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Convergent Thinking

After you’ve considered a wide range of possible design ideas through divergent thinking, it’s now time to bring your idea—and your mindset—back to the world of constraints and practicalities. Now is when you lasso your ideas out of the big blue sky and tug them back to earth. Now is when you see which of your ideas holds up and maintains its integrity when confronted with the constraints, curve balls, and imperfections of daily life. By observing how your ideas contend with day-to-day reality, you’ll know which ones are ready for further development.

Like divergent thinking, convergent thinking will happen naturally and intermittently throughout your design process—whenever you prioritize, refine, or select ideas to pursue. It’s important to be as conscientious and deliberate as possible when moving into this unique frame of mind and mode of work.

Convergent thinking is decision making. The decisions you’re making may be simple, tactical choices about what to focus on or how to organize your ideas. The decisions you’re making may be significant, strategic conclusions about the direction and outcomes of your work.

There may be tough choices as you pare down, edit out, mix together, pick between, and let go of some ideas in favor of others. There is an expression in the literary world that sometimes you have to “kill your darlings,” which means walking away from ideas you really like if they don’t serve the greater good of your project. For example, you might really, really want to design a game, but, when you look at the participants’ needs and project constraints, a game just won’t answer to both. So you have to walk away from that idea.

Convergent thinking may come to feel like “the hard part” of your design process, but it’s an essential step in transforming your intentions into action. Doing this in a group requires careful communication and consensus building.

The framework in this section provides some tools and techniques to help you start identifying your constraints and reality checks, so that you can discern which of your design ideas is the most ready and able to meet the real world.