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Thoughts on Ideation. Part 1: Observation

In this four-part series I offer some thoughts on generating and deploying ideas. This post, as with others, is an experiment. An attempt to push BP&O more towards theory, alongside the format of the review, to speculate with the intention of helping readers to generate new ideas. Rather than being dogmatic, these posts are an invitation to consider how your own ideas are formed, and a provocation to look at other ways of catalysing the process.

Part 1: Observation

Observation is the capacity to recognise things of interest, just as a comedian is able to quickly pick up on a moment of fleeting situational-humour. To further this analogy, a comedian sees an essential truth and shared experience and is then able to reveal and convey that to a group of people in a compelling way. They make the smallest thing big bringing people together in this collective realisation. Here, audience and demographic become interchangeable.

A designer’s skill is not wholly in design craft and technical proficiency. The best designer’s have the capacity to see humour and absurdity in the everyday, recognise beauty in the banal, and insight emerging from the quietest of places. Another analogy, just as you need to focus hard on the individual elements of an orchestra, you will need to focus on the smallest details of the biggest things happening around you, to be able to move past the blunt and immediate, seductive and shallow and recognise that which is meaningful.

Another analogy, just as you need to focus hard on the individual elements of an orchestra, you will need to focus on the many things happening around you, to be able to move past the blunt and immediate, seductive and shallow to recognise that which is meaningful.

It starts with patience and focus. The ability to stay with a long-form article without being distracted. To sit on a tube train and look around, not at a phone. To walk through the streets without a podcast and to overhear. To look up above the shops. This takes practice. But once you get the hang of it, you will start to see that the world is full of oddity, beauty and sadness. There are strange cultural performances, habits and rituals to be discovered, and an unintentional humour to much of it. This is the stuff visual culture is founded upon and a great source of inspiration for a designer and can be channelled into the form and meaning-making of symbols.

There are two fundamental approaches to observation. In Part 2: Assimilation, published next week, I’ll write about how active and passive engagement is critical to the assimilation of the above. Click here to read more texts on design.


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Thank you to everyone who has visited BP&O since its beginning in 2011. As many of you know, BP&O has always been a free-to-access design blog that seeks to offer extended opinion on brand identity work. It has sought to be the antithesis of the social media platform that often disentangles form, context and content. Writing articles can take 2-4hrs and are carefully researched.

I am passionate about design writing and believe that spending time to write about work, rather than just posting images, furthers design discourse. If you have enjoyed this article, have been with the site from its early days and would like to help contribute to its future, please consider supporting the site with a small PayPal donation. This will go towards the costs of hosting, CDN (to make the site quick to load) and Mailchimp, and cover some of the time it takes to research, write-up, format and share posts.