Creative Research For Ideas

Sources of inspiration for designers during the creative process to help generate new ideas.

If you want to have a good idea, start by having lots of ideas. And if you want to have lots of ideas start by having a deep understanding of the environment.

I wrote this article for myself with the intent to create a checklist of sources and places to find inspiration when looking to generate ideas at the start of a project or when stuck. There are others around but I found them all to be pretty average and basically just click-bait.

I wanted something that was honestly helpful. Something I could refer to at the start of each new project. The article is a work in progress but a pretty good starting point (I think).

There is plenty of overlap between research for creative purposes such as inspiration and new ideas and traditional market research which is focused on understanding market segments and insight for the development of marketing strategies/brand tracking.

The intent of this article is not to be about market research.

I feel that research for creative ideas is a little bit more… Out there. Being divergent and going off tangent can yield unexpected results and unexpected ideas. It sure is a whole lot more fun.

Not that there is not a serious side to it. Qualitative and Quantitive market research is still essential to ground the “thinking” and provide direction to creative endeavours. However, it might not be as applicable to the idea generation process as it is in other market research projects. Serious thinking leads to sensible outcomes (and who wants that).

Observations and the outcomes of the journey can be written, photographed, videoed or drawn as part of a journal.


Primary Sources / Factual

Past Knowledge – Start by writing down what you think you know – and then move on quickly!

Observations – In man-made and natural environments.

Conversations – It can be surprising what comes out is unscripted casual conversations with people.

Data Collection – Collect/generate a simple collection of data based on your observations. Seem if it changes your perspective and underlying assumptions.

Focus Groups – Could be done seriously or outsourced but it might also be a smaller group done in a more casual fashion.

Surveys – Like above. It could be done seriously or filled with slightly crazy questions to help generate unique answers.

Ethnographic – Nothing is better than getting out and immersing yourself in relevant environments.

Customer Journey Analysis – Many of the above can help provide pieces of a puzzle that can be put together as a journey/story related to key customers or individuals.


Secondary Sources / Factual

Museums and Art Galleries – Explore and Enjoy. Let the mind wander.

Newspapers, Archives and Journals – So dry but also so much information.

Books – You could explore forever online but I prefer to wander through an actual bookshop. There are a few left.

Surveys – Information sources such as ABS have a ridiculous amount of data. Careful it does not kill the creative juices.

Lectures and Interviews – Online or in person. Sit down, shut up, listen and learn.

Online Video – For every one thousand cat videos there can be a hidden gem – if you persist.

Podcasts – Not so useful for visual creative ideas but there is no shortage of wonderful podcasts about every topic.

Google It – choose your keywords wisely (or not) and spend as much time as you have going down rabbit holes.

Customer/User Segmentation Reports – Demographics/Geography/Psychographics/Behavioural – fortunately there are numerous market data companies that have generated some wonderful population segmentation reports. Much can be learned for free with a bit of digging.


Primary Sources / Creative

Photography

Drawings

Video Records

Audio Recordings

Manipulated Images

Exploration of Man-Made and Natural environment.


Secondary Sources / Creative

Exhibitions

Images from books, magazines, posters and online

Work by other designers

Diagrams

Ephemera

Images from movies, videos and performances.

Architecture

Instagram and Pinterest


What else can help?

Go for a long walk. Not intense exercise as the exercise itself tends to become the focal point. But a gentle walk allows the body to be on autopilot and the mind can wander.

Cooking. Another low involvement activity.

Gardening. There is something about the fresh air, dirt and being surrounded by plants that can help give you time to think.

Road Trips. I love to drive. No music, just hours of road and plenty of time to think and explore ideas.

But that is just me. Discover your own zones for thinking.


The Creative Safari

The way I do it is to create a Safari. It’s probably more like a guided tour but Safari sounds better. The idea is simple. I print out a list of all of the items above and then quickly run through the list and decide which are relevant for the project and which are not. I then make some comments to help focus my journey.

An example might be with choosing my keyword for desktop research or picking 3 movies to watch that are relevant to the project topic. This still gives plenty of scope to explore interesting concepts but stops it from being aimless.

I then book in several time slots to conduct my Safari.

The results can then be collated in a journal.

Easy Peasy