Week 5

Thoughts on Ideas

When it comes to designing – where do I get my ideas from?

So far, I have never had to go back to a client and say, ‘I don’t have any ideas – I can’t complete your project’! However, I don’t think I have ever really considered where I get my ideas from or what process I may follow to get them.

Our lecture this week by Susanna Edwards (our MA course leader) was all about how we think and generate ideas. We looked at various models and processes used by designers and design establishments but also used by philosophers and scientists. Some were more complicated than others, but they all try to show how the mind might work when solving a problem.

We looked at models from the Bauhaus and The Design Council, from Physician and Psychologist, Edward De Bono and also from Psychiatrist and writer, Iain Gilchrist.Design Processes

The mind is a fascinating organ which of course is unique to every individual. Having looked at the various models and thinking about how my own mind works and how I might tackle a project, I would agree with Susanna when she says, ‘the design process is difficult to put into a box’. She is referring to the quote in the Design Council Research Report from ‘Best’ (2006): –

Design processes are difficult to standardise, in part because of their iterative, non-linear nature, and also because the needs of clients and users are so different. In addition, real life, with its changing market conditions and customer preferences, is much more dynamic chaotic and fuzzy than any standard model can fully accommodate and often, stages of the design process overlap.’

I know that sometimes when a client is telling me about their requirements for a project, I have an array of ideas floating around while they are talking. But afterwards, I have had to go back through various stages to research and test those ideas making sure I am not missing anything – overlapping those stages all the time!

It was great to watch the lecture of Iain McGilchrist’s ‘The Divided Brain’ in the form of an animation by the RSA. Being an animated version, it definitely made my brain comprehend in the information more easily!

He talks about how people believed that one side of the brain was for reason and the other for emotion but that in actual fact they are found in both. Imagination is found in both hemispheres of the brain also – overlapping with each other.

Most interestingly, he talks about how that “we live in a world that is paradoxical – we strive for happiness and it leads to resentment. It leads to unhappiness and it leads in fact to an explosion of mental illness. We pursuit freedom but we live in a world that is more monitored. More information, we have it in spades, but we get less and less able to use it, to understand it, to be wise.”

 This reminded me of a book I have at home called ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen R Covey.The 7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleCovey talks about how when we are first born, we are dependent on others, how as we grow, we become independent but that ultimately, we should strive to become interdependent.

Covey believes that this can be achieved by following these 7 habits: –

  1. Be proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first
  4. Think Win-Win
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  6. Synergy
  7. Sharpen the saw

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleIt is a book about personal development, but I feel these habits could equally be used by designers when working on a project and within a team.

Especially habit 6, ‘Synergy’. This is the ‘interdependent’ section where Covey believes we can benefit from others. “Celebrate differences, be a lot stronger – like two pieces of wood put together. We can combine our different talents and abilities to make something even greater.’

I also believe in habit 7, ‘Sharpen the saw’. This is where, as individuals, we need to invest in ourselves. Continuing to improve our physical selves – exercise and diet. Our spiritual selves – meditate, prayer, music, or art. Our cognitive health – continuing to learn and explore and finally, our social health – relationships.

The ‘7 Habits’ is an example of a model whereby we can work on selves to achieve what we want in life, our jobs and our relationships.

When it comes to models and methods for designers to create ideas, there are plenty out there. Brain Storming, Concept Maps, Mind Maps, Mood Boards, Scamper Technique, Story Boards and SWOT Analysis. Some of which I have used before when starting a project and others not so much.

The one thing I can never do, is sit in front of my computer hoping an idea will come to me!

When deciding on a ‘thinker’ or a ‘process’ to summarise in a line drawing, I wanted to find someone/thing that I could relate to as a designer. I wasn’t really sure if I had a process myself, but as I’ve come to realise over this week, I actually do.

In my research, I came across an article written by Maria Popova (www.brainpicking.org) about English Psychologist and London School of Economics co-founder, Graham Wallas.

In 1926 and at 68 years old, Graham Wallas wrote a book called the ‘Art of Thought’. This book is about what Wallas believed the four stages of the creative process are, from his own observations but also based on accounts from inventors and polymaths.Graham WallasThe book is no longer in print, but some copies are available in public libraries. According to Popova “the gist of Wallas’s model has been preserved in a chapter of the 1976 treasure “The Creativity Question’ — an invaluable selection of meditations on and approaches to creativity by some of history’s greatest minds, compiled by psychiatrist Albert Rothenberg and philosopher Carl R. Hausman, reminiscent of the 1942 gem An Anatomy of Inspiration.”

 The four stages to creative thinking that Wallas writes about are: –

  1. Preparation
  2. Incubation
  3. Illumination
  4. Verification

For me, this is very simple, it’s what I can understand and relate to and it’s how I believe I go about my own design process.

  1. Preparation

Wallas writes, “The educated man has, again, learnt, and can, in the Preparation stage, voluntarily or habitually follow out, rules as to the order in which he shall direct his attention to successive elements.’

  1. Incubation

‘Voluntary abstention from conscious thought on any problem may, itself, take two forms: the period of abstention may be spent either in conscious mental work on other problems, or in a relaxation from all conscious mental work. The first kind of Incubation economizes time and is therefore often the better.’

  1. Illumination

‘If we so define the Illumination stage as to restrict it to this instantaneous “flash,” it is obvious that we cannot influence it by a direct effort of will; because we can only bring our will to bear upon psychological events which last for an appreciable time. On the other hand, the final “flash,” or “click” … is the culmination of a successful train of association, which may have lasted for an appreciable time, and which has probably been preceded by a series of tentative and unsuccessful trains.

  1. Verification

‘It never happens that unconscious work supplies ready-made the result of a lengthy calculation in which we only have to apply fixed rules… All that we can hope from these inspirations, which are the fruit of unconscious work, is to obtain points of departure for such calculations. ‘

I can relate to ‘Incubation’ and ‘Illumination’ stages so much. My brain is working all the time on the problem that I have been given by a client. But whilst I am thinking, I can be engaging in many other tasks, not even really that aware that I am solving the problem at the same time (Incubation).

Then, ‘just like that’ I’ll come up with an idea, usually in the shower, in a dream or just when I least except it (Illumination).

My black line drawing is based on Wallas’ method. Wallas talks about trains and so I wanted my drawing to include the phrase ‘Train of Thought’ – depicting the 4 creative stages as individual carriages that we might walk back and forth along. I think I achieved the idea of train carriages but perhaps not quite how the stages ‘overlap’ with each other or how we might walk through them.

Here are some of my notes, sketches, ideas and my final black line drawing for ‘The Art of Thought’.Sketch Book & Notes

Black Line DrawingIn summary, this week’s theme has been great to figure out the process/method that I use when it comes to designing. However, I don’t think that all processes are set in stone and you don’t have to pick just one for yourself. As Susanna says in the beginning of this blog Design process is difficult to put into a box.’

I think we do whatever works for us but depending on the project and its requirements, we might find that introducing different processes and methods at different stages of a project is best. Therefore ‘overlapping’ different examples and opening our minds to various outcomes.