Machine Design

Industrial Design: Think like a kid

Okay, you are tasked with designing “the next coming thing” but draw a blank.

How to get the creative juices flowing? A good way to start is by doing something entirely unrelated to the problem, such as going for a walk. Yeah, I know this is not always possible. So, what can we do from our desks?

First, try an attitude adjustment.

Cultivating a can-do and why-not attitude makes new ways of doing things fairly jump out at you. As Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Keep in mind there are usually no completely right or wrong answers. Identify and discard assumptions, which are of no help. And avoid getting judgmental — every idea has a potential application.

Try to think like a kid. They don’t worry about how to do things, they just imagine. Look at toys. Imagine how to design a widget for a three-year-old — or perhaps as a three-year-old. Look for unusual colors and materials that might lend themselves to the problem.

Another good way to spark ideas is with word association.

Open a book, close your eyes, and point. Write down that word and then use it in a sentence about the task at hand. You’ll be surprised how often this helps to get creative. Or, try typing “creativity suggestions” into Google and check out the countless guides it generates.

Also, try drawing pictures of the problem.

People verbalize things in the left, logical side of their brains. But creativity comes from the right side. Taking the subject out of the context of words and rethinking how to depict it graphically forces you to step “outside the box,” at least for a few minutes. (Try saying something in a foreign language. You might say a few words and when they don’t work use different ones. The action of drawing concepts is the same idea.) Once you draw a problem to your satisfaction, have someone else look at it. If it proves confusing, draw it again — differently. Shampoo, rinse, and repeat. A few go-arounds will give a whole new perspective on the problem.

Lastly, don’t let the pressures of producing get to you because creativity will suffer. So, most important — have fun!

Mike Hudspeth is an industrial designer with more than two decades of experience. Got a question about industrial design? You can reach Mike at [email protected]. This article was edited by Leslie Gordon.

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