11 best ways to brainstorm creative ideas

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

Making notes is important, or you'll lose track of what you said

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

Look for inspiration outside of the area of design you're working on

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

Asking questions goes to the heart of the brainstorming process

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

Walk away from the computer and embrace physical tools like paint brushes

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

Word games are a great way to generate ideas and think laterally

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.


The MindNode mindmapping app is the perfect tool for brainstorming and organising your creative thoughts

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.


Collect, organise and share things that inspire you with Moodboard

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.


OmniGraffle has an extensive toolset and is a very flexible canvas for designing

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.


Choose a colour, any colour with Pantone's mobile app myPANTONE

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 has a unique drawing tool, which allows users to sketch accurately without fingers getting in the way

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.