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22nd March 2016 /

Design Thinking, Not Just Design Doing

Design thinking, graphic design, concepts

What is it that makes design connect with its audience? There probably is no one simple answer, but I would argue that at the root of all great design is an idea. Design with an idea has a greater sense of purpose, a reason to be. Ideas move and connect with people. Without one, all you have are shapes and colours.

So what’s the big idea?

Many of us spend our careers searching for that monumentally massive idea that will change the course of the creative industry. The reality is that an idea doesn’t have to be grand or earth shattering, it can be medium-sized, petite or even downright subliminal. However, it does need to be appropriate, it has to move people in the right way. A perfect example of what might be considered to be a small idea, is the masthead for Families magazine by American typographic innovator, Herb Lubalin.

Simple, elegant and witty; a beautiful idea that doesn’t get in the way of the communication, but adds warmth and charm to it. The logo has been elevated from what could have just been a nicely balanced bit of typography into something that conveys the inherent smartness and values of the publication.

Where do ideas come from?

Ideas love an open and curious mind. A walk in the park, a magazine cover, unconscious doodling, film, random overheard conversations… The great ideas-people find ways of ordering this information and re-purposing it. If the argument that there are no new ideas holds true, then it’s our job to re-imagine everything that’s gone before in ever more exciting and compelling ways.

It’s about nurturing the attitude that allows ideas to surface – What if? Why not? What’s around the next corner?

Taming your thinking:

To stop an idea from running away with itself, sometimes you need a firm hand.

Keep going back to the brief – This should be the start, middle and end of every project. The best creative briefs already have great ideas buried in them.

Know your enemy – checking out the competition can stifle creative thinking – “oh no, they’ve had all the best ideas”. However, trying to crack a brief in your own brand bubble is dangerous. Don’t ignore what’s already out there, but don’t necessarily make it the first port of call.

Filter – Get all your ideas down, now be ruthless. Has it been done before – if so, can it be done better? Will it work for the target audience? Do you like it just because it’s clever?

Don’t be an island – There’s no better way to get a new perspective than asking someone else's opinion. Even if you disagree with them, it may reinforce the fact that you are sitting on a gem of an idea.

Does it even need an idea?

Some might say that not every design brief needs an idea as such, but there’s no doubt in my mind that design with an idea usually gets better results. Remember, the idea doesn’t have to be big, it just needs to be right for the brief.

If the idea is simply that your design needs to look more beautiful than anything else on the market, then at least you have something to judge your concepts against.

Keep good company

It never does any harm to remind ourselves how other designers bring their ideas to life. Here are three very different pieces of creative communication built on the foundations of simple, yet powerful ideas.

Following the Paris attacks last November, London-based French Artist, Jean Jullien, created an ingenious illustration and captioned it ‘Peace for Paris’ on Facebook and Twitter. Perhaps the perfect example of recycling old ideas for a whole new purpose, he took two existing icons to create one powerfully evocative symbol of solidarity.

A simple idea executed beautifully. Saatchi & Saatchi Simko, Geneva’s ‘Give a Hand to Wildlife’ campaign certainly isn’t an original idea, but Guido Daniele’s body art really hits the spot for WWF’s international audience.

Designed by Michael Häne & Remo Caminada, this dentist’s business card bears testament to the power of the design idea.

“First comes thought; then organisation of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination.” Napoleon Hill

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