This week our guest writer contributes the first of a series of articles on creativity tools – to get you out of a pickle and generating ideas for your icon projects.

Brainstorming is one of the more commonly used creativity tools that can come in handy when developing an icons project. So flexible is this tool that it can be used at the beginning of a project when you are facing the blank page, with or without clear directives from the client as to exactly what they want, or in the middle of a project when you want to generate specific solutions to issues that have cropped up.

In corporate settings brainstorming is often done in teams, but it can also be done solo. Sometimes the term mindstorming is used when it’s a single person at work. Whatever you choose to call it, brainstorming begins with a pad and pen, or for some a tablet and stylus. The idea is to let your mind float freely to generate as many ideas as possible, one or more of which may give you a clear direction as to where to go next with your project.

A few ways in which you can make your brainstorming sessions more productive:

Thinking quantity

The first stage of the brainstorming process is to just get the creative juices flowing and to generate lots of ideas within a short period of time. Don’t judge any ideas that come up at the beginning stages. Whether they seem serious or playful, wacky or conventional, write them down. Play around with variations on the same idea: sizes, colours, moods and expressions, as well as counter-intuitive ideas. Some of the ideas may later be judged to be no good at all, but the brainstorming process would have delivered one or two ideas that may turn out to be just the exact solution you need.

Thinking solutions

This is a stage of brainstorming when you dig deeper or think specifics, where you’re getting clearer as to the next stages of development of a particular project. By now, you have a theme and a direction you’re going. So you generate lots of ideas which address the problem you want to solve. Take a situation such as developing icons for a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software like Creative Freedom did for a client a while ago: once you’re into the project and clear about the specifics in the program to be represented by icons, your brainstorming sessions can focus on developing variations of landscapes, trees, houses, mountains, roads, cliffs, etc. until you get the details that would go into the final package you would deliver to the client.

Thinking with a team

If you do have a team of one or a few colleagues, brainstorming as a team can yield wondrous results. The effect of different ideas colliding can lead to totally different solutions that each individual alone may never have thought of.

The thing about brainstorming is that it is easy to either take it for granted or think about it in the head rather than seeing it in practical terms – and engaging with it as a process. In other words, it is a tool that yields results only when it is used. As all of us creatives know all too well, once you get the engines revved up and get started, you usually do get somewhere. And somewhere other than sitting in your garage and complaining about your vehicle is progress. Once you’re in motion, the solutions come. So play with this tool and you’ll be amazed at how it can work for you to be more productive and to generate solutions and ideas for your projects.

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