Training Your Train-of-Thought: An Unfiltered Guide to Creative Ideation

Posted on
December 7, 2021

Ideas are powerful! They can lead to approachable strategies, beautiful design, impactful ministry campaigns, and much more. 

As an Art Director and Designer for Resonate, I spend most days ideating creative solutions to client project challenges. Creative ideation is a reflection of God and how He made us. We are dignified image-bearers, mini-authorities with real influence.

I’ve written this from the perspective of a designer working with a client, but this still applies if you are doing in-house ideation with your team. In those cases, we’ve found it helpful to designate a point person to act as the “client”—that person is responsible to lay out the “must-haves,” the “knowns” and give the overarching vision so that the rest of your team can rally around them to make it happen. 

All Aboard

Every project has a starting point. We’ve got to be at the right station, to get on the right train, to arrive at the right place. For us, the station isn’t something we leave quickly! Think of the station as pre-ideation. (For us, ideation stems out of client discovery and a creative brief. In your context, perhaps it is writing down the “knowns” and “must-haves” of your project). We want to observe all the facets of the station. The steam, the whistle, the brisk walks, and not rush off too quickly. At this stage, we listen intently to both what a client says and what they don’t say. We mine for keywords and objectives and bring to the surface the most important ideation pillars. This is part of the pre-production process and is foundational to creative ideation. It’s amazing how easy it is to get on the wrong train. 

Here is some practical help to get it right: 

  1. Listen well.
  2. Ask questions to confirm the accuracy of what you are hearing.
  3. Be open to changing your mind (collaboration really is powerful). 
  4. Write out the “must-haves,” or “knowns.” 
  5. Research what the project is for, where it is going, and how people will interact with it.

Leaving the Station 

It’s time to take off into the deep world of ideation. And oh it can be scary-vulnerable! Probably because there are identity strings attached to [ideation] work. 

Christians have a unique ideation advantage; our ideas don’t define us or solve the problem within us … God did. Remember, we are fully known (Ps. 139:16) and fully loved (John 3:16). Therefore, we can leave the safety of the station with wild abandonment. Let your God-given ideas out and learn to celebrate the ideas that other people bring to the table. 

Here is how you can leave the station in style: 

  1. Settle the identity question by spending time with Jesus. Your ideas don't define you.  
  2. Put away every filter. List, draw, or write every idea. Progress feels good.
  3. Bring your personal experiences, taste, and knowledge to the table. 
  4. Collaborate with teammate(s)—your ideas might inspire them.
  5. Boldly break assumed boundaries  [example: this is a coffee-shop brand, not a ________ … or the client would never pay for ________ …].
  6. Visualize the audience, space, event, venue or concept and list what you see working. Here’s an example for, let’s say, a coffee shop: if you know that the typical customers of this area like artistic, unexpected things, what if you had a painted mural of a captain on a boat in a stormy sea, calmly sipping coffee from a mug from the deck, with type that says ‘TheRealSeaWater?’ 

Building Steam

Now that you have ideas flowing, it’s important to not derail by jumping off the idea train too soon. There will be a temptation to go on to other phases of production. Wait to feel the discomfort of pushing your ideas as far as you can. When you feel like you couldn’t stand coming up with another idea for a certain project, you are probably close to being done. 

Here are some strategies I use to build steam: 

  1. Ideate further off of your foundational ideas. 
  2. Establish project priority structures and ideate within those parameters.
  3. Hit a set number of ideas, say 100 or 200. Volume can be very helpful.
  4. Give yourself a time limit and don’t stop ideating until your timer goes off. 
  5. Circle the best ideas and write notes to why you like them best. 
  6. Get inspired: take a walk, go to an art museum, visit a cafe, or drive.

Here are a few tools we like to use throughout this whole process: 

  1. iPad with Apple pencil
  2. Pen and paper or favorite Moleskin 
  3. Whiteboard
  4. Quiet heart and mind 
  5. Note taking app 
  6. Zoom with co-workers
  7. Google Docs

As you train your train-of-thought, you’ll become better equipped to get your powerful ideas out into the world. We look forward to seeing where your ideas take you!  

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