This is a guest post from Ken Reynolds – a graphic designer and illustrator living & working in Suffolk, UK. He runs his own design blog, unimaginatively named after himself, where he writes articles on design, blogging and freelancing. You can connect with Ken on Twitter
One of the most common problems creative people experience is a lack of ideas. An imaginative dry-spell. The internet is awash with articles advising how this state can be overcome, I’ve even written one myself.
Everyone is so worried about a lack of ideas that the opposite problem can be easily ignored. There are a number of dangers lying in wait if you have too many ideas.
This sounds like a ridiculous statement. As designers, ideas are our business. People employ us to think creatively; so how can it possibly be a bad thing if we hit a rich vein of thought?
I like to compare it to finding a big deposit of gold in a mine. It’s wonderful that you have found an abundance of potential wealth, but there are many dangers you have to overcome before you have a final product with which to reap the benefits.
In the past, while working in a busy studio environment, time was always a controlling factor. I was expected to have a number of ideas ready for presentation within hours of being handed a brief. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is far from ideal.
Mentally, I felt like I was falling through the air, extending my arms hoping that my fingers might latch onto a life-saving hand hold. Because of strict time restraints I was forced into latching onto my first ideas and hoping for the best.
Often an immediate reaction to a brief can work out well, but the designer needs to have sharp instincts to pull it off. The sort of working environment I describe helps to hone this instinct, and you soon learn to tell the difference between a bad idea and one with potential very quickly.
On the flip side of the coin, when you allow yourself plenty of time and have a raft of, seemingly, excellent ideas, you have to be careful when selecting which leads to pursue.
You may spend a lot of time on an idea to discover it is a dead end. Personally I consider this as part of my process, but if you continue this way unchecked you will find that you will be wasting a lot of time working on ideas that should have been discarded at the beginning.
Having a lot of ideas competing against one another can lead to confusion. If you believe that you have a number of excellent ideas, it can be very difficult to discard some and pin your hopes of a single one.
You might end up trying to mix your ideas up in an effort to get all of them into the final product. This could lead to a lack of focus and impact. You might find that instead of strengthening a message you dilute it.
Another problem that might arise, if you are in a particularly prolific frame of mind and you are handling multiple projects at the same time, is that your designs begin to look alike.
You might find that discarded ideas from one project might pop up in another one. There’s nothing wrong with recycling! But you have to be careful that your output doesn’t become uniform.
I’m always very wary when I hit upon a large number of ideas when responding to a brief. I should be happy and excited, but over the the years I approach the situation cynically.
If I have plenty of ideas I assume that a number of them simply cannot be original. Nothing worthwhile should come easily, so I usually dismiss the first few rounds of brainstorming out of hand. Occasionally I’ll go back over the initial notes to see if a gem has sneaked through my cynical brain. Sometimes it happens, but most of the time I won’t settle on an idea until I feel frustrated and drained.
This odd process is part of my quality control. I mistrust my first thoughts and write them off as simplistic, unoriginal and cliched.
Simply put, the more ideas you have the harder it becomes to identify the gold amongst the scree.
Occasionally a designer is blessed with a flash of inspiration so strong that ideas generation is simply not needed. I have had a few projects where a design solution has jumped out of the ether straight into my head. It’s all so fully formed that my cynicism doesn’t have a say.
When this happens it is an amazing experience and a blessing.
For me this is a seldom blessing, but I am always mindful of how I feel when I know an idea is correct.
When generating ideas I try to design by numbers, making sure that I cover all of the bases in the brief, but I have come to trust my instinct.
I make sure I put a lot of thought into each idea to provide my instincts with enough information to pass judgement on it. If you put an idea through the ringer you’ll soon be able to asses if it has legs.
If I’m still thinking about the possibilities of any particular idea for more than 20 minutes I know that it’s worth the effort for further development, and that’s when the excitement kicks in.
I’d never advise any designer to stop generating ideas. The main thrust of this post is about making sure that you don’t get distracted by the amount of ideas you have.
Design is about communication, and the purity of a design can easily be compromised if there are too many ideas competing for attention.
Everyone has a different creative process, and there are many ways we all generate ideas. It’s the lifeblood of our profession, but it’s something you might want to be wary about.
Having too many ideas only becomes a problem if you are not able to process them clearly and without sentiment. Sometimes promising ideas have to be discarded because they do not meet the brief, sometimes you have to waste time on a bad idea to prove that it’s worthless.
It would be nice to hear your opinions on this subject.
Are you blessed with consistent inspiration? Do you struggle to generate ideas? Do you find it hard to recognise a good idea when you have an abundance? How do you process your ideas and decide which ones to pursue?