A concept is the starting point of a new idea that needs to go through a process that will bring it to maturity. That process is design. Conceptualization is a purely creative act-the idea is “born.” And design is the process of bringing that idea to full fruition.
Child psychologists say that an infant begins life with few and very elemental concepts such as distress, excitement, and delight. It is widely believed that we continue to respond in these rudimentary ways on a subconscious level. This is an exciting area to designers, and we will explore how it can be used to help create and develop highly effective concepts.
Most of us have better results if we are well rested, comfortable, and free of distractions. Depending on whether we need to think deeply or not, music or silence may be helpful. Trying to work on an empty stomach (or too full) may also interfere with the mind. These things we learn through our own experience.
So, the next time you are having a very productive work session, make a mental note about how you are feeling, the environment, etc., so that you can duplicate the situation in the future. Similarly, if you are not doing well, analyze what may be wrong. Is the television distracting you? Is it too noisy? If you change what is hindering the process, you should get better results.
Imagine you have just been given a design job. You familiarize yourself with the nature of the job: the desired outcome, the constraints and the budget. Then, you develop concepts that meet these goals. To that end, you stop collecting information and switch your mind into creative mode.
The creative mode is playful and easy. Relax, and start playing with ideas. Remember that combining existing concepts creates new concepts. Creative mode is never analytical or judgmental.
After a large number of concepts are generated, it’s time to switch into design mode. Design mode is the time to ask analytical and judgmental questions. Learning how to ask the right questions is a difficult, but crucial part of the process. For example, the designer might ask, is the concept appropriate? Is it strong? Will it do the job?
Along the way, throughout the development of your final concept, you will need to solve smaller issues and may need to switch into creative mode to find a solution. Knowing when to switch between one mode of thinking and another is a necessary skill used regularly by all designers (e.g., architects, engineers, interior designers, landscape designers, product designers, and graphic designers).
Our experiences are the basis of our ability to create concepts. The experiences may be simple, such as the sensation of light, or complex, such as a trip to a foreign country. Yet, this is the food for thought that is necessary for new concepts to be created.
We carry our experiences as memories and draw upon them constantly. We formulate and store in our memory associations between sensory information and experiences. This deep relationship between senses and experience is the key to unlocking the secrets of creativity. Moreover, graphic designers should not think that vision is the only sense that needs to be addressed. As we will learn, shapes and colors are not only seen but also stimulate the sensations: touch, taste, sound, and smell.
Like all designers, graphic designers must be consciously aware of ideas that our audience is not. Most individuals act out of habit or unconsciously, and they use only their conscious mind when confronted with a new or difficult situation. In other words, they take most things for granted. For most people “pink” is a color that is traditionally associated with young girls; yet a designer also sees it as the color of the clouds at sunset and as one of the “sweetest tasting” colors.
Looking and seeing are different acts. Designers must learn to be aware of what they are actually seeing, rather than seeing what they expect. Look at a tree. We expect green leaves and brown bark. But are the leaves really green? Is the bark closer to gray or tan than brown? Designers innately notice the difference and details!
. An archetype is a generic form or image associated with a concept. It allows the mind to organize the many different variations of the concept under one category.It is difficult, if not impossible to be creative if you cling to the archetype. In fact, it is often advantageous to reject-or at least question-the characteristics of any archetype associated with the concept. You may then take new characteristics from other concepts and “try them out” in a creative technique known as “brainstorming.”
You brainstorm by recording your ideas quickly without wasting time judging them. The best way for graphic designers to brainstorm is to make quick small sketches that serve as a visual record of the creative process. You may also jot down a quick note with your sketch to add clarity as well as communicate your intent to others. As you work, you may find that you sometimes create a series of variations of an idea. This is OK. But once the series has run itself out, it’s time to try another fresh idea.
If you find your mind blocked, check to see if you are being too analytical. Remember that anything goes!
Graphic design is a visual way of communicating ideas to other people. Many people think that sight works much the same way as a camera does.
Which of these shapes do you perceive as sharp, hard, or soft? It’s easy to see that the shape on the left is “sharp.” It makes us uncomfortable. The middle shape is “soft,” and is inviting to the touch. Finally, the shape on the right is “hard.”
So we’ve discovered another unconscious aspect of vision that may be of use to us as designers. What we see is also experienced as though we had touched it as well.
Another related phenomenon is our response to visual texture. We see and “feel” visual texture through the sense of sight only. The sense of touch is not involved. Nevertheless, we respond as if we had actually touched the texture. Visual textures can be scratchy, smooth, bumpy, and so on.
So far, we’ve discovered two unconscious aspects of vision that may be of use to us as designers: the somatic response to shape, and the tactile response to that which is only seen.
Let’s try one more experiment using the shapes in the second figure. Which shape makes a sudden loud noise? Which emits a constant low hum? Which one is quiet? Once again, the answers are obvious. We can now add hearing to the list of senses that may also be unconsciously activated through vision.
Bearing in mind what you’ve just learned, ask yourself which proportions from Figure 1 would be most useful in designing an ad for a secluded, restful vacation on the seashore? Which shape from Figure 2 would be appropriately used in a layout for an exciting amusement park? These are the types of questions the designers must ask themselves if they wish to create powerful designs.
So we’ve seen that curved lines can create feelings within us of movement, expansion, rest, etc. And this happens even though lines in and of themselves don’t do any of these things at all. Let’s look at how straight lines can also be used to express movement.
Combining random images is another technique that the designer can use to find inspiration for new concepts.
It is human nature to try to find meaning in our surroundings. When confronted with an image, both the mind and the physiology go into action and respond to it. The response is based upon previous experience and expectations. When confronted with two images together, we draw upon our experience and expectations in order to find how the images may “connect” with one another.
Imagine a picture of dollar notes, army tank, and a child. Try associating any two of them and see what you come up with. As you can see, associating two images is a powerful way of formulating new concepts.