Using AI for Brainstorming: An Illustrated Biotechnology Example

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Using AI for Brainstorming: An Illustrated Biotechnology Example

Reading Time: 13 minutes
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It’s no secret that generative AI, the content-creating artificial intelligence capable of spitting out text, images, audio, and video in seconds, is making waves in almost every industry. Whether it’s a chatbot, machine-generated tweets, or otherworldly images manufactured seemingly from thin air, generative AI is everywhere and anywhere. Harnessing all of this power, however, requires a basic understanding of the capabilities (and limitations) of AI tools, as well as a clear-eyed assessment of AI’s true place in the creative process. Bots will never replace humans, but they can make us more efficient and take us down divergent pathways we didn’t even know existed.


With that in mind, this article will introduce some common AI tools and review how to use them more effectively to jumpstart one of the most important (and sometimes mercurial) activities of a creative agency — brainstorming. To provide a real-world context to our presentation of AI concepts, we will pretend that a startup medical device company, Integument, has come to our agency to help develop a marketing campaign to introduce its inaugural product, the X-Derm transdermal vaccination platform.

This is Integument’s mission statement:

Integument is an innovative biotechnology company that draws inspiration from nature to transform the transdermal delivery of lifesaving medicines.

This is an overview of the X-Derm product:

The X-Derm Microneedle Administration System (MAS) is the breakthrough platform that makes it possible to deliver life-saving medicines, vaccines and therapeutics to patients — without the need for painful injections. At the heart of X-Derm is our patented solid microneedle design modeled after the proboscis of a mosquito.

An array of microscopic needles penetrate the skin effectively, but with absolutely no pain, delivering medicine just below the skin. The needles are carried on a patch, and the patch is adhered to the skin using the X-Derm Vaccination Wand™, which both presses the patch into the skin and increases the skin’s porousness using heat and a burst of rapid vibration.

With the X-Derm MAS, pharmaceutical companies and biomanufacturers have a viable delivery platform that protects the integrity of active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) while allowing the medicine to be delivered painlessly across the skin, triggering a rapid, robust immune response.

And this is what the X-Derm product looks like:

Now, we need a creative campaign to bring this innovative product to the market. Using artificial intelligence for brainstorming is an efficient way to leverage technology to supplement human brainpower. Let’s get started.

Divergent Thinking

The job of brainstorming is to encourage divergent thinking — creative thinking that leads to a large number of diverse ideas. In the early stages of brainstorming, quantity trumps quality, and typically, larger teams of individuals benefit the process because different perspectives and experiences lead to new and original solutions to problems. But as anyone who has participated in one of these ideation sessions can tell you, it’s not always easy to get into the zone: that magical mental place where lightbulbs flash like paparazzi at a red-carpet event.

Technique #1: Establish the right brain space.
AI Tool #1: Stable Diffusion

To help prime the creative pump, meeting facilitators will often start with a warmup activity. One such activity is the Thirty Circles Exercise, taken from IDEO partners Tom and David Kelley, who describe the technique in their book, Creative Confidence. The objective of the exercise is to turn as many of the blank circles as possible into recognizable objects in three minutes.

There’s no doubt human brainstormers will benefit from this exercise, and they should be encouraged to participate. But it’s also possible to turn to AI for some inspiration — because the robot brain often uncovers connections and pathways that we as humans don’t always see. Instead of the full Thirty Circles Exercise, we turned to our first AI tool, Stable Diffusion XL, to create a series of 6 images based on the X-Derm concept. Here is our prompt: Imagine a futuristic vehicle based on a mosquito’s body design. The vehicle should have wings and a proboscis, but make sure it looks friendly and not frightening.

This is the output:

An exercise like this is not meant to solve a specific problem. Instead, it’s meant to awaken the neurons of human participants, to prepare them for the creative thinking yet to come. And these fanciful images do just that. They tickle the imagination and break down mental barriers that may be blocking breakthrough thinking. It is interesting, however, that some of our fantastical, mosquito-inspired vehicles actually resemble the X-Derm vaccination wand.

Being informed about a particular topic can also help increase a person’s creative bandwidth. Let’s jump to the next section to see how AI can help us understand transdermal medicine delivery.

Technique #2: Research the problem to establish connections.
AI Tool #2: Genei

Before you can generate creative for a biotech platform, you must understand the science to some degree. You don’t need the insights of a PhD grad student, but you do need a fundamental understanding. Knowing the basic vocabulary and concepts of a discipline provides additional avenues for creative exploration.

