In the last couple of posts, we’ve been talking about how to be creative. In The Creative Mind, we covered the mindset required for creative production. In The Creative Space, we talked about how our surroundings can help us foster our creative thinking. Now let’s talk about the actual creative process.
The Creative Process
How do we go about solving creative problems? Although it may sometimes seem like a mystical or mysterious process, creative ideation is no mystery. Creative problem-solving can actually be made quite simple by following a few tried and true methods.
Research isn’t really part of the ideation process, but is more like the prelude to it. Nevertheless, it’s a crucial step. The internet is my primary source of research information. Depending on the problem you are trying to solve, your research may include a trip to the local reference library, a visit to the field, or conversations with customers. Either way you need to gather as much information about the problem as you can in the time you have. Are there existing solutions? What’s working? What’s not? What is the competition doing? What is the market asking for? Are there places you can look to for inspiration?
Traditional brainstorming is most effective with groups (I think 5 to 10 is a good size). It is a method that allows you to generate lots of ideas from different perspectives. The more diverse people are in their experience, role, and outlook, the better. One person will have to act as a facilitator and write the ideas down on a board or large sheet of paper. Some suggest giving yourself a time limit or an idea limit. I’m not convinced this is necessary. You’ll get a sense of when people are tapped for ideas. If you do want to set a time limit, 15 to 30 minutes is probably about right.
Define your problem. Make sure everyone understands the goal of the exercise. The problem is sometimes best posed as a question, such as “How can we reduce the cost of producing our widgets?”, “What can we do to get people to join our mailing list?”, or “How can we improve the design of our thingamajig?”
Generate ideas. Get everyone to verbalize their ideas. Put absolutely everything on the board. No filtering of any sort should be happening. Criticism has no place at this stage.
Filter the ideas down. Once all the ideas have been written down, ask for input on which ideas have true merit. Try to narrow it down to 5 or so.
Evaluate the ideas. Now is the time for critical analysis. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each idea? What are potential problems? You may wish to have a list of criteria and assign a score to each solution depending on the criteria they meet.
Decide which idea is the strongest. The decision may be made by a vote, by enumerating the score assigned to each idea, or by executive decision. Depending on the problem, it may be that multiple solutions can be used simultaneously. Regardless of which solution you choose, make sure to record all the ideas, in case you want to go back to them and reevaluate.
In ideation, a mind map is a sort of concept diagram that is formed via mental association. This is my preferred initial method of brainstorming. It works quite well for graphic design and branding problems. I think the reason for this is that it mirrors the way the brain actually works. It starts with a central idea and expands outwards as associations are made.
Many people recommend starting with an image that is representative of your main idea, as well as using images to represent ideas. I guess it’s a matter of personal preference. It can make the resultant mind map more engaging and memorable, but personally, I don’t find it helpful. Perhaps it’s because I am a visual thinker and can easy visualize imagery around the words without having to actually illustrate them. Do whatever works for you.
Start with a large blank sheet of paper (in landscape) or a big whiteboard and place your main idea in the center.
Think of things associated with that idea and place them around it, drawing branches to each.
Now take one of the new things and start building associations around it, adding them to the main branch.
Keep expanding outwards until you have as many ideas to draw from as you think you need.
Highlight ideas that you think have potential in solving your problem.
Lateral thinking is the process of solving problems by way of an indirect approach. It approaches a problem obliquely, using ideas that may not be immediately obvious and may not be obtainable using traditional logic. Here are a few of my favorite techniques:
Aleatoricism (a.k.a. Introducing Randomness): It’s a big word, but it’s a simple idea. Aleatory creation involves the introduction of chance into your creative process. It can be a great way to break thought patterns and clear creative blocks. There are innumerable ways to do this. Try taking a random dictionary word. How can you associate that word with your problem? How can you incorporate it into your solution? Pick up a random object. Think hard about how the design of that object might relate to your problem. John Cage, one of the early pioneers of aleatoric music, created compositions by consulting the I Ching, overlaying star maps on blank music sheets, or by rolling dice and flipping coins. There are no limits to the methods used. Be creative. In design, everything we do must have purpose, but sometimes the way we find that purpose might surprise you.
Challenge Facts and Ideas: Consider what you assume to be the facts related to the problem. What differences or advantages might exist if they are not, in fact, fact? Could a particular fact possibly be wrong? Can you modify the fact to better suit the situation? Ask “Why?”. Why is something designed a certain way? Why does it exist at all? What happens if you assume that an idea is wrong? A computer mouse should have multiple buttons and a scroll wheel. Why? Does it have to be that way? By challenging this idea, Apple created the multi-touch magic mouse.
Wishful Thinking: This is sort of related to the challenge facts technique, but it approaches it a different way. This technique asks you to imagine if everything was ideal. What if conditions were perfect? What if money wasn’t an object? What if laws and regulations weren’t an issue? What would your ideal solution look like? Once you’ve dreamed up this perfect situation, what can you take from it? Are there parts of this ideal solution that can be adapted and used?
SCAMPER: This technique uses a series of directed questions to spark creativity and break thought patterns. I won’t go through all the questions, but a thorough explanation can be found here: Creative Problem Solving with SCAMPER
Now that you know my secret, I’ll have to…
…ask you to share it! If you found this article helpful, please pass it along to anyone you think would like to learn about the creative process.
So now you can see, creative ideation is not a mystery. All it takes is the right mindset, a conducive environment, and knowledge of these methods and processes. You now have all the tools you need to be a creative genius. Go out there and create something amazing!basics, branding, creativity, design process, graphic design, how to, tutorial