Where do ideas come from?

By June 12th, 2014Business, Planning

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesise new things – Steve Jobs

The creative process seems like magic. You pose a problem then create a solution. Rather like the magic trick of pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Although somewhat magical, this process has got a method, however, there is not right or wrong way to solve a creative problem. This is the wonderful part of creativity. We all have our own processes. However, there are some aspects that help to make this process work more effectively.


Brainstorming is when you collectively dump all relevant information and ideas related to a project. Don’t hold back – record everything. This can include researching and collecting facts, words, images, colour schemes, typestyles. Brainstorming includes writing down any ideas you can, doodling, showing the relationship of an idea to the project, combining ideas and concepts.

Before you start, make sure you clarify exactly…

what is the problem I need to solve?

In design, this means making sure you know such things as:

  • Background – Why is the job being done?
  • Target audience – Who are they?
  • Objective – What is the design’s main purpose?
  • Message – What must you communicate in this design?
  • Essential elements – What must be included in the design i.e. logo, address, phone number etc?
  • Deliverables – What items are you producing?
  • Timeline – What is a quantifiable deadline?
  • Budget – How much can be spent on the design development and production of final product?
  • Approval – Who needs to give this the okay?

Look outside your area of expertise for inspiration. For example look at the patterns of upholstery in a furniture catalogue, the colour combinations in the fashion magazine. Design inspiration is all around us. Look at:

  • Online galleries portfolios
  • Art – past and current 2D and 3D art
  • Poster and product design over the years
  • Nature
  • Architecture
  • Billboards
  • Children’s book illustration
  • Magazine – including page design, advertisements, typography
  • Music and album covers

Brainstorming is just one step of the creative process – the finished solution may not fully reveal itself yet. This collection of ideas still needs to be well considered, edited and developed.

Creativity comes from looking for the unexpected and stepping outside your own experience — Masaru Ibuka


Incubation can be defined as the re-organisation of ideas. The designer might be staring out a window, having a shower or folding washing. During such mundane tasks, the brain is in a state of mental rest allowing the conscious and subconscious mind to work on an idea, make new connections, separate unnecessary ideas and grab for others. However, often from this phase comes illumination – the aha moment. It feels like everything comes together. Unfortunately, this is not part of the process that can be scheduled. Working to a tight deadline can often restrict the ability to reach this point.

Creativity always comes as a surprise to us; therefore we can never count on it and we dare not believe in it until it has happened – Albert O. Hirschman


At this stage of the process, the collection of ideas need to be shaped and moulded. They need to be reviewed, assessed and refined. At this point, new ideas may spark up and so the process becomes more creative. Whether the idea ends up being good or bad, the creative process is successful because a good designer will learn from both and apply it to their future projects.

Ideas can be the easier part of the creative process. It is the execution that is truly difficult. Experience helps the creator understand what has been done before. Experience also helps the designer to pose the questions so as to delve into how the new idea can be invented. In order for the designer to provide the creative solution, the process of communicating the idea must not be hindered by the inability to execute the design. This is the experience in how to do things – the tools can not impede the process.

Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating – John Cleese

I believe everyone is capable of creative thought and developing original ideas. It may not be in designing a logo. You would be demonstrating creativity if you:

  • Invent something which has never existed before
  • Invent something which exists elsewhere but you are not aware of
  • Invent a new process for doing something
  • Reapply an existing process or product into a new or different market
  • Develop a new way of looking at something (bringing a new idea into existence)
  • Change the way someone else looks at something

And finally, in the words of Maya Angelou,

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use the more you have.

What do you do to help your creative ideas process?

Caroline Siassios

About Caroline Siassios

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