Jennifer Coffey

Grab a cup of coffee (or tea) and enjoy!

Mash-Up Ideation

When I was younger, I was in an after-school program called Destination Imagination, or DI. This problem-solving club for all grade levels focused on various absurd science, technology, engineering, arts, or math challenges. After coming up with a solution, a team will perform a short skit or presentation to show the judges their solution. The whole point of the program is to use your imagination to generate creative ideas from complex and wacky problems. 

In the real world, there are many different ideation techniques designers can use to generate ideas. Ideation, the fourth step in the design thinking process, is the most creative part of the process. 

For example, if you are stuck brainstorming, the mash-up ideation method can produce some crazy ideas that might help create a plausible solution. 

Mash-Up Process

The first step in the mash-up ideation process is to create a “how might we statement.” For example, how might we create a better customer service experience at Barnes and Noble? 

Next, it is time to list to create two broad categories that are unrelated. The first needs to connect to the topic, and the other one needs to be unrelated. Try and think of services or experiences. For example, here are two lists below of “things in a bookstore” and “things found on a tropical resort.”

Results of the two mash-ups. The black line indicates each pairing.

Then, it’s time to create the mash-ups. I combined one item from each list to come up with a new idea. Next, I added a definition of some of the details of the concept. Lastly, I added a sketch to get a visual of each idea. 

Sports themed play mats in front of the sports picture books section in the Children’s Department.

Picture book sports area – kids can enjoy a play area with different field mats on the ground.

2-3 tables set up in the corner of the store with different crafting kits on each table. Customers can try rock painting, crochet, cross-stitch, and more.

Crafting bar – try out some of the dozens of different crafting kits.

More seating available, specifically couches and tables for customers to take a break from shopping and read or drink coffee.

Cozy Coffee lounge – the cafe area gets an upgrade with couches and comfy chairs.

Place a small TV in the movie/TV section and show movie/TV trailers so customers can purchase the book before they watch the program.

Book to TV – add in a TV with scrolling book to tv/movie trailers so people can grab the book before they watch it.

Diving Deeper

As a B&N bookseller, I have had dozens of conversations with customers on improving the store and our customer experience. For this mash-up exercise, I wanted to see if I could develop a ludicrous idea that could actually work. 

First, I came up with a list of elements found in a bookstore. Then I needed to come up with another category. It took me a couple of minutes to think of a concept with a lot of customer service elements that I could draw from. I finally settled on a tropical resort hotel because of the many customer service elements that users would interact with during their stay. 

Writing down a list of 15 elements was very easy. I completed this task within a minute and swiftly moved on to the next stage of the process.

Then, I created four mash-ups of some not-so-crazy-ideas. I quickly became disappointed in my lists because I made lists of objects and not services or experiences. But, I took what I had to see what I could come up with. I could realistically see the crafting bar and cozy coffee lounge as legitimate parts of the store. Before COVID-19, we used to have a children’s crafting area where the kids could paint rocks or make snowflakes, but it had to be taken away for safety measures. For the picture book sports area and the book to TV area, I have seen both these ideas in stores, and they always seem successful. 


These ideas might not be so out-of-the-box as I expected, but they could still work very well in a retail store. They would change the pace of the usual Barnes and Noble, but do they actually create a better customer experience? I would be excited to get feedback from actual customers to see!

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