The Story Behind “hidane”, A Brainstorming Tool Made by a Teenage Duo

In February 2022, a brainstorming tool called “hidane” appeared out of nowhere. With a well-structured introduction page, friction-free interface, and a cute-pop visual, it didn’t take much time for us to wonder who the developer was. It turned out that it was not made by any company but a unit of only two creators, and moreover, they were only still teenagers (at the time of the interview, to be precise)! We, Spectrum editorials team, immediately asked for coverage and talked to the two creators behind “hidane”.

A tool developed from a digital native perspective

We have released “hidane”, a fun brainstorming service for teams🎉 It was developed by two people over a year through the “MITOU” program.

Everyone can come up with ideas as if they were chatting together, and there are various features to put them together. We also have an AI that will further expand your ideas🔥

Please use it for team planning and more!

―― Thank you for your time. First, can you introduce yourselves?

Tomohiro : Hi, I’m Tomohiro Nozaki, 19 years old. While I am usually involved in service design and UI / UX design as a designer at a company, at night times I do a wide variety of things from planning to design and front-end programming for my own projects.

Yuki : My name is Yuki Mihashi. I’m 18 years old. I usually do web design, UI design, programming, etc. I also like to draw illustrations, and I’ve been doing it since I was a child.

Tomohiro : We both call ourselves designers, but we have knowledge and skills not only in design but also in programming. So when we make something together, we flexibly utilize each skill. Even in hidane, we didn’t clearly divide our roles, but if we had to define it, I was mainly in charge of planning and experience design, and Yuki was in charge of visual design.

―― So tell us the story behind hidane. Why did you want to make this service in the first place?

Tomohiro : The idea just suddenly came to me. We are a generation that has always been using “chats” as a native tool since we were in elementary school, and we basically communicate with each other through chat. So one day I thought, “Couldn’t brainstorming become more interesting and fruitful if it is done through chatting?” That was maybe around January 2021, and I shared this with Yuki and we decided to try making it.

The first dialog where Tomohiro shares the idea.

Tomohiro : I have an idea

Yuki : Yes

Tomohiro : What if we had a brainstorming tool where we can type in ideas like a chatting tool?

Yuki : Uh-huh

Tomohiro : You can drag and move the ideas, and maybe bring it to the trash can if you want to delete. Oh and it might be nice if we can connect the ideas, or group them

Yuki : Ideas sort of floating around? So you can move around freely?

Tomohiro : Yeah yeah

Yuki : Not so square?

Tomohiro : Yes, that’s the image!

―― So the service was created based on your experiences. “Hidane” means a fire source, or kindling in Japanese. What was the idea for this name?

Tomohiro: There is a lot of meaning to this name. Firstly we wanted this to be a place where many ideas are born. Another is we wanted to create opportunities where passionate projects start. So basically we wanted to be a firestarter for both ideas and projects.

Actually we decided on the name 2 weeks before the project’s release. We couldn’t release the project until the name was decided, that’s how long we worried about the naming. Until then, just between the two of us, we called it “Brain chat” like a code name, because it was brainstorming combined with a chat interface. 

1,000 User tests that lead to next-level usability

―― How many user tests did you do before launch?

Tomohiro: We started user testing a month later we started development which was in the very early stages. From there, we repeated user surveys and tests continuously during the project’s development. When we finally came to launch, many companies and schools were already using the beta version and a by then, over 1,000 people had already tried the product.

At first, we used a simple prototype for the chat, just sticky notes that were draggable, and as more people used the prototypes we repeatedly made upgrades.

The initial prototype

Nowadays, whiteboard tools are the popular tool for brainstorming tools. There are many services like “Miro” where interfaces are designed to look like sticky notes. But we felt this motif was actually difficult to use for brainstorming when it comes to digital.

When using sticky notes, you end up focusing on writing. It’s also difficult to see other people’s ideas, so it’s hard for spontaneous conversations in brainstorming to occur. By making that interface chat-based, users can write quickly and people who see the ideas can respond more spontaneously, making conversations and adding ideas more easily.

In typical chat applications, comments eventually disappear, but the comments that appear in hidane are displayed for a period of time and can be moved freely as an object on the board.

