What’s the deal with brainstorming?

The term can seem quite foreboding as we envision a swirling, un-tameable, storm locked inside our minds. It can feel quite daunting and stressful. Yet if approached properly brainstorming can bring a peaceful calm to all that follows it.

Brainstorming is all about attacking a problem from several directions simultaneously, essentially flushing out good and bad ideas alike to come up with the most viable solution. It’s about getting ideas down on paper fast without giving them a great deal of thought. Through such a rapid assault of “off the top of your head concepts”, creativity has room to flourish, which is where great design solutions are born.

Designers will typically use brainstorming to define problems and establish initial concepts at the start up of a new project. This can manifest itself in written lists, diagrams and doodle sketches, amounting to several pages of potential ideas. The more concepts a designer can think up, the more he has to work with later in the creative process.

In today’s technology driven world, I’ve noticed that at the beginning of the design process, many young designers instinctively avoid brainstorming, and go straight to the computer. I found this to be all too rampant in my design class at UNSW. They come up with one idea, and immediately begin mocking it up as a digital proof. If I did not instruct that they close and put away their laptops and smart phones, students would literally spend the entire “brainstorming” class looking through Google images and playing around on Adobe Illustrator. For many, the entire idea of brainstorming seems to be a waist of time. What’s more, the notion of actually using a pencil and paper to filter out solutions seemed altogether pre-historic.

The pivotal issue that a designer will face when neglecting the brainstorming process is that they have very little to work with. They assume the first concept they conjure up will be the best and final solution, only because they have nothing from which to compare it. What seems like a time saving ‘short cut’ actually turns into time wasted fumbling around aimlessly on the computer. Skipping the brainstorming step costs dearly in time, as most designers will know through trial and error.

Having ideas already mapped out on paper will save heaps of time for the designer when he goes to finally create an initial mock up for a client. And if the client is not entirely happy with the direction of a particular concept, those who initially brainstormed will have a whole reservoir of ideas from which to draw… rather than getting stuck and having to revisit the drawing board.


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