5 free apps that can boost your creativity

In itself, no app can make you creative. But sometimes it can help to give you that nudge you need to release your inner creativity. 

We’ve all suffered from an impasse that’s prevented us from engaging our grey matter in the way we need to solve a design problem. The following apps promise to help.

Of course, everyone’s brain is different and they might not work on you. But they’re all free to download, and quick and easy to set up, so there’s no harm in giving them a go.

01. Brainsparker

Use this brainstorming app to spark creative inspiration

Use this brainstorming app to spark creative inspiration

Platform: Android, iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch

When you’re trying to come up with a new creative solution, a popular brainstorming exercise is to write words on slips of paper, pull them out of a hat at random, relate them to the problem at hand, and see what they spark in your brain.

In other words, sometimes you need a bit of randomness to generate the right creative ideas. It might sound stupid but if you keep an open mind, it really can work. 

Brainsparker is a free app that provides a similar exercise to stretch your creative muscles. The app contains 200 cards containing thought-provoking words and phrases; you simply shake your device to shuffle the pack and produce a new card. The rest, of course, is up to you.

Also check out these 10 tools to unlock creativity

02. SimpleMind

This mind mapping app will help you connect up your ideas into a coherent whole

This mind mapping app will help you connect up your ideas into a coherent whole

Platform: Android, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Windows

Sometimes the problem you have is not generating ideas, it’s organising them into something that’s actually going to work. So if you have dozens of chaotic, free-floating ideas that don’t seem to connect up with each other, mind mapping is a technique that can help.

At its most basic, a mind map is a diagram linking up different ideas, represented by words and/or images, in a way that helps you make sense of them. There’s often a central idea in the middle and other, related ideas branching out from those, although there are no strict rules: it’s whatever works for you.

SimpleMind is a great app for mind mapping on your computer, tablet or phone, and it’s easy to swap your maps from device to device. Cool features include the ability to create an invisible note (so you can add large texts without cluttering your mind map); to add voice memos on iPhone, iPad and Android; and to add video on iPhone and iPad.

Also check out these 20 tools to make your team more productive and these 12 useful mind mapping tools for designers

03. TED Talks

Get ideas and inspiration from the world’s leading creative minds

Get ideas and inspiration from the world’s leading creative minds

Platform: Android, iPad, iPhone

TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a global set of conferences under the slogan ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’. Attracting some of the most innovative and provocative thought-leaders on the planet, the best TED talks can provide a shot in the arm of refreshed creative inspiration.

The free TED app includes hundreds of videos to download to your device, and even has an ‘Inspire Me’ function, which makes it easy to select exactly what kind of inspiration you’re looking for.

Check out these 10 essential TED talks for UX designers

04. Coffitivity

Stimulate your senses by piping in the coffeeshop atmosphere

Stimulate your senses by piping in the coffeeshop atmosphere

Platform: Android, iPad, iPhone

Coffitivity does one thing and does it well: it recreates the ambient sounds of a cafe. This is based on research showing that such background sounds really do make your brain more creative. 

We’re not sure of the science here, but we do know many designers who say that they do some of their best work in coffee shops. If that’s you, then brewing your own caffeine drinks at home and using this free app for ambience is certainly going to be cheaper than a day spent in Starbucks.

Also check out these 20 top tools for freelancers

05. Unstuck

Beat prevarication and creative block with this "in-the-moment digital coach"

Beat prevarication and creative block with this "in-the-moment digital coach"

Platform: Android, iPhone, iPad, web

The biggest enemy of creativity is creative block. But that feeling of being stuck and not knowing how to proceed isn’t just limited to design challenges: it’s something that everyone experiences in different ways. 

Describing itself as "an in-the-moment digital coach", Unstuck is a self-paced course that teaches you to overcome 'stuckness' through provocative questions, targeted tips and action-oriented tools. So if you feel you’re lacking creativity not just momentarily, but constantly, this might be worth spending some time on.

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Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, T3.com and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects.