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VCD Theory Creative thinking

Creative thinking.

How to stretch your ideas and find new solutions

Define and expand ideas

Our design process

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VCAA, 2018, Visual Communication Design Study Design, Figure 1: A process for creating visual communication. (p 11). VCAA, Melbourne.

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Context for effective creative thinking

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What will it take to get creative?

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Brief and research.

The first stage of the design process is where we clarify a design problem and investigate ways similar problems have been solved previously. Creative thinking helps by providing routines that direct the investigation help us sort information gained, analyise and synthesise it to inform the Generation of Ideas.

Mind Map

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Purpose

A Mind Map is a technique to help explore and understand the scope of a design need.

It is used at the Brief stage of a design process to help students to define a problem and consider as many as possible different ways that could be used to approach solving a design need.

Method

Place the topic or design need at the centre of the page.

Create branches reaching radially from the centre by writing words associated with one way of looking at the topic. Colour can be used to separate the branches visually.

Organise the words (usually done as they are written) into topics or themes like the styles, or materials used.

Mind Maps can be a combination or words and imagery. They are also useful for making links between ideas. This can be done with arrows and connectors. Students should check with their teachers exactly how a mind map is to be prepared as their are different styles Mind Map that might be required for assessment.

Reference

Lupton, E (Editor) 2011, Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming, Princeton Architectural Press, New York.

Visual research - collect and sort

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Purpose

The purpose of visual research is to see trends in the ways visual products are designed.

A simple search and collection yields little in the way of information as a foundation for design. Yet through the processes of sorting and analysis much can be learnt about how design elements and principles are used together to create unified designs.

To build on the successes of the past we need to identify and understand the common themes in design. Visual techniques become evident when designs are sorted into groups that share common characteristics.

Method

Make a wide search for as many different designs in one category. Print and place them on a flat surface.

Sort them into groups defined by their use of design elements and/ or principles. Take shape, colour or form for example.

Once the designs are grouped together begin to document how they use the design elements and principles as a group. I have analysed colour in the example shown.

Reference

Lupton, E (Editor) 2011, Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming, Princeton Architectural Press, New York.

Visual research - know the back story

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Purpose

To understand the lineage of objects. An informed designer is one who builds on the past.

Method

Research widely using a range of on and off line resources. Collect pictures of the most significant designs in the category of your object at different points in history. Find out how designs are linked to stylistic or artistic movements. Find out what social or technological motivations there were for the designs. Why were they made like they were made, then?

Sort your images to reveal trends. These might be in the use of colour, materials, forms or details.

Reference

Ingledew, J 2016, How to have great ideas. A guide to creative thinking, Laurence King Publishing, London.

Picture References

Consumer audience profiles

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Purpose

To create a visual outline the type of person that use products one is researching.

The consumer profile is a simple representation of the characteristics of the target audience including;

  • what they look like,
  • audience characteristics (demographics and psychographics), interests,
  • their purchasing preferences, lifestyles, past times, holidays they go on, brands they buy.

Method

Determine the target audience for the design you are researching. Begin with a written profile to describe two or three different consumers of the design. Refer to a wide variety of audience characteristics in your description. Imagine each member of the audience as a real person - create their back story. Detail their lifestyle preferences.

Collect pictures to illustrate the aspects you have identified.

Place the pictures carefully on a clean layout using a crisp white background. Use hierarchy to draw attention to headings and key images.

Reference

Slade-Brooking, K 2016, Creating a Brand Identity. A guide for designers, Laurence King Publishing, London.

Go for the real - photos and scrapbooking

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A tiny group of photos from my recent trip to The States. Could be your home town.

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Collect everything, where ever you go. Never stop collecting.

Purpose

For inspiration of course! But this time it's real.

Of course blind collecting does not amount to authentic research for a folio for assessment. Students must keep in mind that only research material that relates to their investigation guided by their brief is to be included in their visual diary.

Method

Get out from behind your desk. So many books discuss the need for 'real' research experiences, yet so few of us do it.

Take a walk around your home. Give yourself one hour to take fifty photos on your phone. Look up, down. Find the details in buildings, footpaths and shop windows.

Collect bits of paper everywhere you go. Free newspapers and post cards. Put them in a box. Put them in folders. Keep track of the years you collect them. Buy old magazines for 20c at the opp shop. Wait till you hold them. Forget about pixel pictures on your computer. Real is real and that's inspirational.

