How to Use the SCAMPER Technique in UX Design

CareerFoundry Blog contributor John Cheung

Ultimately, the goal of UX designers is to determine how existing ideas, products, or services can be improved for end-users. 

The SCAMPER methodology or technique can accelerate and improve this process by facilitating brainstorming exercises that generate new and fresh ideas.

The SCAMPER methodology was created in 1953 by Alex Osborn, co-founder of the international advertising agency BBDO. 

An action-packed checklist, it inspires you to reflect on and evolve UX design ideas. It’s a fun and simple technique which prompts the designer to play around with ideas in several ways. 

In short, you can:

  • Substitute the main theme of the topic for a similar idea
  • Combine the original topic with additional information
  • Adjust the issue with alternative design options
  • Modify the topic with creative solutions
  • Put it to other uses by identifying possible scenarios where this topic can be used
  • Eliminate features that do not offer sufficient value
  • Reverse and rearrange the problem in order to come up with a brand new concept

In this blog we’ll explore the methodology and how it can be applied to UX design. If you’re looking to become a UX designer, or just a better one, then this is a great string to add to your bow.

If you’d like to skip ahead to a certain section, simply use the clickable menu:

  1. What is SCAMPER?
  2. What does SCAMPER stand for?
  3. How does SCAMPER apply to UX design?
  4. How to use the SCAMPER technique
  5. Seven SCAMPER examples to show you how it’s done
  6. Final thoughts

1. What is SCAMPER? 

In a nutshell, SCAMPER is a method of creative brainstorming that can improve or innovate products that are not performing well in the market. 

Whilst there are several tools and ideation techniques that fuel critical thinking and problem-solving available to UX designers, SCAMPER is the easiest to apply. Get it right and it delivers the fastest results as well.

Like all good UX design, sometimes it’s the simplicity of a concept that makes the magic happen. Less is more, for example. 

The SCAMPER technique promotes seven approaches that encourage the design team to approach a product or service from a different point of view. Looking at a problem from different angles can help to spark the flash of inspiration that turns a failing product into a profitable flagship. 

This simple technique can also be used to address customer pain points and design innovative solutions that enable you to stay ahead of your competitors. 

Before we dive deeper into the SCAMPER methodology, let’s take a quick reminder.

2. What does SCAMPER stand for?

Substitute

Combine

Adapt

Modify

Put to another use

Eliminate 

Reverse

More on these later. But first, let’s look at SCAMPER and UX Design.

3. How does SCAMPER apply to UX design? 

Product ideas fail all the time. 

It’s difficult to put an exact figure on it, but according to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, 95% of new products fail. At the other end of the scale, lower estimates come in at around 40%-50%. 

Sometimes, even great ideas fail. This can be for a number of reasons such as targeting the wrong market or audience, failing to innovate beyond the prototype, tough competition, increased taxes or inflation eroding your budget, the build being low quality, etc.

Other times, consumers just don’t like the look of the product. Or maybe the features do not interest them. It may be that there simply is not enough consumer demand to sustain the product. 

Even well-established companies bringing new products onto the market have to make constant improvements. But with the pressure of time and financial constraints, design teams need a method to expedite the UX design process

Even if you’re trying to speed things up, it’s important to remember to use this process. In this video, designer Dee reminds you of how the UX design process works:

Now that you remember how the process works, let’s learn how to supercharge it. This is where the SCAMPER technique can come into play for design teams.

4. How to use the SCAMPER technique

The purpose of the SCAMPER methodology is to generate as many ideas as possible during a brainstorming exercise

The system works whether you’re working alone or as part of a design team. It’s more fun as part of a team—even if there are only two of you. 

An effective way of applying this technique is to work through the seven sections of the SCAMPER acronym and write down the problem in each section together with the possible solutions.

You can also set a time limit for each section to keep you focused. 

It’s important to note that solutions can be extracted from every category. However, that doesn’t mean that every category will have the best solution for your product. The beauty of the SCAMPER technique is that it prompts UX designers to take a holistic approach. 

Next, let’s take an in-depth look so you can see how it works.

Team of designers SCAMPER brainstorming in a startup office.

