Designers Block & The Art Of The Whine

I've been designing steadily for over 20 years. In that time I've on more than one occasion fallen stumped to not knowing where to go with my designs. Be it a logo, storyboard, website, print piece or integrated concept we all fall short of knowing that the concept/visual is just not there.

Author James Webb Young wrote a little bible called "A Technique for Producing Ideas" (this is a must have for your library) and in this the fundamental principles of this 64 pages are:

  1. Aggregate as many mental ideas, thoughts, and related concepts as possible.
  2. Then collect as much specific information on the relevant client, topic or campaign. Now matter how unrelated try to put ideas together, mind-map and see where thing fit and where they don't.
  3. Then stuff more general thinking around it; like case studies, competitors and simply "smart thinking" within the landscape.
  4. The most important part of this process is 'the incubation phase' – Go to a movie, take a long lunch, let it simmer over a weekend, and or, work on an unrelated project that won't effect your brain putting process time against that ideation. Let the subconsciousmind work on the problem.
  5. Then the magic of the "Eureka" moment! The idea(s) come to you in whatever way they manifest.
  6. Reprioritize with your idea collective and work the idea to perfection. Test, refine and launch!

Well sure this sounds great but in a the dog-eat-dog pits of today's advertising/interactive agencies do you really have the time for this whole process? Maybe and maybe not dependant upon the insurmountable deadlines you may be facing at any given time.

You'll also here your creative staff give you a thousand reasons why they're stumped, why they need more time and why are you doing this to them! But fortunately we live in a time with technology that we can take Mr. Young's principle and condense it down to assist your squeaky wheels.

  1. First of the Mr. Webb's point of aggregation and collection are still flawless and essential. Whether it's a client fact-finding mission, or you simply look at the works that's been done to date. You must immerse yourself in your client.
  2. With the internet you can make some pretty educated assumptions with websites, case-studies and online tools that lead to the analysis of where your client needs to be. Weigh the work of your competition. What works? What doesn't? What techniques are they using? Social Media? Mobile Apps? UGC campaigns? Or have they choosen more traiditional drivers?
  3. Then get inspired! There's a link on my home page for my Delicious Links, their you can find links to thousands of designers, agencies and great thinking that you can pull from. A world of great ideas is nothing but a search term away. Look at your clients competitors agency as well and make sure you don't replicate old thinking.
  4. The "incubation" phase is what I find I have very little time for anymore. My staff and I do our best to initially design rough directions and try to give immediate feedback. Then (give that you have a few hours or a few days) readdress it showing everyone's refined collective thinking. This is were Mr. Young may not have had a room full of creative minds to pull from.
  5. Then no differently – Reprioritize with your ideas collectively and work the concept to perfection. Test, refine and launch!

Lastly, I find it increasingly important to up the ante on the speed of ideas. You have to keep yourself and your staff immersed while at work at all times. Concept 'morgues' on your servers, large libraries of design, photography and advertising periodicals. Giant white boards should be no further than an arms reach while you talk about the latest mobile application in the break room during a Wii contest. Industry and conceptual immersion must be constant. This way the subconscious works faster to process the myriad of ideas that are sadly backed by ever-shortening deadline.

Posted on March 4, 2010 and filed under DIY, Design, Process.