Thinking Hats.  Little, Brown and Company.
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  18. Sheridan, J., Dix, A., Bayliss, A., and Lock, S. (2004).  Understanding Interaction in Ubiquitous Guerrilla Performances in Playful Arenas, in People and Computers XVIII-Design for Life: Proceedings of HCI 2004. S.  Fincher, P.  Markopolous, D.  Moore, & R.  Ruddle (eds.). Springer-Verlag, pp 3-18.
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Full reference:
A. Dix, T. Ormerod, M. Twidale, C. Sas, P. Gomes da Silva, L. McKnight (2006). Why bad ideas are a good idea. in Proceedings of HCIEd.2006-1 inventivity, Ballina/Killaloe, Ireland. 23-24 March 2006

Alan's pages on Research and Innovation Techniques and essays on imagination and rationality and related topics
related paper:
C. Sas and A. Dix (2006).
Exploring the Design Space
. in DIS 2006 Workshop: Exploring Design as a Research Activity, Penn State, USA. 25 June 2006   
abstract and paper


  1. what is bad about this idea?
  2. why is this a bad thing?
  3. anything sharing this feature that is not bad?
  4. if so what is the difference?
  5. is there a different context where this would be good?


  1. what is good about this idea?
  2. why is this a good thing?
  3. anything sharing this feature that is not good?
  4. if so what is the difference?
  5. is there a different context where this would be bad?

Can someone think of a really bad idea?
(a pause followed by encouragement: “ it can be anything as silly as you like”)
Inflatable dart board.
Ok, what's bad about it?
A student:
It's full of air.
A car tyre is full of air, is that bad?
A student:
Ok, so something else bad? (followed by long pause …)
Ok, what's good about it?
A student:
It floats.
You can deflate it and pack it away.
Ok, so let's think again what's bad
(eventually, with more encouragement …)
A student:
The darts would burst it.
Can we make it good… but still must be inflatable
Those sticky ends
(discussion here … velcro, suckers, etc.)


Alan Dix 5/4/2006