A change of pace

Yes, I am still writing my book on concepting. Yes, it is taking way too much time. But no, I am not giving up. Things you should know that have happened since my last post:

  1. I’ve decided to change the title
  2. I still haven’t decided what to change it into
  3. I’ve decided it’s not so much a handbook as it is something else
  4. I still haven’t decided what that ‘something else’ is.
  5. I’ve written a few new chapters, thanks to some brilliant feedback by Marije Kuiper
  6. Here’s one to enjoy: feel free to add your own tips in the comments.

I’m stuck, now what?
Annoyingly, brainstorming is seldom as glamourous as it seems when you first hear about it. It’s not a room with creative people in tune with eachother and their surroundings churning out miracle after miracle. Most of the time there’s bad ideas, politics, people that stall the process and egos involved. And you might get to the point where you have to conclude: I’m stuck. So now what?

First off: flip back to the chapter with brainstorming rules (I know you can’t do that on this website, but just pretend). Nine times out of ten most of these rules are broken in a brainstorm. Now if you’ve got a good vibe going you can stray off the path of the righteous brainstormer, but you’ll have to come back to it as soon as you can. So check the rules, check the proceedings so far and make adjustments. Make sure everyone wholeheartedly agrees with the method, otherwise you’ll be stuck again in no time at all. Look alive!

Now even if you’ve all been behaving quite nicely, you could still get stuck. A lot of the time there’s plenty of ideas flying across the room, but none are in themselves the total concept. And different people like different ideas. A great way to not get stuck is by making a timeline or a model of your endproduct. Write down what you know and what’s lacking, so you can fill in the blanks. This is a lot easier then trying to come up with the mother-of-all-ideas in one go.

Another method is remixing: look for an ideal mental image of what your product/design should look, sound and feel like and try to compose it using parts of existing products/designs. Then analyse what you’ve made and make your own version using the same principles.

A totally different way of brainstorming might help you move forward as well. Instead of talking, let all the participants sketch. Have them cut out images and work with those. Listen to music. Or take a step forward into the process and start designing. Look at what you come up with and take that back into the brainstormphase.

Asking silly questions can help you with your process as well: What if the queen used our product? What would happen? What if we can only use cardboard as a material? What if colorblind people had to be able to use it, what would happen? All these questions restrict your attention and make you focus.

What if you think you’ve come up with a fantastic concept, but you’re not sure. Only one way to find out: start exercising your concept on a design. For example: I’m organising a party with the theme ‘Zero budget’. Now how do I translate this into the invitation, the drinks, the cups, the toilets, etc. Make sure you don’t cut corners. If the concept is ‘zero budget’ you should really think radically with zero budget.

People can’t brainstorm for hours: so if you feel the energy is starting to dissipate, take action. A radical break is usually the best option. This doesn’t mean standing outside with a cigarette and continuing the brainstorm there. But really take a break. Have a good lunch. Don’t stay in the same place. Move away from your project.

Another thing that brings back energy is writing down everything you’ve agreed on so far. From planning to implementation, everything that should stay that has been mentioned.

Take your brainstorm somewhere else. If you don’t have the time for a radical break cause it takes too much time, just move to a new brainstorming place. Or at the very least switch chairs.

If you still can’t get out of your slump with these tips, have a sabbatical or change jobs.