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5 Tips to Help You Think Outside the Box

Whether you're a graphic design professional with 10 years of experience or a first-year design student, the pressure to come up with original ideas is very real. No one wants to be known for churning out the same boring designs over and over. Let’s be honest, lipstick on a pig? It’s still a pig. Adding perfume? Still a pig, just smells nicer.

We are all striving to surprise and delight our audiences with earth-shattering creativity and innovation. No pressure there. Okay, maybe there IS pressure there. But fear not! Here’s a collection of five tried-and-true creativity tips from a 10-year design veteran that will truly get you thinking outside the box.

Don’t start without a box.

Would you agree it’s impossible to think outside the box if there is no box to begin with? Here's a project for you: design a brochure. What just went through your head? Likely a parade of questions ranging from, “What kind of brochure?” to “What company needs it?”

What if you were told to design a brochure that’s 4 by 9 and this logo need to be placed in the top 2 inches and I want this image and this text and we need to have the first draft by tomorrow, but make sure Bob sees the cover before you start the inside.

Were you just thinking, “Who can I give this project to?” Yeah, same here. Sounds like design by committee, aka no fun.

How about this one? We need a rack brochure by the end of the month to encourage new visitors to visit a local ski resort. Now we’re talking! I bet the ideas just started flowing, right? You saw a colorful brochure in your mind’s eye and started thinking of clever copy and eye-catching images for the front.

It’s the Goldilocks theory. You need enough detail to ensure you’re starting down the right path, but not so much structure that you can’t see past your first step.

Fill it up.

Now, you know how big your box is and how it’s going to be used, but that sucker is still empty. The blank page—often the most daunting part of a creative project. Sometimes, taking that first step is the toughest because at the very beginning, your options are wide open. Then there’s that little voice inside your head that's ditching ideas before they make it onto the page. We are all our own worst critics.

Go easy on yourself and don’t be afraid to fail. Self-doubt can hold you back from getting anywhere fast. Start off by filling the box with anything and everything. No such think as an idea tha isn’t good enough. The more the better! Once you remove the filter of “This isn’t going to work,” you’ll be flooded with ideas.

Mind the red tape.

While office protocols and project management processes are logical for basic workflow, process for process's sake can quickly squander creativity. If your project box is sealed tight with layers of red tape in the form of intake questionnaires, kick-off meetings, and meeting recaps, you're likely going to waste hours describing the box versus actually creating it.

Don’t be afraid to review your project process for streamlining opportunities. Just because that form is always filled out and handed to Sandy to enter in the computer before starting your designs doesn’t mean that's the best practice. Rather than putting your head down and charging through the paperwork, ask, “Why?”

Keep your focus on moving the project forward to ensure your energy isn't needlessly wasted on some silly form just to keep Sandy busy.

Keep a lid on it.

Ever find yourself saying "Two heads are better than one" or "Three heads are better than two?" Yeah. How about, "Too many cooks in the kitchen?" I bet that one rings a few bells and with good reason, too.

If you get too many heads in the design process too soon, you’ll never leave the first phase. Follow the example set by many pregnant couples these days. Don't share the baby names unless you’re ready to deal with the reaction of utter disbelief that you would ever dream of calling another human being by that name. Of course, you’re going to share eventually, you just want the opportunity to decide for yourself whether or not you like those names.

Consider utilizing this tactic in the early stages of your design process. If you’re on the fence with an idea or perhaps it’s not even a conceptualized idea yet, keep some of those treasures under wraps until you’ve given yourself time enough to like them or leave them, without outside influence.


Handle with care.

However important allowing yourself time to formalize your own opinions is, certainly don’t shy away from collaboration! Variety is, in fact, the spice of life, and you should embrace the refreshingly different perspectives your co-workers and other designers can bring to the table.

The key is to take critique, feedback, and ideas with professionalism and honest consideration. If you don't keep an open mind, you might find yourself in the shoes of those classic baby name gawkers, which  tends to come off as defensive. If you return fire at feedback all the time and take conflicting opinions personally, you might single-handedly extinguish the collaborative nature of your team.

Then you’re stuck with one head all the time, instead of having the option of two or three.

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