Most designers hit a roadblock at one time or another.
Few designers get those “dream” projects where they are allowed to create anything and everything they want. In most cases we all have to adhere to some restrictions.
After dealing with similar restrictions repeatedly, it becomes very easy to get mired down in how the design problems have been previously solved rather than finding new solutions.
I’m familiar with mood boards, idea books, and the like. However, these all seem to basically take the user down the same previously traveled paths.
What specific steps should one take in order to break out of current mindsets and expand horizons to look at a project in a fresh, inventive manner?
Is there a processes you use to conceptualize something in a new way?
5 simple steps for producing ideas
James Young’s A Technique for Producing Ideas outlines a deceptively simple system that requires great discipline to complete. I followed pieces of his approach instinctively before discovering it but keeping Young’s five steps in mind has helped me expand my output.
Gather raw materials: Flood your brain with the subject at hand.
The process is something like that which takes place in the kaleidoscope. The kaleidoscope, as you know, is an instrument which designers sometimes use in searching for new patterns. It has little pieces of colored glass in it, and when these are viewed through a prism they reveal all sorts of geometrical designs. Every turn of its crank shifts these bits of glass into a new relationship and reveals a new pattern. The mathematical possibilities of such new combinations in the kaleidoscope are enormous, and the greater the number of pieces of glass in it the greater become the possibilities for new and striking combinations.
Digest the material: Study what you’ve found and see where the connections are.
What you are seeking now is the relationship, a synthesis where everything will come together in a neat combination, like a jig-saw puzzle.
Unconscious processing: This is where you wait for inspiration to strike — get back out into the world for a while.
When you reach this third stage in the production of an idea, drop the problem completely and turn to whatever stimulates your imagination and emotions. Listen to music, go to the theater or movies, read poetry or a detective story.
Inspiration strikes: When the subconscious is done, it hands over something you didn’t think you could do.
It will come to you when you are least expecting it — while shaving, or bathing, or most often when you are half awake in the morning. It may waken you in the middle of the night.
Face reality: Take that great inspiration and make something usable out of it.
Do not make the mistake of holding your idea close to your chest at this stage. Submit it to the criticism of the judicious. When you do, a surprising thing will happen. You will find that a good idea has, as it were, self-expanding qualities. It stimulates those who see it to add to it. Thus possibilities in it which you have overlooked will come to light.
It seems obvious when you read through it but it’s just one of those things that only time and discipline can perfect. And true to Young’s own reflections on the topic, you must be a curious soul to do it well. Ideas come from your mind’s ability to reshape information in valuable new ways. You must have something in the brain’s databank to reshape in the first place. If you aren’t the curious type you’ll be better served by a job as a production artist.
When all else fails
Go back to what you should always be doing: Sketch your heart out!
If you commit to not limiting what you put on paper, you’ll be surprised what comes out of your head. Take a coffee (or scotch) break or head out to the local park after you’ve made some headway and come back to your sketches with a fresh eye. The conceptual connections will start coming together before you realize it.