From there, we added the “steps” feature, which guides users through each brainstorming steps, and also added an idea generation feature which is AI-based. These 3 features form the foundation of the product, and these are the main things we made improvements on.

Commitment to seamless onboarding

―― Is there any part that you specifically focused on?

Tomohiro: It’s hard to say since we were focusing on basically everything, but when I come to think of it, two things come to mind.

First would be the step interface which is on the upper portion of the screen. We both had a hard time figuring out where to place the step information and remade the entire interface a couple of times. It took 2 months for it to look like what it is now.

This menu pops out from the upper part of the screen and can be hidden and folded. We were particularly taking time on this part. In the beginning, the users had to close this on manually, but through testing we found out that even though people felt this UI was in the way, they wouldn’t bother to close it. So we decided that when their work starts, the pop-up should automatically close. And when there was little remaining time left, it would open up again. This may seem a small detailed adjustment, but we felt we greatly improved the user’s experience.

―― That seems like a very good case of valuable user testing.

Tomohiro: Yes. And the other thing would be to allow users to start without registration.

Don’t you think people hate it when they have to register to use a product, especially when you don’t know if it’s useful yet? We’re not running this as a company, and how will users know if they can trust us at all? We were confident that we made a really great product, so our biggest problem was getting users to use it. So for people who didn’t want to register, we allowed them to log in using a guest account which made the onboarding much smoother. After all, it’s always better to have them use it than explaining, like seeing is believing.

―― Is there a part that Yuki particularly focused on?

Yuki: I worked very hard on the grouping feature. We made a lot of adjustments, and implementing this feature was super difficult (laughs).

When you surround multiple ideas with the group tool, groups are formed and organized. And when you take an idea out of the group, the frame is stretched a bit. When you put an idea into a frame, you just approach it from the outside and it swallows it up. I wanted to create the feeling of an idea being swallowed with the animation.

This has to be shown not only to you, but in the same way to other people who are online at the same time. It would be bad if the animation looks jerky on users’ screens. Actually, we were very committed in making the design look flawlessly good and move smoothly.

―― You really put a lot of work into the visuals.

Yuki: We put a lot of effort into the icons and mouse cursor’s shape. We made all the icons from scratch, and we tried to put in hidane’s taste as much as possible.

Original icons for hidane

―― Tomohiro was looking over the experience design, while Yuki did the visual design. Seems like you both struck a nice balance.

Tomohiro: Personality-wise, I’m a perfectionist. On the other hand, Yuki is more easy-going, so in a way maybe we do strike a good balance. Yuki is a fast worker, and even though she’s not detail-oriented as I am, but she can make things much faster than me. From there, I usually brush up her work, and that’s something I think I’m pretty good at.

Yuki: Tomohiro is more particular than I am. There are times when I’m so busy with development that my hands are too full, but once I implement the design, Tomohiro turns it into a product that has been fine-tuned to the details.

AI as an brainstorming assistant

―― Were there any challenges throughout the project?

Tomohiro: The hard part was implementing an AI-based ideation support function. During brainstorming sessions, we wondered how we could come up with better ideas, and we thought “wouldn’t it be nice if AI could generate ideas for us?”

But then I thought twice, “If AI comes up with ideas, people will stop thinking.” Asking AI to come up with ideas and people becoming lazy is not the future we want to create with hidane.

We think AI should stand as a partner to expand human creativity and imagination, so we thought about what kind of help we’d like from an AI and came up with a function that gives us hints for ideas.

But, when we added it as a function within hidane, we wondered if it was really valuable, and we could have only found that out only if someone else used it. So we released this function as a separate service called, “AI Hirameki Maker,” first (“hirameki” meaning idea).

AI Hirameki Maker

As a result, since its release in October 2021, it has been used more than 100,000 times and has gained attention on social media also. After we were sure this feature was valuable, we finally incorporated it as one of the features of hidane.

When we want to listen to the real voices of users, and user tests alone cannot tell us, releasing the service as a separate service was the way to go for us.

Inspirations are everywhere

―― Are there any services that you were inspired while creating hidane?

