Morphological box: definition and process

Creativity techniques can be divided into creative-intuitive and analytical-systematic approaches. While creative-intuitive methods are often based on the concept of brainstorming, the morphological box belongs to the analytical-systematic techniques, in which a problem is closely examined and broken down into its component parts. Morphology is the study of form, shape and structure. A morphological box can be used to systematise idea generation and generate comprehensive, innovative solutions. It helps wherever creative solutions or new concepts are needed. It can be used as an individual method or in a cross-functional, interdisciplinary team.


Definition of the morphological box

The morphological box was invented by the Swiss astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky in the 1960s and is also called the Zwicky box after him. As a creativity technique, it can be used in a wide variety of areas and can be applied 
  • to systematically analyse complex problems, 
  • to point out possible alternative solutions and 
  • to the selection of suitable approaches.

How to create a morphological box - step by step

A morphological box is a two-dimensional decision matrix in which individual parameters (first dimension) and their possible characteristics (second dimension) are entered in a table. By combining the values of the parameters, possible solutions can then be determined. Five steps lead from the problem at hand to possible solutions. 

Step 1: Define the problem

For the morphological box, the problem must first be defined, e.g. "The garden house must be made weatherproof". 

Step 2: List problem parameters

The problem parameters are defined, e.g. windows, doors, wall colour and arranged in a matrix. This supports the analysis of the problem. 

Step 3: Find manifestations of the parameters

For each parameter, we look for characteristics that it can have, e.g. wall colour: white, green, red. If necessary, it makes sense to go back to step two in order to define further problem parameters, e.g. roof, and thus to generalise the problem further, or to include further characteristics, e.g. wall colour: yellow. 

Step 4: Select and combine

Both individual characteristics and the possible combinations of characteristics can represent potentially possible solutions.

Step 5: Select realistic solutions

In an iterative process, solutions that are as realistic as possible are selected.

Advantages and disadvantages of the morphological box

It seems to be a disadvantage of the morphological box concept to have to first determine all possible parameters and then their possible characteristics after the problem has been formulated. If there are a large number of parameters and features, the morphological box becomes confusing and the evaluation a real challenge. On the other hand, if, for reasons of clarity, only individual parameters or features are included in the solution search, the number of possible solutions is limited, which in turn is detrimental to a good overall result.
Working with the morphological box is generally advantageous because a complex problem can be analysed with different numbers of parameters and new and innovative ideas can be found quickly. Furthermore, when used in a team, the morphological box method has an inspiring effect on the contributors.


When faced with a problem, you need to find new ways of solving it, and many different creativity techniques can help you to do this. Using the example of the morphological box, it is clear that limitation is an obstacle to its creation in every respect. On the other hand, a pleasant and informal atmosphere and respect for the other team members and their suggestions are conducive to finding the best possible solutions.

The Author
Author: Dr. Roland Ottmann
Keywords: Project management, Morphological box

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