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This is the background lecture material for the creativity session in the design course in Interactive Media Design, semester three in winter term 12/13. 

Never feel guilty of fouling your nest by stealing a glance at creativity techniques as design method – particularly not with regard to user centred design. What sounds like an antagonism is a simple truth: Beyond all rational and methodical approaches that are suitable to turn design into a justifiable strategy, a design solution with a touch of differentness will turn the balance between “intelligent” and “smart”.

There are some rules to warm up with the inspiration of creativity to be trained during the design study, which can be as well serve as a nice recreation break for an experienced designer.

1. Unlearn Standards

Being creative can be a pretty hard work. We are trained to recall knowledge and standards as quick as possible and fail-safe to survive and perform in daily life. Rewarding routines seduce us to use our brain just as a source to recall effective data and trained patterns. Not to mention the training of “right” answers in school or using the “right” hand and similar things since our childhood. Even our body prepared for movement patterns. Take the handshake with another person (i.e. putting forth right hand – right?), ask yourself how you cross your legs sitting in tailor seat (with all the time the same leg up – right?).  Now, please fold your arms in front of your chest. Does it feel ok? It does, right? Fine, please cross your arms the other way round now. Difficult? You feel a slight lack of flow and comfort? Congratulations, you did something unusual – you’ve been creative.

Being creative means breaking the habits of body and brain deliberately. And this – as said before – is pretty hard work, but it can be fun if you relax and get into it.

2. Shift Perspectives

We tend to believe that there is only one truth existing, especially when we are dealing with numbers. This is a highly comforting attitude that makes us mentally lazy, what’s not too good for creativity.

What is the half of twelve? It is six, right? That’s the way we learnt it at school. But if we shift the perspective only a bit, the answer is as well:

or
or

What of all answers is the most interesting one? “Six”? For sure not. My favorite is “Seven” as a result of cutting the roman characters into half. Then the half of twelve is seven. (Don’t try this at school.) Why is it so interesting to give the wrong answer? Well, because it is not actually wrong. It’s just wrong from the one and only perspective.

3. Lean Back, Relax and Let it Flow

To be relaxed and open is a good starting point to be able to think out of the box. And – no – there is no red vine necessary for the next step.

What is that?

Ok., this is a white colon on a black circle. Or, wait…it’s a Button, a glossy black marble, a greasy chocolate marshmallow (top view – yummy), a skittles ball, a pen with two leads (top view), a socket mismounted,  a Martian (top view – note the antennae), a fat man with small feet (bottom-up view), a sleeping pig with a very big nose (front view, lying aside), a bowl with only two peanuts left, a stocking with two wholes on a darning egg, the second before two asteroids collide in space, … What else could it be? I bet you know more – just let me know in the comments.

4. Leave Waldorf and Statler at Home

Being creative and generating ideas at the first stage is a question of speed, growing dynamics, a ouburst of images and catchwords. All the potential has to find the way to light first. The trick is not to disturb the flow of ideas by scrutinizing, judging or even rejecting contributions popped out of the minds. To make it short: Leave your inner Waldorf and Statler at home. (The video is published at YouTube)

5. Find your Favourite Method

You might suspect that to elicit ideas can be a pretty embarrassing process. I know IT-colleagues that even can’t stand to only observe a creativity session. (I am wondering by the way if this could be a new psychological interrogation method for right handed rationalists.) But I have to admit, that an atmosphere of easiness and trust is precondition for a successful session. Of similar importance is that you feel comfortable with the method applied.

There are some methods with either associative, analytical or picture driven character. Just try them and find the fitting one for you and your team.

Brainstorming

The idea is to collect as much different ideas as possible and get them visibly written down (flip chart, whiteboard, pinboard) to gain new impulses. After the collection phase the inputs will be clustered and evaluated. Here is the brainstorm result of the question, what inspires people.

Important for the practice of creativity sessions are speed , openness, and a kind of uncriticalness. The conditions are nicely described in the following video that is published here.

Mind Mapping

This method activates the left and the right brain hemisphere at the same time to use synergies between the rational part (i.e. left hemisphere – rational thinking, speech, analysis) and the creative part (i.e. right hemisphere – spacial awareness, colour, rhythm, gestalt, pattern recognition) to increase the mind achievements.

The starting point at the centre of a big paper is a picture, an illustration, a question or a problem. The ideas are sketched along thinking paths on the paper. The main idea is to use pictures and colours within the mind map to keep both brain hemispheres active.

The following example is published by Mind Tools.

Easter Egg

Easter egg means to bring some unexpected in your thoughts and combine it with the elaborated ideas. In same cases this technique is called “Bisociation” as it is an association method but joined twice. Take for example a finished mind map and add something that comes to your or another person’s mind at random – like “cheesecake”, “stack of wood” or “liver sausage”. This is an at first sight irritating but very funny technique – try it. It enormously boosts the idea potential with some chance for great outcomes.

