If I’m to use my woodland explorations to illustrate the “magic of the ideation process” (quoted further in my post), there’s none better than this seemingly monochromatic scene. Ideation, or brainstorming, is like meandering a forest’s muddy paths in spring. You never know the adventures into which you’ll step and what unknown discoveries lie just around the bend.
This is an update from a post I wrote several years ago—seven, to be exact—time sure does fly. I’m rehashing a great topic that’s totally relevant to Project Creativity.
I recently met with a new client who wants an update to their organization’s logo. It was a brainstorming session and, oh, do I love brainstorming sessions! It’s a science all in itself and most professional creatives have their own highly refined system. The great thing is you don’t have to be a professional to brainstorm. Anyone can enjoy this fun process for any of their creative ventures.
Here’s my process for brainstorming. How does it compare to yours?
Brainstorming—what is it, anyway?
Wikipedia defines brainstorming as a “group creativity technique designed to generate a large number of ideas for the solution of a problem.”
More poetically, Clare Warmke writes in Idea Revolution, that “the magic of the ideation process is that you start in a familiar place, but then take a twisting, turning path to a new destination.”
Open the Right-Brain
The right side of the brain is often considered the generator of creativity. While some people are naturally more right-brained than others, sometimes we just need a little nudge to open the door. I like to start with a brain-opening activity because it breaks the ice and gets everyone going with broadened thinking.
Sometimes a brain opener can be something as simple as food and conversation. The carbohydrates of a whole wheat sandwich or the omega-3’s in a handful of nuts activate our creativity. I once hosted a brainstorming group of women and served cheese, chocolate and wine—now that was a very productive session!
Brain openers can also be activity-oriented. I’ve asked clients to fold a piece of paper into a shape related to their business, which of course brought on limited results and lots of laughter. I’ve heard of designers leading visual “tours” of a specific place and asking clients to describe things they encounter with each of their senses. Gerry Graf of Barton F. Graf is rumored to ask his team to come up with 4000 bad ideas before coming up with good ones.
Breath deep, clear the mind, open your brain…you get the idea.
Define the Problem
Once everyone is relaxed and open to creative thinking, it’s then time to discuss the problem at hand. By problem, I mean challenge. In the case of my clients, our challenge was to update their organization’s logo(s) and build a more solid brand.
No matter what the project is, I like to walk my clients through a series of self-examining questions. These are the questions I use to draft a creative brief. What is your business? What do you do? Who is your target market? What are their demographics? What are your qualities? What are your obstacles? What image would you like to convey? And so on…
Discussing these questions helps both clients and me see the full picture. As they talk, key words pop up. I write these down for later use (there are scads of mind mapping software for doing this but I find sitting with a pen and paper is much more conversational than sitting behind a laptop).
Word Storm a List
The key words I’ve noted are the start of what I call my “concept list.” This is a list of random words related to the project. They build upon one another and they formulate ideas. At this stage of brainstorming, I engage the clients in further developing this list.
Let’s use my client as an example.
This organization is a 501(c)(3) foundation that provides development and support for the local food system. There are many entities to this group and besides a new logo, the challenge is to unify them while allowing each their own identity.
Some of the words in our concept list were “farm, local, community and prairie.” As we discussed these words, more words inevitiably came into discussion and I wrote them down. We branched off from certain words and wrote sub words—for example, from farm we got “organic, green, preservation.” From prairie we got “grasses, earthy colors, heritage,” and so on. We listed nouns, verbs and adjectives. We listed positive traits, geographical names and cultural ideals. Remember, the broader the better and there are no bad ideas!
By now a concept list easily consists of 50-100 words. Maybe more, because creativity is like a muscle—the more we use it, the more it develops.
This is about the time you walk around the bend and see something more than that initial muddied view. This is when solutions start popping into one’s head. A writer formulates ideas for a story’s theme…an engineer drafts concepts for a new product…and my client and I began visualizing possibilities for a logo.
An Unpredictable Journey
Brainstorming can be a mentally exhausting exercise (I always try to limit my meetings to 90 minutes). It can take you in directions completely unexpected. In my client’s case, the committee went from wanting to simply tweak the colors and type of their current logo to maybe wanting to redo the whole thing. Brainstorming can result in solutions that far exceed your initial expectations. It’s always fascinating to see where you land.
How about you? How do you brainstorm? Any advice to offer us? Interesting anecdotes? Please share!