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Have you ever gone into a project, not knowing where to begin or not being able to finish because that creative flow just isn’t there? Does it feel like you’ve hit a block of ice that just won’t dissolve fast enough for you to push through that fruitless barrier? Well, one way to conquer this designer’s block and get your creativity moving again is by using lateral marketing which I’ll explain in a bit. Aside from lateral marketing, there are so many other things you can do to keep your creativity churning. Keep reading, you’ll see.

Change Your Perspective Using Lateral Marketing

Lateral marketing is an unconventional way to analyze a product to help open your creativity to innovative ideas. Taking some tips from Lateral Marketing, I oriented the concepts toward visual design. You can find a nice summary of the concept here.

Instead of just thinking outside the box, turn the box upside down, inside out, or tear it apart.

1. Choose and focus on an attribute. By constraining your focus on a single element in a design, you can spend time exploring ways to vary it. For example, you can pick a special feature requested, a color, line weight, negative space, or typography, etc…

2. Make a Lateral Displacement by stimulating illogical thinking, meaning do something absurd or illogical with that attribute you will be focusing on. You can do this through

  • Substitution
  • Inversion
  • Combination
  • Exaggeration
  • Elimination
  • Reordering

Here are a few examples for each method. If you have a current design that you’re feeling stuck on or looking to offer a different approach from, create a lateral disconnect.

  • Substitution – Substitute boxes for round or organic shapes, lines for no lines, serious audience for a casual audience, gradients for textures
  • Inversion – Change the color palette or tone. If you have a bright and airy design, try creating a darker more intense design.
  • Combination – Mix incompatible elements together – hard lines + soft edges, icon + color
  • Exaggeration – If you have one design where the images are small or minimal, try a design that exaggerates or overly emphasizes the use of images.
  • Elimination – Eliminate the use of icons or graphics which can sometimes overpower a design, and see how you can achieve the same page hierarchy with typography alone.
  • Reordering – Change the visual order of what someone will see first. Instead of putting that big banner at the top, put in on the side or the bottom, or deemphasize it.

3. Make a connection for the gap between the illogical and logical. After exploring the alternate visual designs, you then need to work them into your entire design. Does it work for the aesthetic or visual goals you were shooting for? Does it enhance or deter from the underlying information architecture that was the goal? Or if you were trying to create an innovative design, does it push those boundaries that you were trying to push? Essentially, now that you have new design options to look at from Step 2, make it work.

More Ways to Spice Up Your Creativity

  • Step outside your comfort zone. Often we designers can fall into a pattern or groove and thus have a distinct style we’ve developed for ourselves and our body of work. Try giving yourself a project to design for a completely new or unfamiliar purpose of audience and see how it pushes you.
  • Draw from other industries. Look outside your industry for changes in design. If you’re building a business app, look to the fashion industry for new ideas and trends.
  • Always keep a sketchbook handy.  work with your hands and other materials – reference it for colors shapes or other elements. Could be the start of your next great idea
  • Travel– or travel virtually – look at what’s happening in other countries or even other cities
  • Take classes. I love taking art classes of all types because they encourage me to do something different with my creative energy, even if it’s only for a few hours during the week. I come home feeling refreshed and filled with new ideas. Plus, it’s a great way to brush up on good ‘ol hand skills like drawing or painting that can get rusty over time.
  • Draw with the other side of your brain. If you’re a righty, sketch out some ideas on paper with your left hand
  • Keep an Idea Box. Keep a container or bin for stuff that you come across that you really like or want to improve. I like to throw in fabric swatches, textures, packaging, “junk mail”, photos, clippings from magazines or newspapers, and more. When your feeling like you’re in a funk, take out the box and rummage through it for some inspiration.
  • Go outside and get in touch with nature
  • Network and just meet new people. Talk to people of all types and professions and from different walks of life. Sometimes a new idea or a fresh burst of inspiration can come from making a new friend and hearing their stories.

The key idea with any of these techniques is that maybe you won’t end up with the final idea, but you may end up using pieces or elements from the designs you created to get to that final idea. The goal is to continue to creatively innovate, and provide great user experience.