If you're collecting for research for a folio, make it relevant.

Reference

This one's my idea.

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Generation of ideas

The Generation of Ideas phase is the phase that requires the most disciplined yet fun seeking application of divergent thinking. This means the goal of this phase will to be to create a huge range of ideas - in order to demonstrate that you have considered the design problem you have defined in your brief; exhaustively.

You might be able to think outside the box for a while. You may be able to consider the problem from several angles successfully. However, before long the demands of the task and the need for closure will wear down and you will no longer be able to come up with any new ideas. You need a new approach.

To extend your creative ability you are required to change perspectives and challenge assumptions. To change perspective means to see the design problem from another point of view. To challenge assumptions means to reject preconceived or standard ideas about the way a solution to a product should be found. Ok, I get it. How do I do it?

Creatives tell us the best way to enter this extra creative sphere is to play games - often within strict sets of rules. Each of the techniques shown in this section will have you work in that way. You might not feel comfortable at first, as if you are being pushed to work in a strange or different way but hey, that's what we want - different approaches = different outcomes!

Forced associations

Forced associations is a broad creative technique that involves creating empathy and perspective taking. There are several ways to approach forced association creative thinking techniques. Each involves combining a pair or more different elements in innovative ways.

Forced connections

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Purpose

Innovation is frequently achieved by combining two or more products rather than by conceiving of a totally original one. It's like making a pun, totally funny, yet useful. You will not be aware but so many 'new' products are born this way. You just need to know the back story, make the associations.

Method

Consider the function of a design you want to create. Park that idea. Now take the form or aesthetics of another totally unrelated design. Fuse them and see what happens. Here's a totally new idea, automatically.

Reference

Lupton, E (Editor) 2011, Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming, Princeton Architectural Press, New York.

Picture References

What if someone else was designing this?

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Purpose

Well, to be honest, if I'm jealous of designs other people make, why don't I simply become someone else?! Ok, seriously then the purpose of this strategy is to consider a problem from another person's perspective. Other perspectives act as different 'lenses' through which we can view a problem. Their knowledge, age, experiences, cultural backgrounds, etc., will colour the different ways we approach the problem, what we consider important in it, and less important, preferred forms, aesthetics and materials, and ultimately lead to vastly different design ideas. Design ideas I simply couldn't have imagined myself!

Method

Consider the communication need defined in your brief. Choose (or your teacher will allocate you) a person to pretend to be. (See a range of people from which to choose below)

Then gather a little information about the experiences the person may have had. Anything we know about their personality, gender and when and where they lived will help you get inside their head.

From that information determine what aesthetic (what something looks like) and functional (how something is made and works) preferences you think they may have had. Would they have liked things simple, complex, traditional, avant-garde, strong, or light, portable, for example.

Finally, pick up your pencil and see what comes. It's entirely up to you. Or should I say, them...

Suggestions for personalities to assume are:

  • A Geisha
  • Albert Einstein
  • Buddha
  • Isaac Newton
  • Wonder Woman
  • Aristotle
  • Martin Luther
  • William Shakespeare
  • Mary Quant
  • Sigmund Freud
  • Winston Churchill
  • Queen Elizabeth
  • Marie Curie
  • Barbie
  • Anne Boleyn
  • Frida Khalo
  • Madonna
  • Ivanka Trump
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Your teacher
  • Your best friend

Reference

Cornell, A (Editor) 2012, Break Through! 90 Proven Strategies to Overcome Creative Block & Spark your Imagination, Princeton Architectural Press, New York.

Action verbs

Action verbs is a creative thinking strategy where individual actions are applied to an initial idea. Having a list of actions one can do to a design takes the pressure off thinking, 'What else can I do? and shifts focus to solving smaller bite sized problems.

Like all creative thinking techniques, using action verbs requires an open mind. Let it flow without criticising your ideas. Remember, divergent thinking is about producing more concepts, more variations.

SCAMPER

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Purpose

SCAMPER is a set of rules designed to guide divergent thinking. It can be used at the Generation of Ideas stage to help form new ideas from existing ones or at the Development stage to help re-forming existing ideas.

You may choose to use they whole set of actions or focus on those that are more relevant for your design.

Method

Begin with one initial drawn idea.

Research the SCAMPER technique to find elaborations on the key questions proposed by each letter of the acronym.

