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Ivan's picture

How to come up with creative ideas

Here is my 9 step process that I developed for myself.

1. Brief
First I skip through the brief. Then I read it again properly.

2. Research
Usually I just check out what the competition is doing to make sure I'm not doing the same, etc.

3. Brainstorming
You need to prepare for this one. Take a piece of paper, write the name of the project and the main objective on the top of the page. Divide the page into 9 sections with 2 horizontal and 2 vertical lines to make 9 sections. Make 4 copies.

Now that I have the brainstorming sheets, I start to write or sketch the ideas that come to my mind, one in each section. At this point I don't care if the idea makes sense or if it is feasible. Don't stop till you fill 2 pages (18 sections). Most of the time, this takes more than an hour of concentration. I try not to stop even if I think that I've got a winner idea. I try to keep my mind open and forget about the idea that I just scribbled down to be able to concentrate on the next one. I try not to analyze the ideas at this stage.

4. Take a break and restart
Now that I've done 2 pages, I need to change something. I usually take a walk and find myself a bench in a park or a quite corner in a cafe. I try to fill the third sheet.

5. Change of perspective
Once I returned to the office, I take the fourth sheet and write down a random list of 9 characters and places into each section, like: Mars, Ant, Ronald McDonald, Train, Vampire, Transformer robot, Kenya, Bakery and Harrison Ford. Now, I take each of the places and characters perspective and think of the same problem from their points of view. For example if I'm a vampire and I need a logo for this butchery, what would it look like. It's actually quite fun if you take the effort to imagine yourself into each persons body and project yourself to each place. You can develop your own methods to change your perspective. For example you can simply turn your page upside down or stand up on the top of the table (remember the movie?).

6. Random association
I take a book that has many images and words, like a magazine. I decide which part of the page I want to go for and then open the magazine. Let's say, I look at the top right element in the page for example. If I see a crying baby? I'll try to think of an idea related to the crying baby and sketch it down on a fifth sheet. I try to do it for all the nine segments and then I take a break.

7. Selection
At this point I should have 45 ideas, most of them are useless. If I'm lucky I will have 4-5 feasible ones and some more that can be made to work with some tweaking. I go through each idea and try to make it work. I select the best 9 and than start working on them and see if I can eliminate 6 of them. I keep only the best 3 that I'm very happy with.

8. Check
I reread the brief and see if my 3 concepts answer the brief fully and talk to someone that I value the opinion of and get his comments.

9. I finalize the ideas.

Hope you will find it useful, especially if your creative muscles are in top notch condition.

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

Terry Thornhill's picture

Strange as it seems, I tend to come up with my best ideas on-the-fly. Example: Have you ever "kind-of" had an idea of where you were going with an idea and through the process of explaining it to someone, both improved on it, refined parts of it, and (for me) often enough finalized a direction to pursue?

I do that all the time.. Then again, I developed a killer anti-drug campaign that was eventually adopted by a state agency while high on weed. ;) And yes, I told them that.

Off topic: Great blog! Keep 'em coming.

3dogmama's picture
1990 pencils

Hail presidenté. LMAO!


"Art -- the one achievement of Man which has made the long trip up from all fours seem well advised." - James Thurber

Ivan's picture

yes, sometimes you just know what needs to be done. no need for brainstorming.

also, i agree that when you formulate you sentences to explain your ideas to someone helps to mold the idea itself.

regarding the weed - you're awfully honest. ;)

Ross's picture

I wrote something similar for A List Apart a few years back. It would be interesting to get a collection of these together and linked from a single spot.

Ivan's picture

the best part of doing this blog is that i get to learn about so much stuff... thanks for the link

Ivan's picture

Here is a similar article inspired by mine here: X-Chicago

Ivan's picture

wish blogger had a trackback feature: dwh!{dezwozhere:blog}thanks guys!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous's picture

i'm sure it's wonderful .. only .. i didn't get past the first couple of points. what godawful colours .. dark grey text on black background? yea, umm, ok.
/me takes a panadol and wanders off to another site.

Ivan's picture

i'm sorry to hear you don't like the color scheme. apparently only 25% of the people prefer dark background for web pages vs. light.

I'd like to recommend you to simply press Command-Option-CTRL-8 to invert the colors temporarily on your screen. Very useful for reading. I usually do the opposite with blinding white pages. :)

here is more

smellvetica's picture
20 pencils

Hi, interesting, yet I feel that your process is slightly long winded. It's fair to say that this may be a valid process when working on your own ideas for personal/experimental jobs, but very rarely does one get a chance to look at so many options, maybe it's a bad thing that you're actually spreading yourself too thinly by looking at rather 'out there' angles and not focusing on the actual problem that needs a communucation design answer. I usually find that to limit yourself can sometimes be a good thing, say 5 examples of a creative resolution may suffice (however weak at that stage), then narrowed down to 2, 3 at best for the client. What you (I) usually find is that the first is the strongest however weak it my be at that time, i suppose what I'm trying to say is be careful of going off tangent and missing the main problem, getting diluted on the way can be problematic, it may aid further jobs from a sketchbook point of view but focus is imperitive.

Great site by the way, nice community you're building.


Graphic Designer

fingerprintcm's picture
1 pencil

So, I am interested in how much of this process you charge the client for. I am really struggling with this, I find that I historically undervalue myself, and enjoy hearing from other designers as to how much of your creative process you bill for. Do you run the clock during this kind of 'process'? Obviously, when I am in front of a computer creating something I am charging, but what about other stuff?

Ivan's picture

You should charge for every hour you're dedicated on the job. While sketching and brainstorming and even meetings. Not just computer hours. Of course your mind will not stop working and you may crack an idea while in the shower, but don't charge for that. ;)

Flant's picture
13 pencils

"and you may crack an idea while in the shower"

I've cracked a few in the shower but they certainly weren't ideas.... ;)

Shut Theory's picture
23 pencils

i just would like to add one that i read somewhere (i cant remember where)
jot down all your BAD ideas, and think of the worst possible ways you can present your product... think of the lousiest ways and the most traditional, then throw them away ... (just like u throw away the good ones)

3dogmama's picture
1990 pencils

Tommy Lee of Motley Crüe got it right. When that 10 minutes of pure creativty hits you, you get every goddamn iota of it down as quickly as possible 'cause that 10 minute surge could equal as much as 10 days of head-bashing work.

Hence the flashlight, pen and paper under the bed. Be ready at any time.


"Art -- the one achievement of Man which has made the long trip up from all fours seem well advised." - James Thurber

neonrockets's picture
1 pencil

Thanks Ivan!

I know you posted this a while back, but it's been really helpful. I agree that sometimes the inspiration just hits you, but I actually find that I work better when I sit down and sketch multiple concepts over an hour or two.
It gets the creative juices flowing; I actually come up with better ideas this way.
I design toys/plushies and often need to present multiple models to consider for manufacturing. This strikes me as a great way to brainstorm and I like how you suggest different conceptualization methods. I usually just draw a bunch of samples, but I had good results with your word association method. Much appreciated!

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