On avoiding procrastination, stimulating creativity and giving away books!

Bored, stuck, desperate for ideas, deadline approaching, uninpsired, bored some more. Sound familiar? How do you get out of that rut?

I recently read a great article in the New Yorker which started off talking about the pitfalls of brainstorming, but then included so much more. I want to share a few of the main ideas – and add a few more – but if you have time, I definitely recommend reading that whole article (Groupthink: The brainstorming myth).


Some tips for stimulating creativity:


1. Apparently brainstorming doesn’t work. That’s what multiple surveys have said anyway. Specifically, the kind of brainstorming where negative feedback is not allowed (the kind recommended by advertising guru Alex Osborn of B.B.D.O.). Researchers have constantly found that, in spite of what Osborn said about encouragement and receiving only positive feedback maximising his staff’s idea generation abilities, people are in fact motivated to come up with more and better ideas if they are given some negative feedback. So, if you are struggling to come up with ideas, encourage someone to give you some constructive criticism (‘constructive’ is key!).

In the absence of a suitably encouraging yet try to view your own work analytically and give yourself some constructive criticism. If you stop and think about it, can you discover what, deep down, you know isn’t working? This might prove to be a very useful life skill so is worth developing.


2. Dismantle your office. If you work on your own at home moving your desk around is just procrastinating. But if you work around other people, apparently this can be very stimulating. Steve Jobs was a fan of this method. He designed the Pixar building around a central atrium and originally intended to force people to go there by placing the only toilets in the building there (he had to relent and install a second set, apparently). This nicely illustrates that the idea behind this one is nothing to do with feng shui, but everything to do with bumping into your colleagues and having a chat while you make tea (hey, you thought that was just procrastinating but actually you were stimulating creativity).

Discussing your work with people from different disciplines can generate fresh perspectives. This technique certainly worked in the case of Building 20 (see page 4 of the New Yorker article). It’s amazing how many leaps in scientific progress came from a poorly ventilated warehouse which was designed for early demolition. Apparently the layout ‘spurred interaction’ and created ‘knowledge spillovers’, which sounds sort of like a bad thing but manifestly was not.

Unfortunately, if you work around lots of other people and the desire to tear down walls suddenly comes over you, the odds are they won’t appreciate it. But the theory is sound. Step outside your box and engage with others.


3. Moving on from the point above – try developing a creative partnership. Think how many people this has worked for. If you are really stuck for ideas, is there someone whose opinion you value and whose advice you could ask? Someone who you have worked with efficiently in the past? Learn from the point above and consider looking to other disciplines. What about a classmate who you worked well with years ago but took a different path? As long as you don’t expect them to do the work for you, the chances are they will be flattered you think their opinion is worth asking for. Remember to offer your help on one of their projects in return. This should stop them resenting you for using up their precious time and may lead to a productive lifelong working relationship. Biscuits and cups of tea are also nice.


4. Visit your favourite websites and blogs. This may seem a bit obvious and likely to lead to more procrastinating but try following links to recommended sites that you are unfamiliar with, perhaps focusing on those that don’t necessarily excite you at first. See if any of them have newsletters and sign up. Everyone hates junk mail but pick carefully and you can always unsubscribe if you are unimpressed. You may just be sent a few gems of useful or inspiring information which you would never have seen otherwise.


5. If you’re really stuck, step outside your comfort zone and try some different methods. If you are working in a primarily visual medium and rely on lots of image searches to inspire you, perhaps try some word association for example (a tip endorsed by innovation.se). Try searching for ‘creative problem solving’ and see what turns up. Open your mind and try something new.


6. The Internet is a wonderful tool. I was inspired to write this blog post by a link to an online article posted on Twitter. But I do work for a publishing company and happen to think that books are pretty great too. Research what books are out there that could help you. If you are working in quite a niche area, this is particularly quick and easy and should be very rewarding. There will be books that have been published in your area that will be able to give you specialist relevant information, carefully selected for people in the same position as you (for example further resources, suggested reading, case studies etc).

If there aren’t any books available, maybe you should think about writing one. (Although that takes procrastination to a whole other level).


AVA has published a few books in the area of idea generation and research skills for designers, all listed below. Sometimes just looking at examples of other great ideas can be incredibly inspiring.

On that note, we have FIVE copies of the Art Directors Annual 91 to give away. This competition will run for 24 hours so your entries need to have been recieved by 5pm on 15th January 2013. If you think the book looks inspiring (see some spreads below) then all you have to do is share this post and then email press@avabooks.co.uk with your name and postal address and we will pick five people at random. Good luck!

The book was only just published and contains the 2012’s most innovative works in visual communication in national and international advertising, graphic design, interactive design, interactive media, photography, and illustration. You can read more information about it here or just take a look at some of the sample spreads below. It also has a great cover!







Other AVA titles which may be of interest to any designers in need of visual stimuli, recommended reading, interviews with other deisgners etc:

Basics Fashion Design 01: Research and Design (second edition) – for fashion designers

Basics Textile Design 01: Sourcing Ideas – for textile designers

Basics Graphic Design 02: Design Research – for graphic designers

Basics Advertising 03: Ideation – for graphic designers and those working in advertising

Basics Graphic Design 03: Idea Generation – for graphic designers and anyone who is just plain stuck

Visual Research (second edition) – for graphic designers studying at a higher level