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Thoughts On Ideation. Part 2: Assimilation

Thoughts on Ideation. Part 2: Assimilation

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 2: Assimilation

Assimilation is the process in which we take what we have observed, speculate on its potential and commit to retaining it until it can be applied at a later date. It could simply be a technique to generate a form for a logo or a way of understanding universal human behaviours for a way finding system.

The first step towards assimilating an idea is understanding the difference between active engagement and passive consumption. This is subjective, so I’ll speak plainly of my understanding with the hope that others may find it useful.

Passive consumption is momentary. It satiates the immediate desire for something new, a requirement to be occupied without challenge or to switch off from work. This is part of a balanced lifestyle. Passive content is anything consumed without the need to decipher a subtext, draw out or apply meaning, or question what is being presented. There is value in this. Humour–a good joke or a meme that reveals a truth–is an effective tools in which to assimilate an idea or observation, to remember it. There is a physiological component to this, a relationship between what is seen and a positive chemical response. However, there is a limitation to the depth of an idea presented this way.

Activate engagement is interpretation, meaning-making and making sense. Leaps in thinking, questions raised and answered are all active. Participation is central to assimilation, however, retaining complex ideas can be difficult, it requires patience, commitment and focus without distraction. Contexts such as university, its dedicated pedagogical spaces, goal-orientated learning, expense, parental or guardian expectations, peer pressure, dedicated tutors, lecturers and a diversity of people is designed to foster active engagement. Outside of this, assimilation becomes harder as we try to maintain jobs, relationships, social standing, standard of living and fulfil our civic responsibilities.

So, how can we assimilate complex ideas outside of the formalised pedagogical space. This is how I approach it. Choose fields outside of design that maybe interesting (this is essential to Part 3: Interpretation). Find, research and stick with (and help fund) reliable resources within these fields. Assign designated time each day, and per week to reading. Consider how the spatial and physical context of an idea can help you retain it for future use. For example, a beautifully crafted book, the quietness of a gallery, the unfamiliar landscape and spaces of other cultures and disciplines. These multi-sensory experiences (rather than the ubiquity of the screen and equal weight of the online experience) helps the brain to recall things as it has something tangible to attach it to. Further, with the endless stream of new, it is difficult to go back and rereading things, however, repetition aids recollection. I read things again and again, and find that writing an idea out in my own words helps me to make sense of and absorb a new idea. In terms of logo design, that means not just looking at logo books but redrawing complex forms over and over again, and building a tool box of technique.

By understanding the process of assimilation, even those things that were once passively consumed become things to be actively engaged with. Is there a subtext to that cartoon? Is there something inherently political to a selfie? It begins to direct the mind towards making connections and generating ideas.

Of course, perpetual active engagement can be tiresome. It continues to be a struggle for me to sit and focus for an hour everyday on reading something, and choosing the best way to remember. What drives me is the simple and universal notion that, the more ideas I put in the more ideas I will get out. In next week’s post, I’ll cover interpretation as part of the process of ideation. 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.

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