Tomohiro: We try out lots of services on a daily basis, but looking at new domestic and international products, I feel that it is a trend for a service to focus on a specific usage. For example, “Butter” and “Sessions” are services that specialize in workshops and online meetings, allowing time keeping and document sharing according to an agenda.​​ Many people experience online meetings not going as planned using the existing tools. By focusing on a specific situation and designing it allow things to run smoothly. With hidane, our experience of a bad online brainstorming session led us to create a tool that focused on facilitation and ideation. This should allow brainstorming to happen more smoothly.

Yuki: For UI design, I get inspirations from our daily-use smartphone applications. In creating hidane, I wanted the brainstorming session to be fun, and I didn’t want it to be like a business tool. So, I was very much inspired by Nintendo’s “Splatoon” to create a fun atmosphere.

Tomohiro: One unexpected reference for us was the UI of ordering tablets you find at “family restaurants” (casual restaurants common in Japan). It is nothing fancy, in fact it’s the other way around, but it was designed for people who weren’t familiar with tech, which was very insightful.

Yuki: When we went to a family restaurant together, I was taking pictures of that tablet with my phone, saying, “Oh, this is nice!” which might have looked a little suspicious (laughs).

An Encounter with Digital Design

―― So tell me about your roots. When and how did you start creating digital products?

Tomohiro: I have loved creating things on the computer since I was in elementary school, but it is probably “Minecraft” that played the biggest role. I was fascinated by the fact that I could create various things while talking with people from all over the world. There were times when I thought I was going in the wrong direction when I was playing video games all day long, but when I look back, I won’t be here making products without that experience.

Yuki: In my case, I starting using computers and iPads in the late years of elementary school, and it was around that time that I got to know “Scratch” which was my entry to programming.

a game Yuki made in Scratch

With Scratch, you can not only create games, animations, and various other works through programming, but it also has a social networking feature that allows you to comment on other people’s works, comment on your own creations, and communicate with others. When I was in elementary school, I was more into the communication than making things, but when I became a junior high school student, I started making a lot of things in Scratch.

After going to high school, I started teaching programming to elementary school students, and “creating” and “teaching” became the basis of my current activities. I think Scratch is the starting point for everything I have done to get to this point.

Yuki has also written a book on Scratch (“Let’s Make Games with Scratch! Learning Programming by fun”

The Duo’s Next Steps

―― You both work on very modern product design. Are there any new technologies or areas that you are interested in?

Tomohiro: I am interested in AR (augmented reality) and MR (mixed reality), and what I think will change with AR/MR is that information will go outside the screen. We are currently designing products that move inside the screen, but for AR/MR we need to design more layers of dimensions and lines of flow within that space. This means we need to be more and more focused in experience and need to think essentially, which seems very challenging but fun at the same time.

I would also like to create products that involves both hardware and software. It requires cost and technology, but I think a physical product is very meaningful because it’s a “thing” that exists. I would like to take on this challenge because it will broaden my scope of experience design.

Also, while frameworks are useful, they might not be enough to design the real experiences. I always want to think about what is essential in designing products.

Yuki: I am thinking of trying 3D graphics to expand my range of expression. Majority of the video games are ll in 3D, and in addition to that, AR, MR, and VR. I feel that 3D expression is going to be the next hot thing in the field of web services as well.

I would also like to make something realistic and touchable too. Hardware products are nice of course, but also analog products like board games, packages, etc.

Tomohiro: Design is not something that can be summed up in one word. We often talk about how we would like to create all sorts of products and think about what it means to design.

―― Tomohiro, Yuki, thank you very much!

hidane :

Tomohiro’s Twitter :

Yuki’s Twitter :

Special Thanks to Yukio Ando for joining the interview with us.

Written By

Arisa Nojima

Arisa is an editor at Spectrum Tokyo. After graduating from Massachusetts College of Art and Design, she worked for a game production company and a HR startup for designers before going independent in 2021. As a freelancer in the design community, she currently supports recruitment and writing at various companies. She loves radio and cats.

Ryo Sampei

Ryo is Editor-in-Chief of Spectrum Tokyo. He works as a Producer and Content Strategist at Flying Penguins Inc., a UX design firm in Tokyo, Japan. He is also in charge of Design Matters Tokyo, a pop-up design conference from Copenhagen, Denmark. He loves video games and punk rock, both from the 90s.

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