Generation of ideas

Go back to VCE resource list

What & Why

Generation of ideas is the stage where you let your creative juice flow out of your mind! Come up with as many ideas as possible so that you can filter them to determine key ideas to further develop in the development.

There’s no right or wrong ideas, I’d recommend draw anything you think may have potentials. You can then annotate which one is more successful than others.

On this page, I introduce you to techniques you can use to show a diversity of design approaches in your folio.

Start with key takeaways from research

The reason you undertook research is so that you can come up with well informed design ideas.

Why not start your creative thinking process from what you took out of research?

For example, start with keywords / what you liked about after researching.

1. Brain dumping

Brain damping is about setting time (for example, 10 minutes) to concentrate on generating ideas. This method forces you to simply ‘damp’ ideas on the paper, resulting in getting more ideas efficiently.

It is also useful if you have some spare time in between different tasks / classes.

  1. Set timer – 10-15 minutes may be ideal (it’s up to you).
  2. Have a pen/pencil/whatever media & paper
  3. Start timer and draw whatever comes up in your mind.
  4. After the time is out, annotate your ideas.


SCAMPER is an acronym of:

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adapt
  • Modify
  • Put to another use
  • Eliminate
  • Reverse

You don’t need to use all of them, but try picking one and developing it further.

3. PMI

PMI stands for Plus, Minus and Interesting.

Simply add icons next to your drawings / photographs to indicate your evaluation of each design. Annotations should explain your choice of PMI icon.

4. Action Verbs /adjectives

Using action verbs / adjectives, you can experiment representing movements and actions through visual communication. This works particularly well with communication design.

  1. Find a verb/ adjective that may relate to your brief
  2. Think design principles & elements that may remind viewers of that verb / adjective
  3. Draw ideas on the paper
  4. Repeat step 1-3 for different verbs / adjectives

5. Use of materials

Although hand drawing (including digital drawings) is the major means of recording your ideas, nothing stops you from using materials such as paper to generate ideas.

Especially, if you’re working on industrial or environmental design communication, it is crucial that you play with physical materials to understand the three dimensional qualities that materials can produce.

Paper: cut, slice, fold, crunch, tear, stick, curve, warp, twist, trim, etc.

Clay: mould, tear off, squeeze, smoothen, squash, flatten, push together, twist, braid, etc.

Make sure to photograph the process & locate them next to drawings. Don’t forget to have usual references (name of image, ‘taken by…’, date, camera type, where it was taken)

Spatial organisation (environmental design)

Coming up with ideas for spatial organisation (environmental design) is not easy. Here are some methods you can undertake:

The approaches above are only a couple of hundreds of methods to develop your plans. If you’re more interested in the form of the building (e.g. exterior indicating its function as a landmark), or like to involve cultural / social / ecological / geographical contexts of the site, then those may define the design approach you should take.

Other inspirations

The techniques mentioned above are common creative thinking methods. But if you want to go further, you might want to find original ways of generating ideas, such as:

  • music: if music relates to your brief, why not explore how you can generate ideas from music?
  • quick mock ups: if you like making models, try doing iterations of models with different ideas.
  • Write words from your brainstorm on pieces of paper, shuffle them in a bag and pull out two. Come up with an idea that incorporates both words.
  • Try unconventional techniques – overlay a photocopy paper over tree trunks, ground, mesh, etc. to get textures. Can you apply water colour paints without using a brush? Can you mix your drawings by right hand & left hand?