Brainstorming. It sounds so anticlimactic. When I think of the term brainstorming, I think of a group of 8th gra­ders sitting around in their desks shouting a bunch of ideas that make little to no sense, that may or may not be veiled attempts at sexual innuendos. I’m sure for many others the term brainstorming also lacks that luster for what really should be called the first stages of design thought, or as I like to call it, thinking really hard.

In design the first stage of thought is really, I mean really, vital; it can set the tone for the whole project. If you start making work before you adequately think things out, you risk creating something that isn’t useful for your client. It’s important at the first stage in your process to realize that you aren’t trying to come up with a final concept from the get go, you are trying to create ideas that evolve into your final product.

As you can see in the diagram below, the creative process is nonlinear. It doesn’t always follow a logical order because it is the designer’s job to find connections between themes that don’t yet exist. If designers followed their process in a line and never deviated from it their work would turn out looking the same again and again. It’s our ability to think really hard at the inception of a project that dictates if what we are doing will succeed or not.

Here are some methods that I like to use, in order to “think really hard.”


-Itemized list

This one seems obvious to everyone, you simply write down the ideas that feel strong and come to you. It, however, does have one major weakness; if a strong idea does materialize out of thin air and it doesn’t ‘feel’ strong at that moment and you don’t write it down it could be lost forever.

-Stream of consciousness

This technique can feel really foreign and uncomfortable to many until you’ve worked with it a few times. Stream of consciousness is when you write down every idea that comes into your mind without censoring your thoughts. Its real strength comes in when you are looking back in your notes and you find connections between ideas that you otherwise never would have made. One thing to lookout for using this technique is sometimes you can get distracted and start writing down a bunch of crap that is completely unrelated to whatever the task is at hand.

 -Mind Map (Word Web)

A mind map is where you create a literal map of your thoughts on a given subject and organize them by their logical connections to other ideas in relation to your starting concept. The biggest weakness of this way of thinking is that the connections that you create will oftentimes feel forced or obvious.

 -Take a break

No seriously, go chill out. Drink a coffee, a beer, or whatever kind of coconut water crap people drink now-a-days. Do something besides sitting at your computer and staring at your blank sketchbook. If you get burnt out, all of your ideas will be shit.

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