3 years ago

“Original” Ideas

I used to teach Design at a university in Perth WA. A common question I was asked from students was; “how to do I come up with an original idea?” To which, in a post-post modern society, the obvious answer is, there’s no such thing.

In my opinion the desire to be original is simply another way of saying I want to be different. True originality is unattainable. Something at first may seem original, but is actually a culmination of little ideas that have been curated and refined.

I used students as an example because initially it seems like the most important thing. However, there comes a stage when you realize trying to be original is futile. Thankfully a large part of design is not about being “original.” But you still have to be creative. So how do you come up with an idea that is different?

Different Ideas

  • Design / Create Continuously This point is more for those that are new to design (ie. 4-5 years). No one comes up with a killer idea straight away. This is true both on a large and small scale. Even a good idea needs refinement most of the time.


  • Ask Someone You are only one person. Do you think one person made the Mclaren P1? the sexiest car in the world? No. Collaboration is key. Other people offer different perspectives which leads me to my next point.


  • Research Outside your Scope Looking at similar things to your project is a good idea. Your don’t want to re-invent the wheel every-time you get a new brief. It also helps you define the standard and what people are used to (the stereotypical). But you want to be different so look outside your project, look outside your discipline.

  • Refine / Re-interpret your Brief Sometimes putting yourself in the clients shoes allows you to better understand their intentions behind a brief. Your client specialists in their product not writing briefs. Asking “why do we have this problem?”, instead of “how can we fix it?” can often lead to a creative solution.

  • Be Current, be Inspired Whether you want to be different or not this is simply good practice. Being current gives your designs context. And knowing what other people have done before means you don't make the same mistakes. Draw inspiration from people that have more than you; more skill, more practice, more money, more time.

When to use your “Different” Idea

Some people (even designers) would argue that to make a good design you have to be different, all the time. I could not disagree with this more. Not only is it not financially viable, but sometimes it is just not a good idea to be different. Let me give you two examples.

Lets say you have a client that produces boutique food products grown locally on a small farm. This farm is surrounded by established companies that produce similar quality products (but not competing products). These companies have already spent big money to build a positive brand for the area. It would be a bad idea to not capitalist on this and brand your clients products in a way that aligns to this existing perception.

Now lets say you were designing an App. This App needs to display a lot of content so the client wants a scroll. Since 2007, people have been using the “swipe down” gesture to view more content. Thats 7 years of doing the same action. The consumers mind now directly relates physically swiping down with viewing more content. There would be no need to change this (unless there was a very good reason).

Obviously the second example is exaggerated and over-simplified. My point is, yes it is good to be different. Whether things are similar or different is how we understand our world. But it’s the designers job to decide when it’s a good time to be different.