How to be more creative

Techniques and inspirations to design unique Search Experiences

Let’s talk about the world of creativity and how to generate ideas. When we think of someone creative, the first thing that usually springs to mind is a person involved in the arts, design, decoration…we think of a person who creates objects or pieces usually related to arts and crafts. However, when we say that someone is very creative, we’re talking about originality and a unique character.

And that’s why creative as an adjective includes many more people and not just art related ones, it encompasses innovation, problems solving and so on. So, if we say that in all the cases the origin of creativity, in capital letters, is good ideas, how, then, can we have good ideas?

It’s true that there are people that have a natural talent and ability, who don’t need a method to generate good ideas but for the rest of us there are some approaches that can help to create that “eureka” moment.

There are lots of different techniques but all have the same common element which is the association of ideas that might not at first seem related.

Ok so let’s take a look at some of the different concepts.

1. Mindmaps

Mindmaps are diagrams where we can relate words around a central concept. Words are connected on different levels so that at the first level they have a very obvious relationship whereas, in subsequent levels, they’re indirectly related.

Source image:

In today’s world, unfortunately everything is often needed for yesterday and this lack of time makes us stay at the first level, but the more interesting relationships are often found from the second levels onwards.

When you want to develop an idea, you shouldn’t focus solely on the main subject and what it directly addresses. The more things you know in other areas the better associations you’ll be able to make, so it’s always good to try to learn something about everything you read, watch and listen.

If you’re not an expert on the main topic, you’ll have to do some research, and probably while you’re researching, ideas will come to your mind. As an example, we recently worked with a toy store who wanted to have an original and customized search icon. They didn’t want to use the typical magnifying glass.

So, the main concepts we worked with were “search/kids”.

At the first level, we think about concepts related to “search” or “kids”, something like this:

The next step is to think about other concepts related to each of these initial concepts to create the second level and so on, producing this the final mindmap:

In this case, elements like eye, movement, telescope, clouds, cartoons… can serve as inspiration. In our example, we decide to design a cartoon like telescope character that moves as we search for things.

Mindmaps can be a really good way of reaching an end goal that may not have seemed obvious at the beginning.

Here’s a free resource you can use to make your own mindmaps

2. List of attributes

This method is based on making a list of attributes and then questioning each one of them.

Example: What is a standard search engine?

1- It has a search box.

2- It has a button with an icon of a magnifying glass, usually on the right of the box.

3- It usually gives hints or tips to the user about what they can search for. These suggestions are usually in a desaturated grey colour and written in the first person.

4- The user clicks in the search box and starts writing.

…..and so on

Now, we start to question absolutely everything, we become one of those annoying people, your worst nightmare in fact.

1- Why does it have to be a box? Why “search box” and not “box of wisdom” for example? Why don’t we do a survey to get better results?

2- Why is the button on the right? Why does it have to be a magnifying glass? Why a button?

3- Why do we have to give hints? Why does the text have to be in desaturated grey? Why is it written in the first person?

4- Why does the user have to click in the text box before writing? Why can’t the user directly start writing? And why do they have to write in the first place? Couldn’t it be that they’re searching for a sound, a picture or something that’s difficult to describe with words?

…..and so on, you get the idea.

We need to question EVERYTHING. Good or bad questions don’t exist, you need to open your mind and don’t judge whether a question is silly or not.

3. Lateral thinking

This method was developed by Edward de Bono in the sixties. It consists of solving problems not by using a logical way but through an indirect and creative way. More than a method it’s a group of techniques to help generate ideas.

A. Contradictions

Based on the “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” painting by Rene Magritte

This consists of deleting logical patterns on the basis of a deliberately crazy or unreal premise. In other words, we have to deny one of the main features. This way we have a starting point to produce ideas.

Example: A searcher that doesn’t search.

B. Random word

We choose a random word and we try to relate it to the initial word or concept we have. If the first random word doesn’t work, go for the next but don’t give up too soon, it’s important to keep trying.

Example: search engine + this word

C. Reversal

The main idea is to reverse the way something works in order to set a premise that inspires us to develop an idea.

