Whether it’s a blinding flash of inspiration or a reliable stream of functional ideas you can build on, creativity is something that no designer or illustrator can do without – that’s why they’re called ‘creatives’.
But all too often, when deadlines loom and the pressure’s on, your mind goes blank and ideas refuse to arrive on cue. Inspiration is often fleeting and fragile – particularly when faced with outside pressures such as taxes, or supporting a family. So what can you do to ensure that you’re at your most creative and ideas-ready at the drop of a hat?
Creativity is like a muscle – the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. But there are also some quick and easy techniques you can use to jump-start your ideas. We spoke to leading creatives to discover the shortcuts that leapfrog them towards their best work – whatever medium they work in.
1. Begin by not working
A lot of designers begin the day with a spot of mindless activity – but rather than a blank-eyed jog, or a numbing commute, they scribble. It’s a technique sometimes known as ‘morning pages’: as soon as you wake up, fill three pages with freeform, stream-of-consciousness thought.
Illustrator Andy Potts (above; andy-potts.com) swears by a routine of aimless doodling. “I find that these doodles usually end up in my finished pieces or spark a creative direction I hadn’t considered,” he says.
2. Make mistakes
Andy Williams, of agency Resn (right; resn.co.nz), believes that thinking too much can harm your creativity.
“Do something that doesn’t make sense,” he says, recommending that you try doing “something stupid” so that mistakes occur. “Mistakes allow events to happen outside of the restrictions imposed by logic,” he adds “It may be a little scary, but it only takes one small step to find stupidity and augment one’s creativity.”
It’s a view shared by Chris Berridge, creative director of Block Interactive (blockinteractive.co.uk), who feels that only when you look at things from outside existing perceptions, will you be truly creative.
3. Identify your aims
Having a clear goal in mind is essential for stimulating design. Identify your audience, objectives and message, then think how to best communicate it.
“Accurately defining your design ‘problem’ leads to the most innovative results,” says Jim Rawson of Digital Design (right; digitaldesign.co.uk).
“It focuses the brain on problem-solving, something which we are incredibly good at. When you have the answers to the questions, write them down. It won’t be long before your mind starts to join up the dots.”
4. Keep a scrapbook
Assemble a store of inspiring objects, artwork or clippings. Jeremy Jones, creative director of Digital Marmalade (right, digitalmarmalade.co.uk), touts Flickr as a stream of inspiration, while Delete (deletelondon.com) has a dedicated online archive of elements of previous concept work that they’ve loved, but that got canned.
Or you could just use a physical scrapbook. When the creative block hits, retrieve items from this collection or pull random words from dictionaries. Then challenge yourself to create something out of the element or words.
You might not create something useful initially, but Jan Ligaard of ICON22 (icon22.com) says his team often finds the final project will contain elements from the session.
5. Don’t sweat it – Ignore it
If a piece of work isn’t going well, take a break from it before frustration sets in.
Faced with “flogging a dead horse of an idea”, illustrator Andy Potts will often try to empty his head riding his bike, watching mindless daytime TV or reading up on a completely different subject.
“Inspiration can come when you least expect it – and particularly when you’re not trying to force it,” he says.