Below are my top ten ways for increasing imaginative design output.

10. The right place and time: Having a good work space is critical for imaginative output and so is working at the right time. Both are a matter of preference but in general most people are more effectively imaginative in uncluttered spaces, with views to natural environments and when they are well rested.

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9. The right state of mind: Directly related to creating the right environmental conditions for imaginative thought is your state of mind. Feeling tense or anxious can limit your imagination while being relaxed can help. Imagination is simple, if you’re not feeling like it dont do it, if you have to but dont feel in the mood, take a walk in the park or watch some comedy. Through my own research I have found that imaginative output can be increased if a preferred activity, say cooking of going for a jog, is undertaken first.  Such activities often reduce stress and stimulate a positive state of mind. Physical activity gets the blood flowing, enlivens the senses and often frees the mind from distractions.

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8. Self Awareness. Being self aware is critical for developing an effective imagination, especially if you don’t think you are imaginative. While imagination is certainly influenced by the sub conscious effective ideation is a conscious process. Despite this, many young designers struggle to articulate how ideas came into being. It’s only when you become self aware and honest in your process you can start to develop. Try it and explore point seven below.

 

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7. Reflecting: Structured reflection is the tangible process which underpins awareness. An example of how you might engage with it is to give yourself some time after a period of ‘coming up with ideas’ and ask yourself some simple questions like, what did I do, what things sparked new ideas, what factors shut down ideas, how did I feel while coming up with ideas, could i have come up with more ideas and so on. The important thing with this process is to right things down and to follow them with action points for your next idea session. In my experience, reflection is perhaps the strongest tool for helping you to become a more imaginative thinker.

 

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6. Challenging your own beliefs: We all have default thinking processes, perceptions and beliefs which direct how we work. Reflection can help you identify yours. Through identification you can start to develop, enhance and adapt your default to suit. For instance, a client asks for an area of lawn; your default (drawn from experience) may present an image of a flat square piece of grass in your mind. While this can provide a start point, it can also restrict ideation. Knowing this default allow you to play by challenging it. What if lawns were curved, round, tilted, angled and so on. Give it a go, it’s great fun and over time your range of thought will increase dramatically. 

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5. Use strategies: There are countless strategies that can be used for design ideation.  If you’ve not used one before. explore something like SCAMPER. I love using strategies such as random inputs. It’s so easy and simple to use. For example, you’ve been asked to design an innovative privacy screen and you’re stuck for  ideas. Simply open a dictionary and use the first word you see. Say the word is shampoo. Now explore the concept of the screen using ideas drawn from the word. Ideas that immediately emerge include retractable fabric screens (shower curtains), water as a screen, woven materials (hair), recycled bottle screen, use of colored liquids that respond to light…and it goes on. This process allows you to view an idea from another angle. It’s great fun.

In design, strategies are often referred to as ‘using inspiration’. In this case they encompass any outside influence but most typically art, music, history, culture and so on. Inspiration can be used as a simple spark or to form a central concept, message, allegory and so on.

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4. Don’t take it so seriously: Lateral thoughts are to ideas as punchlines are to jokes. When we hear a joke we laugh because we’re presented with something that is very different to the picture that was built in our mind (A man walked into a bar…he got two stitches and a black eye). A lateral idea also presents us with another view of something. Imagination and humor are closely related; take it all too seriously and you can limit ideational output.

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3. The right medium for you. Never underestimate your medium. We’ve all had the experience of finding a pen that seemed to make writing ‘flow’, well the same goes for ideation. Personally, I like pencil and paper. Preferably a soft pencil with a large piece of cheap paper. The reasons for this are…soft pencils move with less effort and make clear marks, large paper allows for drawing with the elbow rather than wrist (freer movement), with inexpensive paper you dont mind  wasting it so much. But that just me. Reflect on what works and adapt to suit. 

 

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2. Avoid Fixation: Fixation is leaping on a design idea and rigidly sticking to it. This is a frequent problem in design, and is something compounded by time. For instance, you get excited about an idea and start working it out in detail…drawings, sketches, cad drawings and so on. The more work you do, the more invested you become, the less willing you are to scrap it. We’ve all been there. To avoid fixation invest more in early development. If you come up with a good idea, great, bank it and come up with five more while you’re in the flow. Unless your first language is computers I usually advise people to avoid them (for visualization) until an idea has been reasonably well explored. 

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1. Suspending judgement: If you thought any of the shampoo screen ideas were stupid, impractical or silly, then you were allowing judgement in too early. One of the primary restrictions on imaginative thought is premature judgement. We often view children as being much more imaginative, they’re not, they just don’t judge. It’s only when they go to school that they learn to ‘think critically’. So the next time you sit down to come up with ideas, be conscious of such judgements and suspend them. It’s good practice to reflect on these judgements too. It will give you a greater insight into why you make certain judgements (practical thinker, fear, confidence and so on). Give it a try, you might be amazed at how many ideas you shut down because you’ve trained yourself to say things like… yes but.

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Below is a short video explaining Divergent Thinking which is put together as part of my MSc.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuCxTkMEbtU