10 ways to transform your creative thinking

Get your creative imagination firing on all cylinders with these top tricks

Being stuck in a creative rut is incredibly frustrating. Here are 10 ways to transform your creative thinking, the good news is that it doesn’t matter your discipline – be it 3D art, web comics or something else entirely – the means of escaping that rut are the same. Tried and tested ways to jumpstart your creativity include going for a walk, searching the web for inspiration or listening to music.

But if what if you need something more radical, to really shake up your design thinking and send it in new and exciting directions? Here are some ways you might do that, which you may not have thought of…

01. Find an unlikely collaborator

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Run DMC + Aerosmith made no sense on paper in 1986, but the collaboration went on to change pop music forever

When looking for a partner to collaborate on a creative project, it’s natural to look for someone similar to yourself, in terms of experience, work style, background and attitude. Yet that’s unlikely ever to lead to anything other than a safe, reliable and ultimately boring result.

What if, instead, you teamed up with someone who seems entirely unsuited to the type of project you’re pursuing? For instance if you’re a 3D artist working on a series of animations for a high-end fashion brand, ask yourself whether a 2D illustrator for children’s books could bring something new to the table? Or if you’re designing the UX for an online banking app, what about teaming up with a photographer with no online skills whatsoever?

Such wacky combinations may ultimately end up a failure, but where’s the harm in going for a drink together and tossing some ideas around? At worst you’ll end up with a fun night out, at best you might spark something truly mind-blowing and original.

02. Start a daily project

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Nicola Gastaldi created 100 animated GIFs in 100 days. What could you do?

Creativity is like a muscle; it needs constant work, effort and, yes, pain to grow into something powerful and transformational. And one great way of doing this is to embark on a daily or weekly design project.

Rather than sitting at your desk for hours musing the different directions your creativity can take, forcing yourself into a regular routine means you have to make quick and imaginative decisions. They might not all work, but that’s the beauty of a daily or weekly project. There’s no time to sit around moping, you just have to keep going, and do better next time.

Nicola Gastaldi, a London based motion graphics designer currently working at Google Creative Lab, did just that in 2017 when he challenged himself to create 100 animated GIFs in 100 days.

03. Do something from your childhood

Re-engaging in childhood activities can help reignite dormant areas of your brain. Creative commons photo courtesy of Ellen Munroe

Remember having a wild imagination as a child? Growing up and conforming to society’s norms tends to knock a lot of that creativity out of our heads, but there are ways to get some of it back.

One simple method is to once more do something you did as a child but never do as an adult. Depending on the decade you grew up in, that might be playing swingball, making a drink with a SodaStream, bouncing around on a space hopper, or even just writing someone a handwritten letter (be honest: when was the last time you did that?). The deep-rooted associations that kind of nostalgia trip unearths in your brain can be strikingly successful in getting your brain to work in more creative ways. Try it!

04. Watch a black-and-white movie

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Anne Bancroft and Bette Davis in All About Eve (1950)

Whenever you get bogged down in a project, it’s tempting to take a break and recharge your batteries by going for a walk or watching a film. But most modern-day films, with their pixel-perfect VFX, fast-cut editing and busy plots, aren’t exactly great at letting your brain unwind.

If you really want to get into a different head space, why not watch a classic black-and-white movie? As more and more of these films become copyright-free with the passage of time, you’ll find a surprising number of them on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, as well as YouTube or Vimeo as well as broadcast TV channels.

According to the New York Post, less than a quarter of all millennials have watched a pre-1960s film from start to finish, and that’s a real shame. Because while it admittedly takes a while to adapt your brain to what was a very different style of film-making, we defy anyone to make it through to the end of a film like Sunset Boulevard, Brief Encounter or All About Eve without experiencing the kind of genuine emotional tug that’s woefully absent from today’s multiplex fare.

05. Describe your project to a non-specialist

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Talking through a project with others can really help marshal your thoughts. Creative Commons photo courtesy of Kelcey Perry

It happens, at one time or another, to every creative. You’ve got so bogged down in the small but important details of a creative project, you’re no longer able to see the wood for the trees. You need to take a step back and get a fresh perspective, and one great way to do that can be to talk to people about it, preferably people who are not creative professionals themselves.

That will force you to break down the essence of the project and its problems into language that non-specialists will understand. In doing so, you’ll often end up seeing what the real problems are much more clearly, not to mention their solutions.

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