Stuck in a design rut? Rob O’Connor of Stylorouge offers his tips to help unblock your imagination.
Stuck for design inspiration? Can't get started on a project or still looking for a suitable angle? Struggling to overcome creative block?
Don't feel bad: it happens to the best of us. You just need a way to kick your brain in gear and get the ideas flowing. Which is why we've put together a series of tips to help you brainstorm more effectively, followed by five fantastic apps you can use to make sense of the brainstorming process.
01. Be unselfconcious
At Stylorouge we employ a system of meetings where we throw things around unselfconsciously. People bring in notebooks and talk about things they've found that could come in useful. You don't have to meet to generate ideas – it can also be part of a more general catch-up.
02. Get the timing right
For many people, late morning is a good time to be creative. People tend to be a bit more laid back after they've had lunch, so morning is often preferable. The first day of the week isn't necessarily ideal, either, although we break that rule by throwing ideas into our Monday morning catch-ups.
03. Look outside for inspiration
It's nice to be aware of what's happening in the design field, but you can be equally – and often more – inspired by the things you see outside of design. For example, you're working on a project involving a book cover, you shouldn't be starting out by taking inspiration from other book covers.
04. Give full disclosure
Everyone involved in generating ideas should know everything about the brief. I don't like to hold anything back – we're all very transparent here. Even if there's something that I don't think is particularly important, I'll still include it and just make it clear this is secondary information.
05. Question the brief
The process of coming up with great ideas is partly a question of analysis. You should be questioning everything and asking yourself: does this fully answer the brief? Is it a good solution? You need to be as objective about your own subjectivity as you can.
06. Sit around a proper table
Don't sit around coffee tables that are too low. There's a fashion for hotdesking and easy chairs, but it's actually much more creative if you're at a proper meeting table. It brings you much closer to people when you're not scattered around like you're in a living room and design inspiration can strike.
07. Go back to basics with physical things
Some studios lose their clutter, but we've got paints, brushes, paperboards and scalpels for people to use with their hands. When your designs exist on a computer you can start to feel like it's not a physical experience, so these are reminders.
08. Be honest
It's really important to be honest when you see what other people are suggesting and what tear sheets they've brought in. If someone is 100 per cent behind an idea but they know no one else is, it's going to encourage them to make sure it really is a good idea from an early stage.
09. Play word games to generate ideas
Try using what you might call 'essence words' to get your ideas down – words that encapsulate the spirit, personality and message you want to put across, even if they seem crazy. A day or two later you might find that something resonates with what's on your mind.
10. Take a break and let things sink in
If we've got time, we'll share ideas and then take a break for a couple of day, so we can let each other's ideas sink into our own minds. The second time around, it's often much more fruitful, and we tend to have more visual material at this subsequent stage.
11. Try one of these apps
Creative inspiration and pinboard apps are perfect for organising and initiating brainstorming sessions. Here are five of the best.
MindNode is an intuitive and easy-to-use mindmapping application that will help you generate new ideas and organise your thoughts. iCloud & Dropbox support means you always have your mindmaps with you.
Organise your inspiration with Moodboard, a great app for creating moodboards on your iPad. With this nifty little tool you can easily collect, organise and share the things that inspire you. Features include 12 custom backgrounds, 12 custom frames to enhance images and the ability to add, scale and rotate text on your boards.
With the awesome OmniGraffle app you can create diagrams, flow charts, org charts, and illustrations. Last month the app had a major update that added new drawing tools interface as well as better support for iPads with retina displays. At just under $50, it's pricey for an app but it's extensive toolset makes it worth every penny.
Colour giant Pantone's mobile app myPANTONE is a must-have for every designer. Clever software allows users to capture over 13,000 pantone colours by selecting specific part of a digital image. And not only that, it also creates colour palettes for you and then stores them in its 'portable colour memory' section for future use.
iDesign allows you to 'make professional quality designs, illustrations and technical drawings on the move using your fingers'. The 2D vector drawing and design app for the iPhone and iPad has a unique offset drawing tool, which allows you to draw accurately without your finger getting in the way. A great tool to quickly sketch down new ideas on the move.
Have you got any ideas for drumming up design inspiration that you'd like to share? What methods have worked for you in the past? And what hasn't? Tell us what you think below.
Words: Rob O'Connor
Rob O'Connor works for creative consultancy Stylorouge.