Creativity and idea generation

By Gordon Rugg

So what is creativity, and how can you generate more and better ideas?

There’s pretty general agreement that:

  • Creativity is a Good Thing
  • Thinking outside the box is a Good Thing
  • Thinking laterally is a Good Thing

That’s a good start.

However, when you start asking about how creativity works, or just how you’re supposed to think outside the box, or think laterally, an element of vagueness starts to roll in, like a dense bank of fog off the Atlantic at the start of a horror movie…

You start hearing stories of people and organisations that thought successfully and laterally outside the box, in a way that solved their problems with designing better elevators. You encounter puzzles involving people and items being found in improbable situations, such as stabbed to death with no weapon visible, in the middle of a field of unsullied snow. It’s all very edifying and interesting, but it doesn’t get to grips with what creativity really is, or how to do anything systematic about creating new ideas.

This article gives a brief overview of a systematic framework for making sense of creativity, and for choosing appropriate methods for generating new ideas.

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Design Rationale, part 1: A tale of reasons, raccoons and cat flaps

By Gordon Rugg

Often, a small example can give key insights into bigger, deeper questions. The saga of our cat flap is one of those cases. It’s an apparently trivial problem that leads swiftly into important, difficult questions like how to tackle design decisions, and how to identify design options that you might easily have overlooked, and how to spot design problems in the first place.

That’s how we ended up as one of the few the families in England to have a raccoon flap in their back door, rather than a cat flap. It’s an excellent example of design rationale – the reasoning behind a particular design decision. Like most problems involving design solutions to client requirements, it takes us into the difficult territory where human beings have trouble establishing just what they want and why they want it, and where designers are trying to find a way of tackling the problem that’s systematic but that can also capture the often messy requirements and constraints affecting a particular problem.

I’ll tell the cat flap story first, and then work through the insights that it gives about design rationale.

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