Creative Juices - How to get them flowing?

Question: What do you do generate ideas? Do you have a set procedure or formula?

Old Way:
I wish I had a really profound answer for this question. When I first attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh I remember that I would always brainstorm first and sketch out ideas. I would also normally go with my first great concept. I would then take it to one of my graphic design friends and continue or start over.  I think this was not the best approach. It really did not open my mind to new ideas and what other designers were doing.

Current Way:
After about 6 years in the field and having a handful of different jobs, my process has changed a little. The main difference between school and the field is in school the student typically picks the topic and direction. The student typically chooses something they are fairly knowledgeable about and have a good idea of where to start on the project. In the field it is different, in that clients many times propose projects and designs in a area where the designer may not be so savvy. I have learned through the years to go directly to the Internet or other resources to find out what is out there. I mainly do all kinds of web searches. I find graphics, photos, logos, and websites that relate to the topic. I may save images or sites for reference if I like a specific design or look. I then may do specific searches to discover more specific elements in the design.

After I have found many different resources and have a good idea of what has been done and what has not been done, I begin thumbnailing or concept sketching. I don’t really consider myself much of a “thumbnailer”. I do very quick concept sketches that really don’t mean much to anyone but me. It a quick way to get concepts out and not spend much time on detail.

After I have generated a handful of good ideas, I typically run them by some other people. My wife in particular is my personal muse and often helps steer me in the best direction. I also may take my ideas to other designers in my network and ask for their thoughts.

So I guess my procedure or formula is

Google + Concept Sketches = Initial concept  /  critique & feedback = Solid Ideas

I think this process works well for me. I mentioned how I used to do it, and really just isolate my ideas to my own thoughts. I really went nowhere for inspiration. I think using a resource like the web is a great starting place to familiarize ones self with what is currently done or a specific topic. I think then using concept sketches is a great step to start generating ones own ideas, or responding to what was seen on the topic. I think then going to get feedback from reliable sources that will be totally honest and not just say they like everything is key. Getting an honest and sometimes brutal feedback about a concept can really steer a designer in a better direction.

Preferred Way:
On a side note, my absolute favorite way to generate ideas is in a creative brainstorming group. I think a group of creative people sitting down at a table or coffee shop pounding out ideas for a concept can be so productive! In a short time many ideas and perspectives can be addressed.

The main reason I do not use this type of strategy is because I don’t really have a local group that I can really meet with regularly to make this creative bubble. Also for this to be successful the group really needs the right chemistry of people.