Example: The user searches for a kind of cloth.

Reversal: The cloth is searching for a kind of user.

D. Exaggeration

A frame of the film “The Incredible Shrinking Man” by Jack Arnold

The exaggeration method consists of minimizing or maximizing the units that measure the main concept in order to start generating new ideas.

Example: Only one search box for many results.

Exaggeration: Many search boxes for only one result.

E. Express your longing

Whishes machine “Zoltar speaks”

This is one of my favourite methods. Ask for everything you’d like for that idea or product, and it doesn’t matter if it’s something impossible to achieve. There isn’t any limit.

Example: I would like the search box not to be just for searching but a personal shopper that chooses for me the clothes that fit me depending on my style, my measurements, interests, mood, the event I’m going to attend… and then it lets me choose among a few different options (five or six at most) and these are ranked depending on what it thinks will look the best on me.

3. Oblique Strategies

If after trying all these methods you still feel stuck, you can try oblique strategies. They were developed in the seventies by the musician Brian Eno and the artist Peter Schmidt.

They’re a stack of cards, in which each one has a sentence. The procedure is entirely randomized (as many of these methods), you take a card and think if the sentence applies to the problem you’re trying to solve. Some sentences are quite specific such as “What mistakes did you make last time?” while others have a freer understanding such as “Once the search is in progress, something will be found“.

Here are the original cards

And here is an online version if you want to have a go

More resources

Creative thinking isn’t an innate thing. The majority of the time you can develop it like any other capability. If you don’t know where to start, there are several interesting books talking about creativity and the process to achieve it. The ones listed here are more hands-on with riddles, problems to solve and so on. The more you play with this, the easier you’ll have unique ideas.

“Creativity Workout: 62 Exercises to Unlock Your Most Creative Ideas”
By Edward de Bono

It’s all about solving problems using the random word method.

“Mil ejercicios de creatividad clasificados”
By Mauro Rodriguez Estrada

I think this one is now out of print and only exists in Spanish, but there’s a pdf version online. The book suggests creativity exercises depending on the area: graphic design, music, fine arts, administration, human resources… and it’s really helpful.

“Develop your ingenuity: Lateral thinking”
By Henry MacLane

It’s a very entertaining book with a lot of riddles to solve, and at times it can be a little frustrating when you can’t solve the problems!

Final recommendations

  • Be curious, try to learn something about every kind of topic. This means you’ll be able to make more interesting connections among concepts that firstly don’t seem to have anything to do with each other.
  • Try to do creativity exercises and often, just like with the gym, the more you exercise the easier it gets and what first seemed impossible becomes achievable. Unfortunately this also works in the opposite way, the less you exercise the worse you get!
  • Remember: bad ideas or wrong solutions don’t exist, everything serves to generate ideas. If you don’t get anything that you consider “really good”, start doing something “average”. Although it seems contradictory, for a good final result it’s better to focus on the process rather than the final impact you want to achieve. If we start focused on having a spectacular result and looking for perfection we are in danger of getting stuck, of losing perspective and we probably won’t start to do anything waiting for that Big Idea that impacts the whole world and will make us filthy rich and famous!
  • Try not to go on the first idea that comes to your mind, go beyond until you have a couple of two further options, although at first, you might think they’re worse than the first one.
  • Always try to have something on you to use to take notes about your ideas. Most of the time, ideas come when we’re not working on them and if you don’t take notes they’ll probably be forgotten.
  • If you feel frustrated because nothing comes to your mind, stop and start doing any other thing you have to do. Sometimes a bit of procrastination is good. Many times, we’re doing an automated task like taking a shower or washing dishes when the good ideas come.

There are loads of techniques to generate ideas: some people take notes of their dreams to draw, others draw inspiration in nature in order to build machines, others make up stories about unknown people they see on the street to start writing… everything depends on the person and the problem they want to solve. Here I’ve only talked about the techniques I use and prefer but if you know other technique or interesting resources for ideas generation we’d love for you to share these with us!

· A technique for producing ideas by James Webb Young
· Creatividad publicitaria para todos los públicos by Daniel Granatta
· Neuronilla