Mood Boards

Mood boards – as the name says – are visual stimuli of an atmosphere, a mood, a vibe, a feeling e.g. of a product or service. They are traditionally made on a big cardboard sheet, assembled as a montage of collected pictures, sketches and/or materials. The widely used method in all fields of design can have different targets and occurrences.

Amongst others they are used in:

  • Film industry: presentation of the set design or of the film design
  • Advertisement and marketing: visual definition of the target group (see e.g. sigma)
  • Grafik: visual style impressions (composition of visual elements)
  • Interface Design: impression of the character of the application (Look & Feel & Behaviour)
  • Industrial Design: Presentation of the atmosphere of a product coined by colours, shapes, material

Creating a comprehensive mood board of a dense atmosphere isn’t that easy because you have to design it as one coherent artwork. The result is neither a picture story nor a one-to-one translation of attributes like e.g. brand values or application targets by the help of sticking together single pictures. So if you would like to express, that a webshop is safe, trustworthy and fair, arranging pictures of a lock, a safe and the unavoidable shaking hands will not lead to the feeling the user should have, using the website. But the mood board is exactly about this feeling. So, you need to create a presentation of visual stimuli, that converges into one homogeneous impression. Like the mission statement the mood board can be used as visual leitmotif during the whole design process of a project. To illustrate what is meant, here a good example of a student project (the copyright of the mood board belongs to: Christian Bäuerlein, Jan Facchinetti, Jennifer Gass, Angelina Haag, Sebastian Leib, Jan Möller, Alessandro Porcu and Christina Wunder – thanks to them).

Morphologic Box

Morphological Analysis is a technique for finding new combinations of products or services. All possible properties are therefore systematically listed and evaluated in terms of their combination-potential.

Interesting combinations in this case might be:

  • Felt chair with 4 legs, 30 cm high, neon colour, ergonomic shape with massage function
  • Glas chair with three legs, 50 cm height, transparent, square shape with lamp function (i.e. self lucent)
  • Metal chair with four legs, 120 height, solid colour, deconstructed form, with an added integrated table

Osborn Checklist

This is a checklist to test ideas, guiding the thoughts into completely different directions. The checklist evaluates the potential that lies in the modification, transformation or change of a solution or product.

  • What is similar to the product? (Function, appearance, material)
  • Are there different application possibilities?
  • How could it be changed? (Shape, target, colour, …)
  • Could it be increased? (add something, invest more time, heavier, added value, more expensive, exaggerated, …)
  • Could it be scaled down? (what is unnecessary, deconstructible, foldable, …)
  • How can it be replaced? (new models, material, energy sources, producing method, …)
  • Can it be deformed? (change order, change cause and effect, …)
  • Change to the opposite. (change roles, change order of process, turn inside out, …)
  • Combine (Try a mixture from different solutions, regroup, connect, …)

 Brainwriting

This method is also known as Method 6-3-5. Each participant of a group of six generates three ideas within five Minutes. He or she writes the ideas down and passes the worksheet to the next participant, who reads the ideas and builds his own three ideas on those existing ones. The session takes 30 minutes. In the end there is 6x3x5 = 108 ideas generated.

I found a nice video (comments in German) in the YouTube Click&Learn Channel (by Badegruber & Partner GmbH)

6. Provoke Creativity

There are some general tricks to increase your creative potential.

Think with pictures deliberately. Try to imagine scenes and pictures, and not discussing an abstract problem.

See the solution everywhere. Every object in your environment can be the inspiration for a solution. Currently I see a water bottle close to me while I am writing this article. Its silhouette is like the perfect dramatic curve that reminds me to apply a proper dramaturgy for this text here. (This means I need a teaser at the beginning, conflicting potential in the middle an a satisfying solution in the end not to end up in a tragedy.)

Think out of the box. If you know one way, take another one – just for the experience and for the fruitful irritation caused by new experiences.

If you have one solution, try to find another one. It will be worth while, even to assure yourself that the first one is the best.

Discuss with other people of different disciplines People with viewpoints different from yours automatically inspire you to shift your perspective.

“It won’t work” won’t work. The sky’s the limit – this should be your credo.

Use both brain Hemispheres. Even if you are a “thinker” rather than an illustrator, take a sketchbook everywhere and use it to illustrate your ideas. (Don’t panic, nobody needs to see them.)

Have fun!

3 thoughts on “Creativity – the Value of Being Abnormal

  1. Hello :)
    I can see a black hole eating two planets. Or a vacuum cleaner which is sucking up some small white stones or dirt.

    • Oh, yes that’s true. Now I see it as well :) That’s exactly how it works. We see things we know – in your case because you are a bowling champion – and the grand amusement is to find new meanings for it.

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