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A Designer’s Approach to Brainstorming

By on March 3rd, 2014 in Design

Ever wonder how a graphic designer comes up with those amazingly creative ideas? Well, it isn’t magic, (although sometimes I wish it was) it’s through brainstorming! Regardless of the project, there are several steps I usually follow when brainstorming a new creative concept.

Research everything.

A great starting point is to research as much as you can about the company and the type of design you are looking to create. The easiest place to start looking is their website. Check to see if they have brand guidelines or a standard for how they prefer their marketing materials to look. If there is no standard, your brainstorming needs to broaden a little wider. To gain inspiration, I usually turn to a few sources. First, I have a stack of design magazines on my desk that I like to thumb through when I am stuck on an idea. Sometimes seeing what other designers are up to can trigger an idea for a solution to the design problem you are presented with. Another place I look to for inspiration is through image searches. This can be done either through a simple google search or a stock photography site. Sometimes just seeing an image that relates to your topic can trigger inspiration for a great advertising piece.

Sketch concepts.

You did your research, so now you need to translate that into a design concept. The best way I have found to do this is through sketching. A lot of designers may be tempted to skip this step and start applying their ideas to the computer immediately. I feel this can be counterproductive. The biggest benefit of sketching instead of taking it straight to digital is you are able to quickly develop many concepts without spending a lot of time on layout. Also, if you sketch out a range of ideas, you will not be tempted to settle for the first idea you come up with.

Take a break.

This is a hard one to do. Sometimes deadlines make it impossible. However, if you are able to step away from the project for a little while this can help the brainstorming process. Coming back to it later with a fresh perspective can really help with idea generation, especially if you are stuck and can’t think of anything. Also, for whatever reason, I have learned sometimes the best ideas come when you least expect it. This can often happen when I am not at work, or on my way to work. Finding out what part of the day is best for you to come up with ideas is also very helpful. I would say for me, my best ideas come in the first half of the day. It tends to be the time of day that I am most alert, and the ideas are fresh since I have just started my work day.

Weed out the idea.

When I am presented with a creative problem, very rarely is my first idea the best one. That is why I try to sketch out several concepts so I can choose the best one possible. Sometimes this can be the most difficult step, because you may have several ideas that you really like and can’t make a decision. Ultimately, you need to choose the idea that will best communicate the message you are trying to portray. At the end of the day, if you look at your wonderfully crafted design, and it doesn’t communicate to the audience the message, you have failed no matter how great it looks.

Refine your concept.

After you have chosen which idea to pursue, the real fun can begin! Now you can take that design and start shaping it into what will become the final product. You also can go back and sketch several variations of the concept, and develop it more if needed. This is usually when I will take the design to the computer and start assembling the pieces.

Like a jigsaw puzzle, you need to organize all the parts, think about the big picture, and then start putting it all together. It may not be magic, but brainstorming is definitely one thing any designer cannot do without. How do you brainstorm? What are some of the things you do when designing or being creative?