To produce this educational foundation for Integument and its X-Derm product, we are going to turn to Genei, a tool that automatically summarizes background information about a topic. In Genei, you can either summarize article content from a PDF or from a URL. You can also create folders to hold multiple related articles.

The screenshots below show the summary of an article titled, “Microneedles: a potential strategy in transdermal delivery and application in the management of psoriasis,” which provides some great background on the types of microneedles and their basic mechanism of action. Genei provides an abstract, keywords, and a bulleted summary of each section. It also extracts all of the images from the article and, for easy reference, includes the full article in a split-screen view.

Some of this background could be shared before brainstorming, but it can also be helpful to review during the session. A quick scan of the summary reveals some interesting keywords and concepts. For example, skin is composed of the epidermis, dermis, and subcutis; the epidermis is constantly renewing, with the stratum corneum playing a crucial role in the skin’s barrier function and water regulation; and microneedle systems, including solid, hollow, and dissolving needles, deliver drugs directly to the epidermis or dermis. Any of these ideas could be fruitful in developing creative:

Microneedle, Micropain.

Direct Dermal Delivery.

Beyond the Barrier.

Expanding your knowledge base is critical and will lead to numerous ideas. But there are other ways to generate ideas quickly, as we’ll see in the next section.

Technique #3: Engage in rapid wordplay to build and extend ideas.
AI Tool #3: Chatmind

Wordplay is a tried-and-true technique to generate creative ideas. In traditional brainstorming, participants rely on dictionaries, thesauruses, quotation collections, and other reference tools to produce a list of useful words and related concepts. This is time-consuming. AI is a perfect solution for this kind of divergent thinking. It can produce dozens of related ideas in seconds. Chatmind is a mind mapping tool that organizes words, phrases, and quotes around a central word or concept. In our example of using AI for brainstorming marketing ideas for Integument, we asked Chatmind to create a mind map starting with this prompt: Human skin.

This is the result:

A couple of promising ideas jump out from this mind map. Idioms are always a great source of inspiration, and the idea of “skin deep” has potential. So does the notion that the skin contains “sweat glands.” Also, one of the functions of skin is “protection,” which is also the function of a vaccine. This leads to more campaign concepts we can add to our list:

Immunity is only skin deep.

Vaccination — without the cold sweat.

[Image of a tattoo on a person’s arm] We must protect this house.

We’re starting to build a strong list with these ideas, but we could use a few more. Let’s turn to ChatGPT and an altogether different approach to using AI for brainstorming — asking questions instead of providing answers.

Technique #4: Generate questions to recast problems in valuable new ways.
AI Tool #4: ChatGPT

We’ve covered this in another blog, but asking questions can be an effective tool for divergent thinking, especially if you don’t totally understand the nature of the problem. Asking questions helps you stimulate the creative process and uncover more fruitful areas to explore.

Using AI for brainstorming for this marketing challenge, we presented the following prompt to ChatGPT:

I have a new transdermal vaccination system I want to introduce to the market. Ask me a series of questions that helps me think about this marketing challenge in a new way. Start with seven questions.

This is ChatGPT’s response:

Absolutely, let’s explore this new transdermal vaccination system from various angles. Here are seven questions to consider:

1. **Target Audience**:
  • Who is the primary target audience for this transdermal vaccination system?
  • Are there specific demographics or groups that would benefit the most from this technology?
2. **Unique Selling Proposition (USP)**:
  • What sets your transdermal vaccination system apart from traditional methods like injections or oral vaccines?
  • How does it improve the vaccination experience for users?
3. **Safety and Efficacy**:
  • What clinical trials or studies have been conducted to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of your system?
  • How can you convey this information to instill confidence in potential users?
4. **Regulatory Approval**:
  • Have you obtained or begun the process of obtaining regulatory approvals for your transdermal vaccination system?
  • How will you navigate regulatory challenges and compliance?
5. **Distribution and Accessibility**:
  • How do you plan to distribute your system?
  • Are there any logistical challenges or considerations for ensuring accessibility, especially in underserved areas or regions with limited healthcare infrastructure?
6. **Education and Awareness**:
  • How will you educate healthcare professionals and the general public about the benefits and proper use of your transdermal vaccination system?
  • What materials or campaigns will you develop to increase awareness?
7. **Market Positioning and Competition**:
  • Who are your main competitors in the market, and how does your system compare to their offerings?
  • What strategies will you employ to position your product as a preferred choice for vaccination?

