In the last blog we looked at brainstorming as a creativity tool that can be used in icon design. We move on to another tool that can also be used for generating general ideas for icons or finding specific solutions for a project.

The SCAMPER creativity tool can be considered to be directed brainstorming or a method by itself. Even though this “tool” is usually used in industries to design new products and services, it can be used in icon design specifically with just a little modification. SCAMPER is just an acronym that stands for:

Substitute.
Combine.
Adapt.
Modify.
Put to another use.
Eliminate.
Reverse.

We use this tool by asking questions about existing designs or ideas that have popped into the mind. The questions help us come up with new ideas and to develop different directions to take for the particular project in hand. It’s a way of compelling oneself to pick particular elements of a design and think differently about them, and in the process generate ideas and solutions that one would not have otherwise obtained. So let’s play with the tool for fun – using elements of our free “shimmer” icon library as examples.

Icons from our free shimmer set

SUBSTITUTE: A typical question to ask here is what can I substitute to achieve a new result or make an improvement? In icon design, you can substitute colours, textures, sizes and similar design elements. In the illustration above, the arrow in the open file icon can be red or blue or some other colour; and the arrow can be smaller or larger depending on the effect you want.

COMBINE: Playing around with combinations of unusual element can often yield surprising results. This can also be a lot of fun in specialised areas of icon design such as designing icons for games and gadgets. Imagine putting wings on the brush, for example; this may be quite an interesting idea for an icon for a game or app.

ADAPT: There is a range of flexibility in adapting ideas for icons from project to project. For instance, you may adapt an icon that was done for an app to an intranet context, or vice versa.

MODIFY: If you’ve been in this business for a while, you probably have a large set of designs you’ve done for clients some of which never made it into the final set of icons you produced for particular projects. You can modify them and add fresh ideas – and bingo – you’ve got something new.

PUT TO ANOTHER USE: The standard use icons such as open, close, file, etc. can be use in many different contexts to open caves and treasure chests, cameras and apps, any number of things you can think of.

ELIMINATE: As we are dealing with small-size designs in this field, this element of elimination can often come in handy. Taking away clutter and over detail can actually improve an icon design.

REVERSE: This is another element which can be a lot of fun and also productive in terms of where it can lead. A typical question to ask is: What if I reverse the order it is done or the way it is used? For the recycle icon above, what if you reverse the direction of the arrows? Here, you play with contrarian ideas and reverse logical sequences.

So there you have it: play with SCAMPER-ing ideas for your next icon design project and see what can come up with.

Adam Parrish

Owner and creative director at Creative Freedom Ltd. Unbelievably cool icon design expert, husband, and father of two awesome girls. A proper decent chappy and thoroughly fab to work with. Ok, so I wrote my own bio…

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