Sketch at least one new design using each letter of SCAMPER as a guide for developing your existing design.

Keep an eye on your brief. New and wacky ideas are good but if you are trying to fulfil a need, try to direct your ideas towards the need described in your brief.

Reference

SCAMPER developed by Bob Eberle in 1971 in his book; SCAMPER: Games for Imagination Development. Cited in Wikipedia page (https://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/S.C.A.M.P.E.R)

Further actions

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Purpose

The set of verbs shown here are intended to stimulate experimentation with spatial and volumetric form. Each represents a simple concept, pure and without any connotations. Although they apply chiefly to environmental design they could be easily applied to industrial and even communication design examples to extend thinking and generate endless possibilities.

Method

Extremely simple from the outset. One should just take an existing form or motif, then apply an action to it. No second guessing in the process, see where it leads.

To extend these actions, apply them in more than one way to each form. Alternatively, apply more than one action to each instance of your form. Furthermore, apply several actions in sequence. For example, one could merge, branch then grade a form.

Don't limit yourself to these operative actions. Test some more;

  • duplicate
  • separate
  • make transparent
  • etc.

Reference

Di Mari, A, Yoo N, 2012, Operative Design: A Catalogue of Spatial Verbs, BIS Publishers, Amsterdam.

Set targets and/ or limits

At the heart of creative thinking techniques is the arbitrary rule! This means, in order to think differently we need to behave differently. The following creative thinking techniques use rules to direct innovation in different ways. Squeeze your mind here and ideas pop out there...

Time limits

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Purpose

Do you really need all that time to come up with an idea? Think of a picnic. A car race, can of Coke, a beach holiday? The picture is instant isn't it?

Setting strict time limits increases your capacity as a creative thinker. It's a workout for your brain.

Method

Use the timer here to draw 10 different kinds of the same kind of design. Take a one minute break between ideas to think. This will be the best, most productive 20 minutes you have ever spent.

Set a timer on your phone for 2 or 5 minutes to draw in more detail. Get used to completing work efficiently.

Reference

This one's my idea too.

Least amount of shapes or forms

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Purpose

Less is more.

Pair back your designs to increase their effectiveness.

Get rid of superficial decoration and reach the core of your idea.

Method

Take one of your ideas then simplify it. Use only one font. One image. Round off corners or sharp edges. Remove distracting backgrounds. Get rid of overlaps.

Eliminate complex forms. Consider if an object could be made with only one form. If not, do it in the least amount.

Reference

Ingledew, J 2016, How to have great ideas. A guide to creative thinking, Laurence King Publishing, London.

Work in a completely different way

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Purpose

This is the big refresh. The intention of this creative thinking technique is for you to abandon all rules and try working in a totally different way. I can't tell you how you are going to do that, or what it might look like. That's up to you. In the sketch at left, I drew the iron gate at the Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany, some students and some of the landscape in one line.

Method

The actual way you will work differently is up to you. Here are some suggestions;

  • draw with one line
  • paint with a scrubbing brush
  • draw with your wrong hand
  • draw with the paper upside down
  • draw with two pencils
  • tear paper for a collage
  • walk around someone as you draw them
  • paint the tires of your bike with black paint and ride around a big piece of paper!

Reference

Cornell, A (Editor) 2012, Break Through! 90 Proven Strategies to Overcome Creative Block & Spark your Imagination, Princeton Architectural Press, New York.

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Development of concepts.

Development of Concepts is the phase where you will take a few of the best ideas from your Generation of Ideas phase and work on their aesthetic and structural qualities. This will typically involve broadening your use and application of design elements and principles and layout and the methods, media and materials used to construct your designs.

Sprinting

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Purpose

Sprinting is for Development of Concepts what Time Limits is for Generation of Ideas.

Just as we can impose strict time limits for coming up with broader ranges of ideas, we can also use the same technique for development of those concepts.

Method

Ellen Lupton in her book Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming, 2011, describes a process where we should set parameters, warm up before we start, sprint, then use critical thinking to evaluate our work.

Setting parameters means creating rules for the sprinting before one starts. Decide on a group of elements like a limited colour pallet, a couple of typefaces or a fixed layout concept.

Warm up by flicking through some graphics books, magazines or collected samples. No computer.

Then work hard for thirty minutes, not counting the warm up in the sprinting time. Get as many variations to your concept done. Save each one or screen shot it for evaluation.

Finally print or show your work and get feedback from your peers.

