Think Like a Professional Designer: Tips for a More Creative Mind

January 16, 2014

Think Like a Professional Designer: Tips for a More Creative MindIt may seem like becoming a professional designer requires a natural talent for creative thinking, but it’s a skill you can actually develop. Shaking bad habits and learning to think critically and independently can help you approach problems in a more creative way. Here are some tips that will help you be a more creative thinker.

Learn to See

“Seeing” in this case is more about your powers of observation than having perfect vision. Observing how things relate to each other, differ from each other and even look like other things can help you notice new things and develop new insights for your projects. Instead of recognizing everyday objects as just what they are – a phone, a leaf, an insect – notice its shape or form and how it’s different. Try not to label everything. Instead, think of objects as abstract, unknown forms and you will begin to see how what you thought was ordinary is really extraordinary. Albert Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Think differently.

Draw Inspiration from Unlikely Places

Creative thinkers look for inspiration everywhere, even in places unrelated to the project’s subject matter. Watch movies to get inspiration for a design theme. Flip through books unrelated to your topic, then draw parallels. Observe nature. For instance, graphic and industrial designer Raymond Loewy, who redesigned the Shell logo in 1971, based the new logo on an abstracted form of the previously realistic seashell logo. Some people even say the logo resembles the sun’s rays.

Embrace Constraints

Whether you’re a student or working designer, your design briefs will always contain constraints, be they size limitations, color restrictions, budget or audience. If you’re a student, you’re projects will purposely contain design constrictions or parameters to guide your design aptitude for problem solving. For example, an assignment on color and value might restrict you to three colors to teach you how to create more than 10 values with just three. In the industry, you may have to include an image in your design that the client loves, but you don’t. Get creative by asking questions. How can the image be incorporated with the design? Can it be converted into a graphic?


Budgets are often thought of as design constraints.  “Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have,” Steve Jobs said. “When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.” Creative solutions emerge by exploring how to simplify or substitute. Think of the iPhone or iPad. They’re responses to the question, how do we get a lot of stuff into a little box?

If you want to make the leap from “average Joe” to creative professional, question everything. Use your observations as a springboard for creative ideas. Consider your audience – the people who will be using your solution. Take inspiration from the unexpected, embrace your constraints and ask the right questions. So much of design and creativity begins by asking questions and problem solving. Doing so pushes you outside of the box. Then, you’ll be thinking differently – just like a professional designer.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.