It’s hard to force creative ideas, good ones anyway. An idea can pop out of nowhere, sometimes when you’re least expecting it and often triggered by something unusual. And yet, as designers, it’s our job to work with these elusive ideas on a daily basis. With each new brief, and despite their unpredictable nature, we summon the big idea, we nurture, develop and then unleash it. And then we hope we can do exactly the same thing again when the next project comes our way. We do all this without ever truly knowing where ideas come from – so how do we do it?!
Knowing your Creative Process
Getting to know how you work is one of the most invaluable things you can learn as a designer. If you know your process you can start to spot the familiar patterns. You can recognise when it feels like your creative ideas are drying up, and therefore anticipate the lulls and the doubt. If you know how to beat your creative block you can learn not be intimidated when inspiration doesn’t hit immediately. Instead understand that a lull period is a vital part of your process and not to be misinterpreted as a waste of time.
Becoming familiar with how you work is hugely reassuring. And it means you build up a tried and tested process over time. It’s probably not overly complex. But if you know that sitting staring blankly at a computer screen can be remedied by standing up and going for a walk, you know what to do when momentum drops and how to start ideas flowing again.
Sometimes your brain makes the connection when you’re not expecting it. Changing your environment and learning how to keep the creative part of your brain ticking away all the time can really help.
Making Time for Creative Ideas
It’s thinking time that’s particularly important. And it can be pretty hard to enforce. It’s what we ‘eat into’ and ‘chip away at’ when we feel busy. Ticking off tasks often feels a lot more productive than ‘thinking’.
But time means you can immerse yourself in the ‘problem’. And absorb creative ideas from all sorts of places.
Often simply being somewhere different, a change of environment, can do wonders to help kick-start the creative side of your brain. Observing the mundane as well as the unusual – taking note of people, places, the pace of life, buildings, shops, nature, colours. You might not draw upon what you see immediately. And when you do it may not even be a conscious connection. But treating your creative brain like a sponge and taking the time to absorb the world allows you to build up a great store of ‘ingredients’ that you can refer to when you need.
The Power of a Creative Team
The advantages of working creatively with a team are enormous – particularly when it comes to momentum. One person can take a tired idea and flip it on it’s head, or see the potential that the original creator had run out of steam for. A designer’s discarded doodle can spark another designer’s brilliant concept. And on the flip side running initial creative ideas past a creative team helps to really test and stretch it. A fresh perspective prevents us from becoming too precious about our creative ideas and instead encourages us to tear them apart and piece them back together. Often creating something far stronger than the original.
And after all of that the ‘spark’ for creative ideas is still unpredictable …. as Michael Johnson puts it, ‘The trouble is, ideas do, sometimes, just happen’. Being switched on, keeping your eyes open and absorbing everything interesting you encounter (the unusual, the beautiful, the jarring and the ugly) puts you in the best position possible to be struck by inspiration.
And other times, you’ve just got to accept that it isn’t your day.