Generating creative ideas can be daunting. The white page looms and anxiety sets in. I’ve been there and know it is frustrating. But before you panic, remember that all projects start with a foundation. Even the most innovative design comes from studying similar problems then adopting aspects for a unique solution.
There is a myth that creative work comes from purely talented people. Consequently, designers are hesitant about sharing the influences that spark their ideas. I propose we stop hiding inspiration like a shameful secret and celebrate excellent solutions. Keep in mind, inspirational work was inspired by other work, which was inspired by another work. So the cycle goes.
“Think of creativity as building blocks.”
Don’t get me wrong, blatant plagiarism exists. People copy works in entirety and claim them as their own. Despite this, think of creativity as building blocks.
To put it frankly, originality is a myth. This means that starting a project from scratch is a myth as well. Knowing your field and studying other ideas provides the building blocks for problem solving. You may be asking yourself “How do I make innovative work if it has all been done before?” Innovative Creatives collect good solutions (while recognizing bad ones), combine ideas to make new ideas, and look for solutions in obscure places.
Become a Collector of Good Ideas
We are a collection of all we have ever seen, every conversation we have ever had, and every place we have ever been. Through experiences, we collect aspects that make up our personality.
Your creative product is a collection of information you liked or disliked. Your creative style is defined by information that you’ve compiled in your head and then externalized.
“Your creative product is a collection of information you liked or disliked.”
I cannot stress enough the importance of surrounding yourself with outstanding work. You will always have something to learn, regardless of the field you are in. Never let your ego dismiss a good idea. Adapt that idea into the fiber of your being. Get to the core of what makes the idea exceptional. Study the work religiously. Take it out to dinner. Continuously think about it. Once you have gotten to the bottom of this idea, use these findings to make yourself great.
Have a critical eye and think of alternate scenarios. “What if this website had a secondary navigation to better organize the information?”. “What if this business highlighted its customer service?”. Recognize what is not working to make a better solution.
Combine Ideas to Make New Ideas
Problem solving requires flexibility. When doing research on problem solving, a one size fits all piece of inspiration does not exist. Find two or more solutions then combine them to make a unique solution. While designing for the web, I often take aspects of several different inspirations and adapt them to solve problems.
Design is like cooking. You take the excellent navigation from one site, add the color scheme from a photograph, and combine that with the type from a book you loved. Throw it in the oven for 30 minutes, and viola! You now have an original design.
“Design is like cooking. You take the excellent navigation from one site, add the color scheme from a photograph, and combine that with the type from a book you loved.”
Remarkable designers adapt their ingredients to get a desired outcome. They know what is cooking before the ingredients are thrown in the pan. When something delicious is made, the recipe is used to recreate the dish. Clients pay you for your specific combination of ingredients. Be on the lookout for new ideas to add to your recipes.
Draw inspiration from Obscure Places
Once you train your eyes in collecting inspiration, begin looking in unconventional places. Sound waves can inspire a new line work. A pattern found in nature can be utilized in a web design. A conversation can inspire you to write something new. Everything is fair game, as long as it relates to the core concept. The more obscure your connection is the more original the idea.
Building connections within your work becomes a lifestyle. You are a hunter of elegant solutions. Skim the world you encounter on a day to day basis. If something works make a mental note. The solution to a problem may be right outside of your window or found in an unrelated discipline. Creative ideas bloom when you are open enough to search for them.
The act of creating can seem magical. It’s hard to imagine how a finished product came to be. Ingenious ideas are a puzzle. The puzzle pieces must be collected, combined and searched for over time. The process of making ideas is not out of reach. Each project builds off another. Creativity never falls from the sky, it is continuous work and refinement.