Jumpstart Creative Ideas

by Fred Showker

What do you do when you need an idea and you need it quick?

Creative people continually face the all to familiar design world problems of "idea doldrums" and "creative burnout." And, just about every designer you talk to has their own methods of climbing out of the creative abyss. Last month we challenged those on the CAFE list, as well as readers of the Design & Publishing Center to share their methods of sparking new life into their creative brain.

It actually began with a CAFE listee's plea for help: "I am having a serious case of "design block" today and hope someone has some sources or ideas that can knock me out of it." came the plea.

There were many answers and the discussion thread went on for several days. It was a good thread and I enjoyed every single post.

Sandy Wright, Lyric Marketing & Design responded back:
      "Go online and peruse through "artsy" websites, the colors and designs should inspire you. Try Barnes and Nobles (or any other large book store) magazines section in the art / photography category and there you will find the latest in graphic design pubs that will definitely give you inspiration. Biggest thing... don't get in a hurry. Let your creativity simmer look at magazines, art books, old jobs you have done for more inspiration...then let go and let it flow!

Then Harold posted: "My usual strategy is to consult books; usually at the Library and some web sites [ideabook.com comes to mind] for stylistic jolts. One thing that I've been doing lately is to really think about the end user and answering the kind of questions they are likely to ask from the printed material. With this, you have a great opportunity to really give definition to what the problem is all about.

Mary Jane suggested a free monthly e-newsletter about brainstorming and creativity (BrainstormNet.com) that offers these tips:

  • Set an egg timer for 15 minutes, take a walk, and draw whatever you were looking at when the timer goes off. After 15 minutes of drawing, start walking again, and repeat the process a few times.
  • Set yourself a topic or problem about which you'd like to have some new ideas. Set a timer for 15 minutes and start doing whatever routine tasks you need to do. When the timer goes off, take out your notepad and jot down whatever new ideas you have in that moment. When you run out, re-set it, and repeat the process. The great thing is that you don't need to consciously think about the topic while working, but often you'll find your subconscious mind continues to work on it and give you ideas.

Then someone posted: "... a walk in natural settings also helps!"

The key is Balance

The key to maintaining creativity is balance. You have to balance everything so your body can cope with the rigors of the day. Remember that your brain is a living, breathing organ. If you're hungry, tired, stressed, or have been captive in the same space for long hours, your natural ability to think and reason clearly will be set to mundane tasks and cannot move out of the box. It needs to breath and rest.

I see creative burnout in my students within a 2.5 hour lab class. That's why I leave space during the time for the students to ease their minds out of the grind.

Yet probably the best solution for creative burn out, is to get away from it. If you're stuck for an answer, what you need is a diversion. Think about something else, do something else for a while. I say it's always best to stay away from the problem for a day. Sleep on it.

I also say that surrounding yourself with good reference material will always help. I keep a "swipe file" where all the little clippings and collected designs take up a permanent home. I can look through those for a half hour or so and be completely revitalized. Do yourself a favor. Set up a file, book, folder or what ever and begin collecting printed samples you like. I read magazines with a razor knife -- I pick up brochures everywhere I go -- I've always got my digital camera handy to grab a photo of a sign or building or other visually appealing scene I come across. These sorts of activities are always added to your mental storehouse of ideas. You can call upon them when the need arises.

Thanks for reading...

Fred Showker


This is article was originally #167 in 60-Second Windows at www.60-seconds.com

30th Anniversary for DTG Magazine