Abstraction Ladder

Explore the power of the Abstraction Ladder, a dynamic tool that propels your problem-solving skills to new heights. Journey through different levels of abstraction to gain fresh perspectives, uncover hidden patterns, and generate innovative solutions. With this versatile technique, you'll master the art of zooming in and out, allowing your creativity to soar.

Zoom In, Zoom Out, Innovate!


Explore different levels of abstraction to gain new insights, generate innovative ideas, and solve complex problems. Download our free worksheet to unleash your team's creativity!

What is an Abstraction Ladder?

Abstraction Ladder is a tool or technique used to explore and refine ideas by moving between different levels of abstraction. It helps designers and problem solvers to examine a concept or problem from multiple perspectives and levels of detail.

The Abstraction Ladder consists of various levels or layers, ranging from concrete and specific details to more abstract and general concepts. By moving up or down the ladder, designers can zoom in or out to gain different insights, uncover patterns, identify underlying principles, or generate new ideas.

At the lower levels of the ladder, designers focus on specific details, facts, and observations. As they move up the ladder, they start to abstract or generalize these details into broader categories, themes, or principles. This allows for a deeper understanding of the problem or concept and provides a foundation for generating innovative solutions.

Conversely, designers can also move down the ladder to dive into specific details or examples that support or illustrate higher-level concepts. This helps to validate assumptions, test ideas, and refine the overall understanding of the problem space.

Using an Abstraction Ladder

The Abstraction Ladder encourages flexibility in thinking, allowing designers to zoom in and out between the specific and the general to gain a more comprehensive understanding and generate creative solutions.

Start with what you know: Begin by gathering your team and agreeing on a clear topic or concept to explore. This could be a problem you're trying to solve, an idea you want to develop, or a specific aspect of a larger project. It's important to have a shared understanding of the topic before proceeding.

Determine the level of abstraction: Assess the level of abstraction of your chosen topic. If it's a more abstract or general concept, it belongs higher on the ladder. Conversely, if it's a concrete and specific detail, it should be positioned lower on the ladder. This step helps you establish a starting point for your topic on the ladder.

Move the topic on the ladder: Examine your topic and decide whether it needs to be moved up or down from its starting point on the ladder. Moving up the ladder involves abstracting the topic by identifying broader categories, themes, or principles associated with it. Moving down the ladder involves diving into specific details or examples that support or illustrate the higher-level concept.

Explore and iterate: Once you have positioned your topic on the ladder, you can further explore it by moving it up or down. This exploration allows you to gain different insights, perspectives, and levels of detail. You can iterate this process, continually refining the position of the topic on the ladder as you gain new understanding or generate new ideas.

Fill in missing steps: It's not necessary to complete all the steps on the ladder immediately. You can start by focusing on one end of the ladder and filling in the other steps later. This approach allows you to prioritize certain aspects of the topic and iterate on them before expanding to other levels of abstraction or detail.

What’s next?

To get started download our free worksheet today!

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Adam Paulisick

Founder at maadlabs.io (fmr @BCG @Nielsen — acquired 3x). Prof @teppercmu, MHCI & exec ed at Gates School of Comp Sci. Founder @TheShopPgh

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