5. Seven SCAMPER examples to show you how it’s done.

The solution(s) that emerge from any brainstorming exercise should clarify what the issue is.

By applying the SCAMPER technique described below, you should be able to effectively drill down to find the most appropriate solution from at least one of the methodologies. 

However, time-permitting, it’s worth covering all seven sections to increase the chances of generating home-run ideas. These ideas can either support or enhance the current project or give you ideas to innovate elsewhere. 

In this section, you will learn how to work with the SCAMPER technique and apply it to your current project:

Substitute

The first section raises the question: is this simply a matter of switching one feature for another? If customers have given you feedback about major issues with the product, you can determine whether it needs changing entirely. 

Let’s say it is. Come up with a list of alternatives that offer more value to users. We see this all the time in computers where a manufacturer upgrades the processing chip with the latest version to make machines faster. 

However, some solutions may not be that obvious. If there isn’t a product on the market that helps you to improve your product, you’ll have to innovate yourself.

And that could be something as simple as changing shape from a rectangle to a circular or as complex as developing an entirely new feature.

Combine

Another way of improving a product or service is by combining two innovative ideas and blending them into a feature. This may streamline a process, make a product better, and offer more value for money. 

For example, when tech companies introduced HD cameras to smartphones in 2010, sales increased from around 250 million units to 1,475 million in 2018.

In the same timeframe, pocket camera sales were as high as 1,100 million units, but have slumped to 100 million units. 

Adapt

Adapting a failing product is often a more cost-effective solution than overhauling it, so this can often be the most vital step in the SCAMPER methodology.

The key question is, how will you adapt or tweak the product or service to improve the user experience?

Adapting a product or service can take many different forms, but is often changing one of the following:

  • Name 
  • Shape 
  • Color
  • Form
  • Function
  • Or a combination of the above.

Questions you can ask are: 

  1. How can we provide more value to the end user? 
  2. What features of the existing product can be improved by making tweaks? 
  3. Do you need to adapt your product to keep up with the market? 

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the answer may be to adapt your marketing strategy rather than the product. 

Modify

Modifying a product is a slightly different approach to adapting. Here, the changes you make unleash enhanced capabilities or resolve customer pain points which gives customers more reason to purchase your product. 

For example, you may decide to add a feature to an existing product to position it as a premium product, then create a similar product at a lower price point that doesn’t boast as many features.

Put to another use

If none of the above techniques provides a satisfactory solution, repurposing the product could be the best way to go.

However, it’s usually the case that this technique generally applies to a particular feature you are substituting. 

Questions you can ask at this stage include:

  • Does this feature still have any value? 
  • Is there any demand for this product or feature in the marketplace?
  • Are there any other products we can use for now or in the future? 
  • What are the benefits of retaining and reusing this feature? 
  • Can this feature be used to penetrate other market segments? 
  • Is this feature outdated now or will it be outdated soon?
  • Is it more cost-effective to repurpose this feature or build a new one?
  • Can this design feature be used in another project?

There are often possibilities to use products or features in other ways you might have missed and this step can be useful in finding them.

Eliminate

An alternative to repurposing is to eliminate a feature entirely. This might be because the idea is outdated or simply because the functionality is inadequate and doesn’t offer any value.

Consider the consequences of eliminating, simplifying, or reducing, or minimizing parts of your product.

Doing this over multiple stages can often reduce your challenge to the most important part and give you renewed focus.

Reverse or rearrange

The question you’re basically addressing here is whether a failing product needs reordering.

It could be an entire reversal of a process or rearranging elements so that it flows more smoothly. 

A recent example, of reversal, was seen when nutritionists flipped the food pyramid we have been following since the 1950s in its head. Other nutritionists rearranged it, but either way, significant changes were made and are delivering positive results. 

8. Final thoughts

The SCAMPER technique is one of the easiest ways to generate a lot of useful ideas in a short space of time.

This is because it prompts UX designers to look at products and services from various angles, it fuels discussion, and it encourages seeing problems from a different perspective. 

If you’re looking out for other ways of generating rapid ideas, head over to Five Design Thinking Exercises Every UX Designer Should Know.

If you’d like to read more about the world of UX design, check out these articles:

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