As a graphic designer, ideas are my lifeblood.

Anyone who is faced with a blank page and is required to produce something from nothing will know the agony of creative block... So it's essential to have a method to get through it.

I'm constantly tweaking and evolving the system I use, but wanted to share my method to see if it could spark conversation about how others work.

These 5 steps should be done in this specific order, and the first 3 are essential.

Depending on how they go dictates how I proceed afterwards... Often an idea will be forming that can be taken to be worked up on the Mac, but for the occasions where that hasn't happened... Steps 4 and 5 always deliver the goods.


Step 1. Define the problem you are trying to solve.

This sounds obvious, but some of the design briefs I receive don't have a clear objective or goal. The very first thing a designer should think about is how they will be able to communicate a successful solution to the problem.

I'm won't write here about which questions to ask, or how to write a design brief WITH your client... That will be a separate post, but it's one I think I'll put together soon.

Instead, I'll move onto the next step assuming that the goals and objectives are agreed and that you understand the problem you are trying to solve.

Step 2: Research

I tend to split this into several distinct 'phases'.

Here are the areas I research before starting any work:

  • The company itself: Their story and what makes them unique
  • Their target audience: Who they are, why they buy and where they can be found
  • The competition: Their strengths, their weaknesses and how we should position the new brand in relation to them.

I call this the 'foundation' of the project - If it isn't in place, then it's unlikely I'll reach the best solution I am capable of.

Step 3: Brainstorming and Sketching

This is where I start putting pen to paper. Literally any idea goes down... I just want to get the brain working and processing.

I'll use word association and start thinking of general themes that could potentially represent the brand.

I try to get as much down on paper as I can; not being in any way precious at this stage.

Even the stupid ideas get written down as they could spawn another direction to explore. Sometimes I start to doodle little sketches alongside the words, but not always.

Anything that comes to mind, I get it down on paper just to stop me returning too it, or getting stuck on it.

This is one of the main reasons that starting with a manual task like writing and sketching is essential to the process. It allows the brain to work in a way that it has evolved to do over millions of years. Using our hands and brains to solve problems. 

This stage will normally take an hour or so, but then I make sure I stop and try to forget about the project, or at least put it towards the back of my mind.

Step 4: Meditation

Meditation is something I do every day, and have done for a couple of years now. I think it helps you to begin to control the way your brain processes information.

When I first started I found it easier when guided. There's loads of amazing free ones on YouTube, but my favourites were by Jon Kabat Zinn. This one is a great place to start:

The idea is to empty the mind, to observe thoughts that emerge but let them pass. This allows new ideas to form more easily as you are freed from distractions. Which funnily enough is what I consciously try to do in the next step.

Step 5: Robotic tasks

This is an interesting step as you are trying to find something that you can do which uses little effort and brain processing power to complete.

It's generally a manual talk... Something that is built into your muscle memory so that you can daydream while you're doing it.

I normally pick up my bass guitar and play scales or some really simple riffs... But over and over and over again.

This allows me to get into a kind of hypnotic trance where I am engaged in an activity, but my brain is elsewhere... daydreaming.

I've found that ideas often emerge whilst playing, but if it doesn't it could be immediately after I've finished while making a cup of tea or something.

If nothing emerges though I don't panic. I simply get back to pen and paper and start drawing shapes. Looking at the word(s) I am representing.

I'll pick out the initials of a prominent letter within the name and look for interesting shapes that can be abstracted or experimented with.

I'll often refer back to my initial brainstorms to see if there are any words / visuals that could be hidden within or made up from the letters.

At the end of this, I've normally got anywhere between 5 and 10 directions that are worth exploring... So that's when I get to the Mac and start looking at fonts and creating icons / shapes on screen to start representing them.

As this post is about ideas, I'll not talk about my process any further. I'd like to do a screencast on that at some point in the future. Think that would be a far better way to represent how i work.

And like I mentioned at the start of the post, I'd love to know how other people approach this too. Please share how you work in the comments below, I'd love to start a conversation.

Thanks for reading anyways. It's appreciated.