Some of these questions, such as those around regulatory approval and distribution, are more appropriate for the X-Derm product development team. Others, such as the question about the USP, have already been addressed in our earlier concepts. However, two questions may provide new avenues for exploration: the question about target audience and the question about competition. The former question reminds us that many of our concepts focused on reducing pain and anxiety target the recipient of vaccines. But the vaccine administrator is also one of our target audiences. This leads to other possible concepts:

Your patients will thank you for this.

Fewer tears and fears. Greater immune response.

The second question — who are the main competitors in the market? — suggests that a more direct comparison to the traditional vaccination system (intramuscular injections via hypodermic needle) could be a viable ideation pathway. This leads to a few more promising ideas:

It’s not the size of the needle that counts.

Strong Immunity — No Muscles Needed.

Of course, generating ideas is just the first part of brainstorming. The next step is to converge on a single concept that will resonate with targeted audience members. AI can help with that, too.

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Convergent Thinking

We can’t go to the market with 10 concepts, even if more than one holds great promise. We must filter and winnow until we get to a single, high-impact idea. This is known as convergence, which requires creative teams to narrow their focus by refining ideas and synthesizing information. Taking the next step in using AI for brainstorming, we’re now looking for a balanced, unbiased analysis of the pros and cons of various concepts. We turned to ChatGPT again and used the following prompt:

I would like you to evaluate a creative concept based on its impact and memorability in a target audience of vaccination administrators and patients receiving injections. The concept is for a transdermal vaccination system that uses microneedles to deliver life-saving medicines, vaccines and therapeutics to patients — without the need for painful injections. Here is the concept: Microneedle, Micropain. Please evaluate it by listing the pros and cons.

These are the results ChatGPT offered for the first concept, “Microneedle, Micropain:”

**Pros**:
1. **Memorability**:
  • The concept is memorable due to the clever play on words, linking “microneedle” to “micropain”. This creates an immediate association with pain-free injections.
2. **Emphasis on Pain Reduction**:
  • The concept effectively communicates the key benefit of the transdermal vaccination system — the elimination of painful injections. This is a significant selling point for both administrators and patients.
3. **Clarity and Simplicity**:
  • The concept is straightforward and easy to understand, which is important for effective communication in the medical field.
**Cons**:
1. **Negative Association with Pain**:
  • While the concept highlights pain reduction, it also indirectly emphasizes pain, which might not be the best approach when trying to create a positive and reassuring image for patients.
2. **Possibility of Misinterpretation**:
  • Some individuals might interpret “Micropain” as a reference to potential pain, even though the intention is to convey the opposite. This could lead to confusion or a negative perception.
3. **Lack of Emotional Appeal**:
  • The concept focuses primarily on the technical aspect (microneedles) and pain reduction. It might benefit from incorporating an emotional element, such as emphasizing comfort, safety, or convenience.
4. **Competing Concepts**:
  • It’s worth considering if there are other concepts that could potentially convey the benefits of the transdermal vaccination system even more effectively.
**Suggestions**:
1. **Positive Framing**:
  • Consider framing the concept in a more positive light, such as “PainlessPatch” or “ComfortCure,” to emphasize the comfort and ease of use.
2. **Patient-Centered Messaging**:
  • Develop messaging that focuses on the patient’s experience and how this technology enhances their overall healthcare journey.
3. **Visual Elements**:
  • Incorporate visual elements that depict the microneedles in a non-threatening and reassuring way, reinforcing the pain-free experience.
4. **Feedback and Testing**:
  • Consider gathering feedback from a sample of your target audience to gauge their reactions and perceptions of the concept.

Overall, “Microneedle, Micropain” has a catchy and memorable quality, but it could benefit from a more positive and patient-centered approach to create a stronger emotional connection with the audience.

Notice that ChatGPT provided suggestions even though we didn’t have that in our initial prompt. It even offers additional concepts, such as “PainlessPatch” or “ComfortCure,” that we can bring into our portfolio of ideas.

Here are the concluding evaluations for all of the concepts:

Concept

AI Evaluation

Microneedle, Micropain.

“Microneedle, Micropain” has a catchy and memorable quality, but it could benefit from a more positive and patient-centered approach to create a stronger emotional connection with the audience.

Direct Dermal Delivery.

“Direct Dermal Delivery” is a clear and professional concept that effectively communicates the benefits of the transdermal vaccination system. While it may not be as immediately memorable as some more creatively coined names, its clarity and professionalism make it a solid choice for a medical context.

