I don’t think is talked about much because the creative process and it’s triggers are different for everyone. This is because the act of creation is extremely personal and the influences and triggers are unique to each person, their life experience and their interests. All of those different combinations are the foundation for why there can be infinite solutions to any given creative problem. I have found through my lectures and portfolio reviews that to many designers are trying to find one universal way of thinking that will bring them success and think this is the completely wrong way to approach the problem. In my experience it is the search for that homogeneity that weakens your work because you aren’t embracing what is unique about you and how you work. When you are able to figure out what the process is that brings you good ideas then you are able to do it more often and your ideas come faster and get better. Since it is different for everyone I thought I would lead by example and go over how I work and the things I do that help me come up with ideas. I will follow that up with an entry on some of the tricks I have found that may help you.
My process is pretty evenly split between outlining the rational elements that make up a creative strategy and collecting a wide variety of visual inspirations that I use to create a visual brief. It is a very distinct right brain / left brain way of working and I get the best results when I work up each side so I can soak my head in all aspects of the problem and then let them bleed into each other and capture all of the ideas and conceptual connects that I start to see. It generates a lot of partial and complete concepts but I capture all of them because I don’t know where they will take me or where I might find a connection. After I capture them all it is about editing them down and then starting the process over but now in a more refined and focused state. I do this over and over again because with each pass the concepts get tighter but at the same time it keeps me loose enough that I don’t close myself off to new or altered directions. I have found working this way helps me create the best product possible as I am sure that any concept or design meets the business goals and that the business goals marry with the visuals. This also keeps me open because I know that I don’t always get the big idea right off the bat and sometime I have to grind it out to get to the end product. It also makes sure that the big idea that came to me in a rush is really as good as I think it is.
Once I tuned into this process I started setting up my office to help make ideas happen. I take two different walls of my office and put a write board on one of them where I can write out the rationale elements like the business needs or creative strategy and then I hang metal strips on the other wall so I can put up visuals like my sketches, tear sheets, photos, comps etc. to help me tune in on the visual design. I found the physical act of writing out the challenge and hanging the sketches forces me to really focus on each aspect and give it the attention it really needs. When I did it in a sketch book or read the creative brief I would skim not really paying attention because my mind was already wandering around on the problem. It was the addition of the physical act of getting up away from my computer that forced me to focus and that change made a huge difference in the quality and depth of my ideas.
This is just works for me and it may or may not work for you but the key take away is that you have to start watching yourself to see what creates that creative spark. It is also about giving yourself permission to make A LOT of mistakes and using those mistakes to see what you did that worked and what didn’t.