Work hard. This job will tire you out. But keep going to the end. Then rest.

Reference

Lupton, E (Editor) 2011, Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming, Princeton Architectural Press, New York.

Development through experimentation with design elements and principles

Development of concepts by experimentation with design elements and principles can be done by selecting and emphasising individual or combinations of design elements and/ or principles in a given design idea or single concept. This experimentation is usually accompanied by one varying the number, proportions, format or arrangement of given visual components found in a design idea.

The techniques shown below do not enable the creation of new design ideas but provide inspiration for how existing ideas can be extended and ultimately improved to hopefully meet the requirements of a brief, the target audience, the context and purpose required.

Alternative grids

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Purpose

The purpose of using alternative grids is to break the habit of using a symmetrical layout.

There are so many inspiring compositions in the real world that can be used to power original designs.

Method

Observe, Notice. Get out and search for shapes, patterns and fields in the environment around you. Look in buildings, gardens, shops and artworks. Photograph your observations.

Deconstruct. Use tracing paper or place your image in Adobe Illustrator and replicate the areas within your image. Use shape and line to support your analysis.

Organise the content from one of your concepts according to the structure you have identified in the image below.

Reference

Lupton, E (Editor) 2011, Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming, Princeton Architectural Press, New York.

Kit of parts

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Purpose

This exercise is aimed at developing a stylised language derived from existing imagery.

The example at left is formed from geometric shapes, but line, tone, texture could all be used equally as well. Try it differently.

Method

Observe and record stimulus material in the real world. Sketch or photography to record what you see.

Represent the forms you see in simplified and stylised visual devices using the least amount of shapes, lines, or other design elements. Ensure that your shapes are generic so the same ones can be used in different places to form an image.

Deconstruct your first image into a tool kit of reusable parts.

Build something new from your kit. I tried an alphabet. Another figure or a house would be good.

Use the design process. I found I needed to go back to the steps above and modify how I represented my initial figure. When doing the alphabet step I found I needed to make changes to my kit of parts.

Reference

Lupton, E (Editor) 2011, Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming, Princeton Architectural Press, New York.

Development through the use of alternative materials, methods and media

Development of concepts by experimentation with materials, methods, media, techniques and processes leads to changes in aesthetics and form of each concept. Every different art-making process brings a different look.

Now that we have computers for tight professional work, let's use hand techniques for rustic and retro effects.

The use of different tools and processes will enable growth in ideas as each technique forces your ideas to work in unique ways. These will be ways you never anticipated but will come naturally with the use of different media and techniques.

You may have to suspend preconceived ideas relating to the audience, purpose and context in your brief to let your creativity flow but don't stress, you can bring it all back soon with critical and reflective thinking.

Method stations

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Purpose

Each method and media brings with it particular aesthetic and functional qualities. Capitalise on the unique qualities of media and methods. Let them drive the development of our work.

A common barrier to the use of this technique is when students try to force media to work in ways that are not natural to them. Don't fight them, use pastels and paint, let them drip and smudge. That's their characteristics. That's development.

Method

As a class.
Your teacher might set up various 'method stations' around the room. You will be expected to work around the class room using as many as you can in timed exercises.

Independently.
Think back to every media, method or technique you have ever used in art or vis comm at school. Take one of your concepts. A logo is a great motif for this activity. The use as many different media, methods or techniques as you can. Work 2d and 3d. Have you ever made a model of a letter?

Reference

This one is my idea too.

Can you spot the media and methods I have used in my set?

  • Rubbing of the lino cut print
  • Vector based image
  • Orthogonal vector based image
  • Acrylic paint
  • Vector based image as Speed Sign
  • Artline marker
  • Oil pastels
  • Lino cut print
  • Isometric vector based image
  • Vector based image as Parking Sign

Deconstruction & reconstruction

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From David Carson Design (http://davidcarsondesign.com/) Accessed 23 September 2019.

Purpose

To enable you to break free of all constraints.

Method

Use any of your images as starting points for deconstruction and eventual reconstruction.

Work manual then digital, print it out, cut it up, stick it down, scan it and bring it back to digital again. Cut it, rip it, delete it, scrunch it up, photograph it, disassemble it. How much process can you give one image?

Check the new collage work by the master of grunge and deconstruction; David Carson.

Reference

Lupton, E (Editor) 2011, Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming, Princeton Architectural Press, New York.