A Creative Thinking Technique Used by Leading Designers

A Creative Thinking Technique Used by Leading Designers


Take a moment and imagine all the things that the figure might represent. If I asked you to list all the different things that you imagined, I have no doubt that you would come up with several fascinating ideas. What do you think the figure represents?

Once the figures are given names and meanings, it is almost impossible to look at them and have the same perception which existed before you knew what it was. Suppose I had first described the figure as the rear view of a washerwoman on her hands and knees washing a floor, and then asked you to list alternative explanations. I have no doubt that your list would be minimal and much less creative. The names and meanings fixate you along a certain line of thought.

This is why if you want to produce something creative, say a creative design for a new automobile, don’t think of an automobile — at least not at first. There is much suggestive evidence that a process of accessing a more abstract definition of a problem can lead to greater creativity and innovation than the more typical ways. This is the creative strategy of some of the world’s leading creative designers, including Kenton Wiens, architect Arthur Ericson, and Martin Skalski, director of the transportation design sequence at Pratt Institute. Skalski, for example, doesn’t tell students to design an automobile or study various automobile designs on the market. Instead, he begins the design process by having them draw abstract compositions of things in motion. Then by progressively making the process less abstract, he eventually has them working on the real problem (designing automobiles) tying in the connections between the abstract work and the final model.

Suppose you want to improve the design of the umbrella. If you work with the more abstract definition “protection from the rain,” you are more likely to explore more possibilities including raincoats or even a new type of town design where there are arcades everywhere and umbrellas are no longer required. Or, consider the bookstore owner, for example, who viewed himself as a seller of books, a very specific idea. The trend toward the electronic media put him out of business. On the other hand, if he had viewed himself as a provider of information and entertainment, a more abstract characterization, a switch in the medium would not have been threatening, and it would have opened up new opportunities.


(1) Describe an abstract definition of your problem. What is the principle of the problem? What is its essence? EXAMPLE: Our challenge is to create is to create a beer advertisement that will encourage engagement. The principle of the problem is interaction.

(2) Brainstorm for ideas on interaction generally. Generate a number of different ideas.

EXAMPLE: Think of general ways of how people interact. People interact with others by:










(3) Restate the problem so that it is slightly less abstract. Again, generate as many solutions as you can.

EXAMPLE: Think of ways of a consumer can interact with a printed ad.

Taste the ad.

Scratch and sniff the ad. Make a smell like a brewery.

Make it into an Optical illusion. Have it look like different images from different angles.

Make something out of the ad

Make the ad speak by rubbing your finger over an embedded recording.

(4) Consider the real problem. Use your previous thoughts and images as stimuli to generate solutions.

For example, the thought of making the something out of the ad inspired the advertising agency for Carlsberg beer to create an ad that could be torn out, folded, and made into a bottle opener that can be used to open a bottle of Carlsberg. The full-page ad entitled “Probably the best ad in the world” advertising the best beer in the world is an innovative concept that tied a useful function (bottle opening) to branding, encouraging interaction and engagement.


[For more creative thinking techniques review THINKERTOYS at:

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