*Original Article From our Associate Creative Director, Stuart Mayhew. View his website HERE*
In my house, I have a wall dedicated purely to concepts and growing ideas; it is what I refer to as my idea garden. The wall is laden with inspirational articles, photographs, scraps of paper, and cut outs from magazines. It isn't organized in any particular way, occasionally has things on it moved to new locations, and occasionally I cluster items together into makeshift groups. Every week, I add new creative tidbits to provide a glimpse into my interests and passions in user experience and design. I try to periodically snap photos of the wall at various moments during its life, so I can record the states of it for later reference. My wall at home is something I do to keep myself engaged and thinking about new ideas; I find it an invaluable tool in creative concept ideation. I feel it is a reflection of who I am and what I like to do, like a glimpse into my mind as a visual representation on my wall. I feel very much like a gardener tending his plants.
In our studio at work, we have a similar wall, where we gather inspiration and ideas for existing projects or work that has a sense of creative exploration. This wall is far more structured than my wall at home; it is a juxtaposition of physical and inanimate objects as a living breathing space in the studio. This wall is a great reflection of our company culture and interests as well, as it shows publicly the soul of our team. So why start one of these idea gardens?
Planting and Growing Ideas
These walls are where innovative ideas form and mix together to create new connections. Sometimes nothing occurs, while images, ideas and words are just there on the wall for all to see, which can be inspiring by themselves, but that, is not the real value. The value occurs every once in a while when something interesting happens; an idea transpires from the sea of images. Two objects that had no direct relationship suddenly appear to have a relationship or influence on each other in a way you hadn't considered before. A new thought occurs and then a seed is sown to grow an idea. In the studio setting, in which a particular project is in mind, these things can happen rapidly because the wall becomes focused on a particular set of ideas. The more people adding to the wall, the faster the wall fills up and starts pollinating.
The pollination of ideas is conducive to innovative thinking, as it leads to new paths of thought and can start to focus the mind on another solution that might not have been a focus factor before. Something might start to be explained with this new approach that was difficult with the previous way of thinking. The benefit of these public displays of ideas is that the diversity of a team can be utilized in the gathering and collection of ideas. Designers think of the problem in certain ways and business managers another. When you have a common space for these ideas, they can start to mix and the individuals on the team will start to see other points of view. If this thought process is allowed to grow, then people will start to think a little differently about the problem at hand. The juxtaposition of ideas from a group of people may provide a solution to your problem.
Stephen Johnson, author of Where Great Ideas Come From, talks about the idea of a slow hunch. This is when you can sense that an interesting concept has formed in your mind and now you need to solidify it with deeper thought. These walls can start giving people slow hunches as they start to consider the problem and wonder if the solution is appearing on the wall. I carry many slow hunches around my head, seeds that have been sown, slowly maturing. I guess I could say my mind is like a garden full of plants waiting to bloom, with of course the occasional weed to deal with. I don't know this early on if any of these ideas will become something important or have value, but something about these thoughts is interesting and worth holding onto. Once one of these slow hunches is in place, everything you find, read, or see that seems to support this idea starts to attach itself to the concept. With time, it becomes obvious if the idea is gaining traction or loosing validity. These ideas can tangent to start their own idea wall and begin to focus on particular problems.
This idea pollination, as I like to call it, is where a little bit of random chance and subconscious thought start to mix in a physical manifestation of how I rationalize problems. The aspect I like about the wall is that it doesn't require me to constantly work on it. It is very much like tending a garden; you start it off and tend it occasionally. The real value comes from enjoying the idea garden in those moments of reflection or when you have a problem that needs to be rationalized. What you put on the wall can begin to shape what type of thoughts you have. You might begin to notice that most of your thoughts on the wall are focused on one particular subject. Maybe things are stagnating a little, and then injecting some random new ideas can quickly start seeding new thoughts. This is the great thing about these ideas and how organically they grow. They can instantly change with the introduction of a new object.
If you are not currently storing, collecting, and growing ideas that interest you somewhere, I highly encourage this activity, and the more public it can be the better. The more input you can gain from other sources will increase your chances of finding new associations that you may not think of alone. Keep things moving, and any ideas that seem interesting should be captured; either start their own idea walls or at least be noted somewhere for later reference. If you want to keep having those out of the box moments, I highly suggest you start tending you own creative garden for ideas.