As we discussed in Day 01, creativity can be broken down into two processes: the thinking, and the doing. Or, as they’re more formally called, diverging and converging.

Today we’re talking about the thinking process, diverging, creating and building ideas.

A big mistake a lot of creatives make is assuming that they can jump back and forth between divergent and convergent thinking. That is, between forming ideas and refining/applying those ideas.

While some creatives may have luck with that approach, if you find that you’re struggling with the idea making process, this divergent/convergent jumping may be why.

So, instead, try to break your idea making process away from your application process. Get all your ideas out and on page first, and later we will run through how to evaluate and execute them.

The goal here is to create a non-judgmental space for you to tap into the depth of your creativity and unlock ideas. If we try to evaluate as we go (or think ‘convergently’) we tend to filter ourselves.

Different kinds of ideas

Arne Dietrich, a neuroscientist at the American University of Beirut identifies two different kinds of creativity:

  1. The Aha moment
  2. The systematic creativity

The Aha moment

“It's the lightbulb in the back of the head,” Dietrich says. “All of a sudden [a creative idea] comes to you.”

More formally known as “top-down” creativity, this kind of creativity often occurs alone, when the mind is wandering and forming millions of complex, abstracted ideas. It’s a very spontaneous process and often difficult to master or force out of yourself.

You’re most likely to unlock an Aha moment spontaneously while working alone and allowing your mind to form outlandish connections. When we work in groups we tend to filter ourselves before we speak, thus why top-down creativity benefits best from a non judgmental, solitary space.

The systematic creativity

Systematic creativity, or “top-up creativity” is much less erratic than the previous process. This kind of creativity is much more process-based and communal, one that relies much more heavily on filtering and evaluating ideas for their value as you go.

This type of creativity, while it may seem more stifled than the previous, is much easier to learn, hone, and master through brainstorming, group collaboration sessions, and a process-based approach to ideation. It generates actionable results that are logical and directly applicable to the problem.

So, if you have a pressing deadline, systematic creativity may be for you.


Now we get down to the idea making process, or ideation. As mentioned before, when approaching ideation, try to come at it from a free-form, non-judgmental standpoint. We will run through how to evaluate and execute the ideas later on. For now, it’s all about getting as many ideas down as possible so we have a lot to work with.

Ideation is the starting point. This is where you get your ideas down. Here are some tried, tested and personal tips for kickstarting the ideation process.

Rewrite your brief

Before you even start cooking up ideas, I’d recommend rewriting your brief in your own words. By taking the time to unpack your brief, as dot points, lists, etc. you are forced to engage with it, understand it, and think about how you will approach each facet.

On top of that, oftentimes I find that by writing your brief out, you manage to kickstart the subconscious part of your brain and get that idea process warming up, which is never a bad move.

If you haven’t even set up a brief yet, here are some tips and a free editable brief template for your use right here.

Free flow

Now that your brief is sorted, spill out your thoughts onto page. This can be dot pointed keywords, rough sketches, scribbled concept ideas, or anything in between. The goal is to get as much content down onto the page as possible without judgment.

Give yourself a time limit for this free flow sketching process as otherwise it can tend to last for hours. Don’t spend too long on each sketch, they don’t have to be masterpieces, just get down the basic concept and move forward.

Talk it out

If you’re working on a project alone, talking to someone else about your brief is a great way to unlock those creative juices. Ask them what things they associate with the topic, they may mention a related object that you can work into a logo design, or a potential challenge that  you need to consider in your solution. Whatever the case, getting a fresh opinion and outlook never hurts.

Look at others’ solutions (eventually)

A pitfall I see a lot of designers fall into is jumping straight into visual inspiration stage of ideation and bypassing the free flow ideation process. While looking at others’ graphic/conceptual solutions is fantastic for kickstarting your own ideas, if you immediately look into others’ work, their solutions will have an influence on your ideas. I find it best to at least attempt to jot down/sketch out ideas before you look at others’ work to maintain an element of your own unique voice, style, and creative opinion.

Research outside the box

Another all too frequently made error is looking for inspiration and motivation only within the field you’re designing for. This means only looking at book cover designs while designing a book cover. Instead, mix it up. Look at film title designs, or editorial layouts, or even on random street signs in your day to day. Looking for inspiration everywhere will broaden your horizons and help you create unique content.

Question and bend the brief

When you start a project, you are presented with a problem. That problem might be as simple as “We need to promote this event by creating a poster”, or it may be more complex. One way to begin the ideation process is to question and challenge that brief. Does it have to be a poster? What about a flyer? Or a banner? Work with the brief and bend it to yield interesting results.

Funnel your ideas

When you are forming your ideas, try to visualise the process as a funnel. Start broad, put everything down onto the page, progressively filter out the less effective ideas, and refine the ones that work.

Don’t ever confuse outlandish ideas for bad ideas. There are no bad ideas, not useless ones, particularly not in the beginning stages of a design.

Oban Jones

Have a few bad ideas too

Joel Chan, a student at the University of Pittsburg conducted a study on the science of forming good ideas and found that “one maximizes one’s chances of obtaining exceptional ideas not necessarily by raising the average quality of ideas generated, but rather by increasing the variance of quality of generated ideas”

Or, in layman’s terms, great ideas are born from a combination of just as many bad ideas as good ideas.

So, basically, when it comes to ideation, strive at first for quantity rather than quality. You’ll find that as your quantity of ideas rises, so will the quality.

During the ideation process, set yourself a goal for the number of ideas/sketches/concepts you would like to create, I’d recommend 100 to start out with. Scribble them down onto paper, sketch them out roughly, and annotate as you go. Don’t hold back, some ideas may have potential, some may seem ridiculous and wrong, but remember, we’re going for quantity, the quality comes later.

Just Walk Away

Have you ever said a word so many times that it starts to lose all meaning? This is what it can be like if you don’t allow yourself to step away from a problem every so often. You stare and stare at it, trying to come up with solutions to no fruition.

This is when you need to walk away.

As Art Markman writes, “When you are near to something, you think about it specifically, and you focus on the ways that you can interact with it… When you are far from it, you think about it more conceptually.”

So, by stepping away from the problem, we are able to not only funnel in new information from the world around us, but we are able to mentally address the problem in new, more abstract and creative ways.

Want to kill two birds with one stone? When we say ‘walk away’, take that advice literally. Some of the world’s most creative minds have been fans of walking, so put on those shoes and get outdoors.

Get those ideas rolling

Coming up with fresh new ideas can be a challenge even for the most seasoned of designers as there’s no true formula to unlocking a great idea.

However, knowing about the types of creative thinking that goes on inside your head, how to approach each kind, and experimenting with different ideation techniques is a fantastic way to get started with the process.

If you don’t take any other advice, simply take this: approach the idea generation process with an open, non judgmental mind. Be non judgmental about both other people’s ideas as well as your own. Entertain the wacky, weird and wonderful just as much as you would the simpler, more logical ones.

Today’s Task

Today’s task is to get yourself started with the idea generation process.

First of all, have a go at rewriting your brief. Don’t know where to start? Fear not, we’ve created a free editable template to help you break down your brief into simple bite-size elements.

Design Process Template

After rewriting your brief, get knee-deep in the ideation process. Come up with as many ideas, bullet points, or sketches as you can in 10 minutes and reflect over them. Reread your brief and try to identify which ideas best serve your requirements.

Use the techniques we discussed to funnel your thoughts and come up with as many ideas and solutions to your problem as you can. Remember, aim for quantity at first, entertain the bad ideas, and let the ideas flow freely.

Do you have any specific ideation techniques? What is your first port of call when you are given a new brief and have to generate new ideas?