Beyond the Barrier.

“Beyond the Barrier” is a poetic and memorable concept that effectively conveys the idea of moving beyond traditional barriers in vaccination methods. While it may require some additional clarification regarding the specific technology, its evocative nature has the potential to resonate strongly with the audience.

Immunity is only skin deep.

“Immunity is only skin deep” is a catchy and memorable concept that effectively conveys the idea of achieving immunity through skin-level delivery. While it may require some additional clarification regarding the specific technology, its use of metaphor creates a strong visual and conceptual impact that can resonate with the audience.

Vaccination — without the cold sweat.

“Vaccination — without the cold sweat” is a clear and empathetic concept that effectively communicates the benefits of the transdermal vaccination system. While it may benefit from a shortened variation for certain contexts, its relatable message and reassurance factor make it a strong choice for addressing concerns about pain and discomfort during vaccinations.

[Image of a tattoo on a person’s arm] We must protect this house.

“We must protect this house” with the image of a tattoo on a person’s arm is a memorable and emotionally resonant concept. While it may require some additional context to fully understand the connection to the transdermal vaccination system, its powerful imagery and empowering message can make it a compelling choice for the right audience.

Your patients will thank you for this.

“Your patients will thank you for this” is a patient-centric and positive concept that effectively communicates the benefits of the transdermal vaccination system. While it may require some additional context regarding the specific technology, its focus on patient satisfaction and gratitude makes it a strong choice for addressing concerns about the vaccination experience.

Fewer tears and fears. Greater immune response.

“Fewer tears and fears. Greater immune response.” is a well-balanced concept that effectively addresses emotional concerns while also highlighting the scientific advantage of the transdermal vaccination system. While it may require some additional context to fully understand the connection to the technology, its rhythmic and memorable nature, along with its emotional resonance, make it a compelling choice for the right audience.

It’s not the size of the needle that counts.

“It’s not the size of the needle that counts” is a clever and attention-grabbing concept that effectively communicates the benefits of the transdermal vaccination system. While it may require some additional context to fully understand the connection to the technology, its engaging nature and focus on comfort make it a compelling choice for the right audience.

Strong Immunity — No Muscles Needed.

“Strong Immunity — No Muscles Needed” is a clear and positive concept that effectively communicates the benefits of the transdermal vaccination system. While it may require some additional context regarding the specific technology, its rhythmic and memorable nature, along with its reassurance factor, make it a compelling choice for the right audience.

Based on ChatGPT’s evaluation, several concepts have issues that could make them less desirable. The “Microneedle, Micropain” concept lacks a positive frame and even suggests that some pain is produced by the X-Derm product (not good!). The “Direct Dermal Delivery” concept is not memorable or creative compared to other concepts. And the “Vaccination — without the cold sweat” concept is likely too focused on the patient audience.

Other concepts, however, seem to rise to the top: “Immunity is only skin deep;” “Fewer tears and fears. Greater immune response;” and “Strong Immunity — No Muscles Needed” score high on the memorability and creativity scales. Of course, humans are required to make a final decision. The only concept that is memorable, appeals to both audiences (vaccine administrators and patients), and effectively draws a comparison to competitive hypodermic solutions is “Fewer tears and fears. Greater immune response.” That could be the lead concept presented to the team at Integument, with the other two held as backup concepts.

Final Thoughts

This article aimed to investigate how to use artificial intelligence for brainstorming to augment human creativity. Using our example marketing challenge, we demonstrated a few key points:

  1. AI can be used effectively to augment humans in the brainstorming process. AI tools are especially good at time-consuming tasks with lower cognitive demands, such as summarizing technical articles, creating mind maps that quickly show relationships among ideas, and generating lists of questions that encourage divergent thinking.
  2. AI can effectively evaluate ideas without bias or prejudice, which is extremely valuable because most creatives struggle to separate their own needs, wants, and egos from creative decision-making.
  3. AI can’t replace humans. All of the actual concepts in this article were proposed by humans in response to the background provided by the AI tools. Humans are better suited to thinking creatively and refining ideas subtly to match a particular communication challenge.

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At Cobalt, our science writers, designers, and marketing strategists are skilled in using AI for brainstorming and collaboration. We understand the limits of the tools we use, however. This is especially true when it comes to the ethical concerns around using AI in marketing.

If you’re looking for a human-powered communications partner to help you meet your marketing goals, contact us to get started today.

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