Improve Your Creativity & Problem-Solving with these 7 Brainstorming Techniques

by Laura Spencer

on June 23, 2013

in Business/Freelance design

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Do you allow yourself enough time for creative brainstorming?

Most designers don’t. In fact, many designers don’t allow themselves any time for brainstorming. Then they wonder why they feel uninspired.

Maybe you feel uninspired because it takes time to be creative–time that most freelance designers don’t work into their schedules. The true creative cycle looks something like this:
creative-process

But many designers act like this is the cycle:
creative-process2
No one is a never-ending fountain of creative ideas. We all need inspiration sometimes. In this post, I share seven great brainstorming techniques that you can use to improve your creativity and solve problems. If you’ve ever suffered from creative block, this post is for you.

If you liked this post, you may also like My Best Ideas for What to Do When Your Freelancing Creativity Fails You.

Technique #1. Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a brainstorming technique in which you use a diagram to group like ideas. It’s a tool that lets you organize your thoughts.

In its simplest form, you can mind map using the following process:

  1. Take a sheet of paper and write (or draw) the central concept in the center.
  2. Draw pictures of your ideas or add words that come to mind when thinking about the central concept.
  3. Add color using a highlighter or colored pencils. If you want, you can code like ideas by color or add images.
  4. Connect related ideas with lines. Don’t worry about keeping them straight.
  5. Repeat as often as necessary.

While you can mind map with just some colored pencils and a piece of paper, there are many software tools available to help you mind map. Here are just a few tools:

  • Coggle. You access Coggle through your Google account. The tool is easy to use and when you are finished you can share your mind map with others or save it to a .pdf or .png format.
  • FreeMind. FreeMind is a java application available under the GNU General Public License. It’s a great way to visualize lists and outlines.
  • MindMeister. This mind mapping tool has three pricing levels and a variety of export formats, but there is a free trial available.
  • Xmind. This is another diagramming tool that has various levels of pricing available. The most basic level is free and allows you to share your mind maps on the web.

At the time of publication, these tools were free or had a free trial available.

Get MoreCreativity-1

The illustration above was created with Coggle. And of course, you will probably get a lot more creative with your mind maps.

But mind mapping is not the only way to brainstorm.

Technique #2. Respond to a Creative Prompt

Remember when your teacher gave you an assignment in school. Well creative prompts work something like that. Usually, the responses to a creative prompt are just for fun and practice. Participants may even share the results with each other.

Most writers are accustomed to the brainstorming technique of writing prompts. A writing prompt gives you an idea of what to write about. One such writing prompt site that I’ve participated in is Creative Copy Challenge.

Designers and others can also respond to creative prompts. The HOW blog has a pretty good series of creative prompts called 30 Days of Creativity Exercises & Design Inspiration.

Technique #3. Daydream

Your teachers may not have liked it when you did it at school because it meant you weren’t paying attention, but daydreaming is actually a very healthy thing to do. It allows us to escape boring tasks. It also stimulates creativity.

As someone who spent a good amount of time in school staring out the window while my mind was miles away, I can personally attest to the fact that most of us spend far more time daydreaming than we’d like to admit.

If you’re a daydreamer, relax. According to a study from the Association for Psychological Science (APS), there’s a definite link between daydreaming and creativity.

Your daydreams could be the fuel for your next brainstorming session.

Technique #4. Go Wild with Your Ideas

Brainstorming isn’t limited to what you’ve done before. Your brainstorming session may inspire you to do something unexpected and maybe a little bit wild with your ideas.

If all your projects seem the same and you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, it may be time for something different. Break out of your rut. Let yourself do something creative and crazy that you would never ordinarily do.

If you normally design vintage stuff, try your hand at something modern … and vice versa.

Your creativity can definitely benefit when you do the unexpected.

According to this story from Eric Larson at Mashable, one designer broke out of his rut by drawing a new drawing on his children’s plastic lunch bags each day–for over four years.

The artist mom of one of my child’s friends broke out of her rut. She took an ordinary pair of white sneakers and used permanent markers to illustrate a children’s story on the shoes. Not only did my child receive an extraordinary gift, but the mom got to express herself in an unusual and unexpected way.

Technique #5. Collaborate

Have you ever heard the saying that two heads are better than one?

Working with someone else really can be a source of inspiration. Collaboration can include brainstorming. You may find that you are more creative when you work with someone else.

Of course, if you decide to collaborate, you’ll want to use the right tools. Here are some good collaboration tools:

  • Google Drive. This includes Google Docs (word processing), Sheets (spreadsheets), Slides, and more. This is now a part of Google Drive.
  • producteev. This free app helps you manage group projects. It works more like a project management tool, but can help collaborators.
  • Teambox. This project management tool is free for up to five users and five projects and it integrates with Google Drive.

You don’t have to work directly with someone to be inspired by them, though.

Technique #6. React to What You See

What you see around you affects your creativity. Reacting to what you see, read or hear is another form of brainstorming.

There are plenty of websites and blogs that provide inspiration. For example, Steven Snell of Vandelay Design blog recently published a post on 40 Stunning Doodles for Inspiration.

For a designer or graphic artist, those doodles could be a great starting place for getting ideas for your next design. You may want to base your design on what you see. Or, you may want to base a design on the opposite of what you see.

There are plenty of posts online that provide inspiration galleries, including some right here on DesignM.ag.

Technique #7. Rest and Relaxation

rest-relaxationImage Source: jeffk

You might not think of rest and relaxation as a brainstorming technique, but many people are at their most creative when they’ve had a chance to relax.

Some key ways to rest include:

  • Taking a vacation
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Pursuing a hobby

So, if you’re exhausted and you feel that your creativity is blocked, your mind and body may be trying to tell you something. It may be time for a break.

Your Turn

What are your best brainstorming tips?

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About Laura Spencer

Laura Spencer is a freelance writer from North Central Texas with over 20 years of professional business writing experience. If you liked this post, then you may also enjoy Laura’s blog about her freelance writing experiences, WritingThoughts. Laura is also on Google+.