When your livelihood is dependent on your ability to be creative whether as a web designer, article writer, or something else, it’s important to leverage what little time you have to maximize your idea input and output workflow. With this in mind we shall examine how cram sessions (otherwise known as the “I need an idea right now” approach) can aid us to produce wonderful ideas which can reflect upon our designs, our services and the many constructive mediums we use on a regular basis.
Knowing Where to Start
In the beginning, there was nothing. That pretty much sums up our sheets of paper, web browsers or word processors when we first decide that we need an idea to run with. How many times I’ve looked at a blank document and thought to myself “that is probably the most depressing digital sight I’ve ever seen” is beyond my weak math abilities. Luckily for us, this frustrating white scene can quickly become a landscape of words that sprout ideas, if you just know where to begin your examination.
Image credit: Marcio Eugenio
Figure 1: Coming up with ideas seems almost impossible with blank documents.
The method we shall use within this article focuses primarily on the concept that you can get ideas in a hurry which works for the vast majority of us, though it’s worth pointing out that a considered and well researched process will yield the best results. This is why I recommend having a post cram session evolution period in which you can weed out the ideas which don’t make the grade, can’t do what you need and simply aren’t of a high enough standard – as let’s face it, we all need standards!
Every great battle needs a good strategy, and this one is no different. Before we even start trying to come up with some cool ideas, you’ll first need the right materials to do your job. Ideas can come at any point during your day even when you’re in the toilet, so it makes sense to always carry a pen and paper or your trusty handheld device to deal with sudden bursts of inspiration – however rare they may be. In fact, the best tools we have are natural things which can spark our imagination.
Image credit: gabrieleoropallo
Figure 2: Don’t get caught out, you could forget what pops into your head.
Some people like to work with mind mapping software, others prefer the use of word processors or project management applications, and some even use sticky notes! The main point for consideration is with this approach, you’ll want to ensure that any idea can be added quickly, ordered well and the structure won’t be so complex that it’ll take you half an hour a piece. When undertaking a one night cram session, we want to be able to dump the contents of our brain somewhere solid with ease.
Research and Scribbles
So where are we going to get the inspiration for all of these things, well some people enjoy going to inspiration galleries on the web, some even enjoy sleeping on the matter (who doesn’t!). If you need ideas in a hurry, it’s better to start conceptualising something quick and easy, even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense right now. If you need to come up with ideas related to a specific subject or even if you need to come up with something totally unique, the key to everything is researching the subject.
Image credit: Kristina B
Figure 3: No idea is unique. Examine your options to find a good starting point.
For those of you who are missing a subject, your best resource is Google. Seek out things that you find personally interesting and from this you may then discover something cool which could use additional explanation. You would be surprised how many ideas I’ve managed to get by simply visiting random sites using StumbleUpon or by browsing the pages of Wikipedia. If you do have a subject you’re keen to work from, but don’t have the idea, then it’s time to blurb some words!
Inspired Idea Gathering
This is where things really begin to get fun, the idea behind blurbing is you think of any words that relate to the subject you want to design for or write about and just randomly scribble them down for future reference. If you can’t think of any, perhaps searching for keywords via Google or synonyms via a dictionary may help. The idea behind this isn’t really about having something concrete just yet; it’s about opening your mind and dissolving that white screen paralysis which affects many of us.
Image credit: sirwiseowl
Figure 4: You can use mind maps to scribble down related concepts.
With these ideas written down, you now want to pick out some of the scribbles that have some basic potential. If you (for example) wanted to help a client build a photography site, you could have come up with some words which associate to the subject like “gallery, frames, color, cameras and film”. These potentially could give you stylistic ideas or even layout thoughts. Speaking with clients before the session can give you those initial ideas to build upon, as can looking at the site’s competition.
Prototyping and Testing
Let’s face facts here, it’s all well and good getting you to fire down random thoughts onto the page and hope that some make the final cut, but the quality of ideas can be very different depending on lots of factors from how many of you are involved in the session to where you look for related materials, and even to what extent and how long you spend just trying to build upon the concepts you have. It’s therefore worth saying that you need to test your ideas post getting them to paper.
Image credit: nkzs
Figure 5: Are these concepts too silly to consider? If so, dump the dead weight!
Post writing down all of those words as quickly and effectively as possible, you now want to refer to the analysis phase. As the majority of ideas come as a result of careful planning, the thing many of us have problems with is simply getting started. Because we have pushed all of those words to paper it gives us a starting point to investigate the terms, ideas and implementations that exist to which a complete picture of the finished product can be produced – just don’t be too quick to say yes or no.
Expectations of a One Night Stand
As a matter of discourse, the average cram session probably takes me an average of about 6 hours, and it gives me one hour to scribble down random thoughts, and another 5 hours to evolve and beef up the subject beyond such terms. While it can be tough to flick through Google and produce words which match the subject, it’s much easier to build upon each layer using something like this than hoping to just think up that “finished project” with little more than a flourish of creative thinking.
Image credit: nussprofessor
Figure 6: Forming ideas is never straightforward, but forward we must go.
When it comes to idea forming, the best approach to take is to not over think the problem, try and start by relating words and ideas together and then find a strong subject based on the level of interest it provides, the unique selling point being offered or the appeal it will have to visitors. It’s quite likely that you won’t come up with the million dollar idea, but the great thing is that with time and constantly having fresh idea sessions, you’ll have a decent place to begin evolving a model.
The Fruits of Your Labour
Hopefully this article will get you thinking, and by applying the keywords first, then evolve and refine later model you can stop getting trapped in the stage of having nowhere to begin. When trying to work out the best solution to a client’s problem or article I find that having something however primitive to work from is better than having nothing at all. Idea sessions are best left to being as abstract as possible and taking small steps rather than expecting an idea to simply fall into your lap.
Figure 7: Whatever your project, manage your ideas properly – there are lots of apps for that!
For the next time you require an idea, remember to seek inspiration from the websites you frequent, the galleries that provide unique visual identities and the power that your mind has to offer when you don’t try and force it to produce results. The fruits of your labour may start off looking like a bunch of quickly scribbled concepts that have little to show for themselves as a finished product, but with enough time, care and attention, they may just become the very thing you were looking for.
Always remember to keep your audience in mind for whatever you produce, try to get your clients to give you as much information as possible to help reduce the abstract nature of idea gathering, and to research your subject well. You cannot hope to produce winning ideas if you have no clues, direction or creative control on a project – and this is where so many sites fail due to unoriginality. The best ideas take shape over time and are based on research, not cloning or brain voodoo!
How do you go about coming up with fresh ideas for designs or blog posts? Do you ever get writers block and how do you get over the problem? How much time do you spend researching before attempting to implement one of your ideas? Let us know in the comment section below!