Thursday, 16 October 2014 17:00

Brainstorming Techniques That Will Make You A Creative Genius

Too many beginner designers are under the assumption that all the ‘magic’ happens at the computer. They move into Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop way to quickly, and sit and stare at their screens hoping that some inspiration pops out at them from the pixels.

In reality, this rarely happens (if at all). Even the ‘simplest’ designs were imagined through a highly structured, multi-step process. Seasoned designers frequently go through tens and maybe hundreds of ideas and raw sketches before they narrow down to the final few ‘workable’ concepts.

These raw ideas are all generated through brainstorming.

The old adage goes, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” There’s definitely more than one way to spark creativity as well. David Sherwin shares many beneficial brainstorming techniques in his book Creative Workshop. Try out one (or more) of these exercises and see what ideas you come up with that you wouldn’t necessarily have thought of before.

Mind Mapping

This brainstorming method lets you identify a range of ideas quickly in a free-form manner.
1. In the center of your page, write the key points of focus for your brainstorm.
2. Radiating outward, jot down any related words, concepts, ideas, and even opposites.
3. Expand upon and circle relationships in the ideas that emerge.
4. Extract the big ideas and start to sketch out possible design executions.

Word Listing

Similar to mind mapping, word listing has a bit more structure and can sometimes yield quicker results.

  1. Draw out three columns on a sheet of paper. In the first column, write out as many words or concepts related to the focus point of your design.
  2. In the second column, pick an idea from the first column that interests you, and write down a series of related words.
  3. In the third column, write down words that are opposite of the idea you chose from column one.
  4. Circle and connect relationships that span the three columns. Extract the big ideas and start to sketch out possible design executions.

Picture Association

Another similar exercise to mind mapping, picture association as you might imagine focuses on images as your source of inspiration.

  1. Print out photos and illustrations that you feel are related to the project. These images can be found in search engines, cut out of magazines, picked from design resources, art books, stock images or taken by you.
  2. Arrange your images in groups or clusters that seem to speak to one another. Write words around the clusters that describe the essential message they convey.
  3. From these groups, choose the ideas you like most and start to sketch out possible design executions.


This technique works well when you’re really stuck. As humans, we have the tendency to find relationships between things that seem to be in direct conflict. The tension between those two words or ideas can often spark more novel concepts in your mind.

  1. Come up with a word or concept derived from the overall project (or an older one you previously had trouble expanding upon).
  2. Write down the first random thing that pops into your mind.
  3. With both words down. Next, write as many different associations between the two words you can think of.
  4. See what words or images start to emerge. Choose the ideas you like most and start to sketch out possible design executions.

Idea Inversion

If you’ve been busy brainstorming and none of the ideas have really led to fruition, try mixing up your approach with idea inversion.

  1. Take a concept that’s not quite working and imagine the exact opposite in every way.
  2. Write out the opposing attributes and draw that new idea.
  3. Compare the two ideas, and mix and match elements from both to stir new possibilities.

Brainstorm for being a creative genius when creating a startup

Free-Form Sketching

Relatively self-explanatory, draw out words and layout ideas in a free form way.

  1. Do not filter your ideas, just draw.
  2. Every five minutes, step back from your drawings for a second to re-assess and refocus your direction.
  3. If you are working with another designer, swap notebooks after a while and keep drawing to inspire new ideas.

Designer Mad Libs

This technique can be kind of fun. Remember that game Mad Libs you played as a kid? You will be making one for your project.

  1. Your Mad Lib can be basic an phrased like: My ________ is like ________ because ________ .
  2. Go through a few times writing different words in the blanks and see what you come up with.
  3. Also, try asking others to fill in the blanks and work from their ideas. You will be shocked what ideas will start to emerge from what others come up with.

Final Thought: Set A Time Limit

Being creative on demand is, well, demanding! However, if you set some sort of time limit to your brainstorming (20-30 min works best) it gives you enough time to really get the creative juices flowing while still not making everything seem like too daunting a task.

Working without time limits can be overwhelming for the mind, especially when you feel lost as to where you should start. By setting a workable limit to your brainstorming you will be sure to have enough time to generate plenty of ideas while still able to progress to the next stage of the design process in a timely manner.

Good luck!

Source: Creative Workshop by David Sherwin

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Erik Rosner

Content Strategist

Erik brings a unique talent for writing to our team, using his creative skills in creating and curating content to encourage user engagement in our client's brands and ours. 

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