Creative thinking to find design solutions

Thoughts on design, challenges, process and creativity.

June 7, 2022


Design education

Creative thinking to find design solutions
1. Be bold when facing big challenges

Owning a design studio for over 25 years, you learn that the “big challenges” are also the big opportunities—opportunities to do awesome work, learn new skills and collaborate with talented people. (Big challenges also tend to bring big pay days too.) Big challenges are not the time to be scared. These are the times to dive in, work hard, break it down and build an incredible collaborative team. Big challenges are not the time to be overly confident—being overly prepared would be wiser when facing new challenges. Overt preparedness will lead to ensured success.

2. Get out! (of your comfort zone)

When success does not happen or outcomes don’t go your way, I’ve found the best way to handle this, is straight on. If you can fix the issue on your own, move forward. If you need to speak with someone more experienced, do it. And, if you have to make that dreaded client call, pick up the phone (don’t email or text). Denial and avoidance are natural. Instead, take an inventory of the project and your roll within it to analyze what has happened, how it happened and where to go next.Fears of unintended outcomes can keep us in creative comfort zones, as well as looming deadlines, making payroll and the ever-present human need to be accepted. Below are 10 ways to expand your self-imposed boundaries and comfort zones:

Stop thinking about the deadline and the financial bottom line

Have faith in the process

When you think you are done sketching, sketch more

Use linguistic mind maps, as well as visual inspiration

Take breaks

Absorb the visual world around you as opportunities

Be willing to play and build it in to the schedule

Consistently provide at least one solution to the client that explodes the boundaries

Ask for help by showing others your work, even when it is not perfect

Say “yes”. Take that project that has been labeled “the big challenge”

3. Make stuff with a little wiggle room

Every project that comes into the studio is different, even projects completed on a continual basis can require a different approach the next time. The process of “making stuff” stays the same for all projects but the length of time within each step can vary. I usually subscribe to the idea of thinking the project through before I begin, which is different than waiting for “perfect”. A designer can decide to begin making, while being cognitive of areas within their design that still need further refinement. Leaving a little creative wiggle room in our making of stuff can lead to a fluidity of ideas and happy surprises.

4. Bet Small!

Starting small to break down large projects is a good creative strategy for growing small ideas in to bigger ones but betting small can be rewarding in other ways. Our design studio has used betting small successfully in community outreach projects and landing large clients. When designing community outreach projects, we’ve gain community buy-in through small successful events that slowly build to larger events. People like success and want to be part of successful endeavors. As the small events grow larger,  this leads to more participants, volunteers and a wider wealth of event theme brainstorming. We’ve also found that being willing to take on financially smaller projects to prove our worth to a client (betting small, again), has lead to our most successful client partnerships. A 20 year relationship with Toyota, started with a 4 page newsletter design.

5. Move fast to slow down!

As mentioned above (number 6) I am a strong believer in taking a break and building in play time (number 8). Just 5 minutes to warm up your coffee or 30 minutes to browse the book store can make a big difference in the creation of ideas. Alternatively, sometimes you need to push through a project to gain some kind of success before the end of the day or before moving on. Recently, I was working on the design of an email marketing campaign. Working within an eblast type application can be limiting. I found myself pushing images and text boxes around the page for hours. Finally, I dedicated myself to completing a single clean design by the end of the day—2 hours left. The project was not completed, but the day was completed with a sense of accomplishment. Fresh-eyed on Monday morning, I opened the files to evaluate. The next steps to complete a strong campaign were clear. I implemented a strategy to move fast, then slow down to completion.

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