Five Tips for Creative Ideation from a Creative Director
As a founder and creative director for a small creative studio, coming up with ideas through creative ideation is essential for producing the kind of transformative, multi-medium experiences we aim for in order to stand out from other marketing agencies.
Over my seven years running a business, my team has conceptualized award-winning UN-backed campaigns, global experimental artistic collaborations, and unique client marketing activities. The creative approach involved in this kind of ideation is as much about process as it is about inspiration.
Every time we’re working on a new campaign, consulting with clients who want to bring more creativity into their business, or coming up with experiential concepts, I lead the team through my personalized approach to creative ideation. This involves a combination of design thinking (a process for creative problem solving that’s been around for decades) and my own added elements learned from years on the job. Design thinking can be used to tackle any sort of unknown problem but I find it particularly useful when applied to creativity because of its focus on empathy and challenging assumptions through a non-linear and experimental model. It is great for my team of creatives, but not everyone has the time and resources to dedicate to such a thorough process. When it comes to finding a quick fix for creativity, I often find a simple approach can do the trick, too.
Creative ideation is not an exact science but it is certainly something that can be hacked to glean more consistent and inspired results.
Keep Your Eyes Open
Inspiration can come from anywhere: a playground, a night walk, shadows on the wall. Keep a notebook (or the note app on your phone) handy to record inspiration whenever it strikes and come back to those ideas to build on them.
Inspiration once struck me while I was playing with my nephew. I had been ruminating over an activation for a water bottle brand taking place in an “industrial age” themed room at the AGO—how do you connect the two? I noticed children spinning a colourful wheel at the playground and remembered that the water wheel was an industrial age invention. The inspiration was brought to life with our collaborator Jordan Söderberg Mills who created a wheel that, when spun, reflected rainbow prisms on the wall—the colour spectrum was also discovered during the Industrial age.
Phone a Friend
Elevate your ideas, escape the echo chamber, and collaborate. Discussing the seed of an idea with a friend, colleague, or collaborator can help it take shape and grow into something far better than you might have been able to conceptualize on your own.
I recently collaborated with [artist] James Baley on a stage design for his album launch event in October 2021. Our medium was Instagram Messenger, where we constantly sent even the tiniest seeds of ideas back and forth and watched them grow. I shared a rough sketch of a stage design, he responded with a sketch built off mine, and soon we had a full-fledged concept for a visually engaging performance.
No ideas are bad ideas, throw all ideas onto the wall and see what sticks. Even a seemingly “bad idea” can trigger a thought in you or someone else that leads to something amazing. So check your ego at the door, free yourself from nerves and embarrassment, and cover the wall with all your musings.
My team was ideating for a mobile provider on an interactive music festival installation that needed to integrate cell phone technology. In a spaghetti session, someone threw out the idea of having lights controlled by text message and, in the end, that’s just what we did. People could send an emoji via text and a light show would respond inside of a shipping container filled with mirrors that matched the emoji.
Meditate, “medicate,” music, or munchies; whatever serves as your personalized reward and reset. Take some time to fuel your mind and activate your other senses and mindset. All of it contributes to the creative process, not just sitting at a desk staring at a deck or word document.
I’m not sure a single one of my ideas wasn’t somehow fuelled by delicious food, soothing tunes, or a hit of my favourite sativa. Once, I was racking my brain with a client request to convey brand values through an interactive installation. Taking a break to walk into Chinatown to pick up sesame balls at Bang Bang Bakery proved just the inspiration I needed. As I wandered past the brightly lit signs, I had the idea to create a neon collage. Neon icons displayed across a dark backdrop that would illuminate when a button corresponding to the value was pressed. It was educational and totally Instagrammable!
When you’re feeling that creative block creeping in, and you’ve tried the above tips, take a break and revisit the project with a clearer mind. If you truly allow your mind to turn off from the task at hand, you might find the answers will simply come to you or, when you do revisit, you’ll be in a better headspace to tackle it once again.
The ultimate step back that recently took place was the pandemic. During a time when we couldn’t host the live experiences we are known for, our team set out to create something new. Without deadlines looming, we were able to let our ideas breathe and move slowly through our design thinking process. This allowed us to develop a prototype for a new arena for play and experimentation called HUH.
Anna Wiesen is the co-founder and creative director of Somewherelse.