light bulbProject Innovation

Exploration of Invention & Innovation - Design

Virtual Design | Brainstorming | Storyboarding | Problem-solving Model |
App Design | Image Sources | Physical Design

Background Reading

Technology is a a term used very broadly to mean any product or process developed by humans to solve a problem or meet a need. Technology affects the ability of humans to control and adapt to their environment, and it impacts human society in a variety of ways. In addition to complex machines and "high-tech" tools like the automobile and the latest smart phone "app", the simplest tools and devices, like a lever to move something or a kitchen gadget, are also considered technologies. Technology is closely associated with invention and innovation, the transformation of ideas for solving problems or meeting needs into useful new products or processes. Inventions can come from a moment of ingeniousness, as a solution to a specific problem, or as a development from years of research. Inventing requires creative thinking, investigation, and experimentation as part of the design process, a series of steps that help people to think creatively about a problem and produce a successful result. Inventors and engineers use a similar design process, although the field of engineering favors a collaborative team approach to problem-solving and design, while inventors often work alone. Many of the world's technology inventions were designed by engineers.

The terms invention and innovation are often used interchangeably, and have evolved along with technology. Traditionally, invention has been considered the process of designing and creating something useful that never existed before, and innovation the process of changing or improving upon an already existing invention. For example, the phonograph was the first machine ever to record and play back sounds when it was invented in 1877 by Thomas Edison; using these definitions, the 8-track tape player, cassette tape player, CD player, Walkman, and iPod were all innovations on the phonograph. Both new and improved technologies are covered under the United States Patent and Trademark Office's official definition of an invention as "any art or process (way of doing or making things), machine, manufacture, design, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof . . . which is or may be patentable under the patent laws of the United States."

Read the articles below to explore the concepts of invention and innovation and consider some examples. Use your learning to create a Venn diagram which illustrates the relationship between these two concepts. This interactive Venn diagram can be embedded on your wiki.

Reflection Journal Entry: What is your vision for your proposed invention?
Will this be an invention or an innovation?

Virtual Design

Inventor’s Log

A universal best practice among inventors and engineers is keeping a log book or notebook to record their ideas and document every step of their design process. Creating a record of your ideas and work will help you to both develop and protect your invention. Use the resources below to learn about keeping a log book and take notes to answer the questions.


  1. What are the purposes for keeping an inventor's log book?
  2. What should I include in my inventor's log book?
Apply your new knowledge to set up your own inventor's log book and use it to document your invention/engineering design process from this point forward.
Brainstorming for Invention and Innovation

Use these strategies and tools to identify needs to be addressed or problems that might be solved through invention:

Once you have identified needs to be addressed or problems that might be solved through invention, use these brainstorming strategies and tools to generate ideas about how you might solve those needs or problems through a technology/engineering design solution or invention:

General Brainstorming Activities

Step 1: Review the methods of brainstorming (structured, unstructured and silent) and choose the method that best suits your style.  For more specific rules on "structured brainstorming", click here.

Step 2: To brainstorm as a whole group and provide a framework for how to brainstorm productively, you can access the site, 25 Brainstorming Techniques , or UNC Brainstorming Handout, for engaging brainstorming ideas/techniques.

Step 3: Complete this preliminary brainstorming activity related to the GENERAL topic or area of study you are interested in researching for the course by clicking the icon to the right.  This creative, idea generation tool forces you to make connections between a random image and your idea.  When prompted at the first step, type in your teachers email address so that the final product can be sent electronically for documentation.

Brainstorming and Searching Aids

ask a question, get an answer

Aardvark is a new kind of tool that lets users tap into the knowledge and experience of friends and friends-of-friends. Send Aardvark a question (from the web, IM, email, Twitter, or iPhone) and users will get a quick, helpful response from someone with…
  • The right knowledge and experience to help
  • Similar tastes
  • Friends in common 
google timeline
your topic, over time
This web application organizes search results chronologically allowing users to view news and other data sources on a browseable, graphical timeline. Available data sources include recent and historical news, scanned newspapers and magazines, blog posts, sports scores, and information about various types of media, like music albums and movies.

Google quotes

one topic, two views

The "In Quotes" feature allows users to find quotes from stories linked from Google News. These quotations are a valuable resource for understanding where people in the news stand on various issues. Google News compiles the direct quotes of selected leaders from online news stories and sorts them into browsable groups based on who is being quoted. 

Google wonder wheel

Google Search, Google Spin

A pre-defined mind mapper which helps the user get all the related search results in a wheel shaped display (similar to mind mapping software which are commonly used); gives users another reason to use it in addition to the features already provided by search engine giant Google. 


Brainstorming Tools to Organize Your Ideas

Traditional forms of brainstorming with paper and pencil:

Click one of the links below to access a brainstorming graphic organizer.  If you prefer the paper/pencil approach to brainstorming, print out the organizer that works best for you and record your brainstorm onto it.  Be sure to hold on to your brainstorm throughout the research process

Alternatives to paper/pencil brainstorming:

  • MindMeister Quickly build your own mind maps using our intuitive, award-winning interface - absolutely no learning required! Access them online whenever you like, export them to other formats, or import your own existing maps. All you need is a standard web browser, no plugins or additional software required.


  • Bubbl.Us is a simple and free web application that lets you brainstorm online, create colorful mind maps online, share and work with friends, embed your mind map in your blog or website, email and print your mind map and save your mind map as an image.
  • Mindomo Mindomo and mind mapping provide the ideal environment for research and information storage for you. With real life ideas and concepts existing in a hierarchical and interrelated form, Mindomo lets you represent those ideas and concepts as they exist in your mind, store and organize and your research and information, accessible anywhere with an Internet connection, understand your information by storing and viewing it in a interrelated, structured form, create a formatted outline for use as a study guide or handout and present your information in Mindomo, or share it on the web. 

Start Brainstorming!

Problem-Solving Models
App Design
Image Resources
Physical Design

Sea Perch

Oil Spill

Remotely Operated Vehicles