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Thoughts On Ideation. Part 3: Interpretation

Thoughts On Ideation. Part 3: Interpretation

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 3: Interpretation

As we observe and assimilate ideas and information we simultaneously interpret them. The formal practice of interpretation in design would be analysis as part of brand strategy. This has its own “logic” and impositions, and is quite different to a daily programme of self-initiated learning. The latter is what I refer to below.

The origin of ideas and information acquired over time and drawn from a multitude of sources–some partially read and only half understood–will become somewhat indistinguishable. They collectively form subjective insight (and structure a worldview) with a plasticity that no longer has borders. The ideas and information you acquire mix and connect through creative leaps to form new ideas. Non-work, singular physical activities can help you do this as it frees the unconscious, allowing it to wander and connect those previously unrelated.

Interpretation has a lot to do with the relationships between things (and how we describe those things, by way of comparison and analogy, to others. One thing is understood by its relationship to or similarities with something else. Interpretation is a previous and familiar experience used as a framework to understand the new and unfamiliar. In some ways it is a precarious and deceptive safety net. You will learn quicker the more you do that which evokes fear. In this way, ideas and understanding act in the same way as cause and effect, and are deeply personal, which will give you value as a designer the more you seek out new frames of reference. A new experience leads to fresh interpretations of previously difficult or obscure ideas. New friends lead to new interests and so on. Ideas are much the same. They are the product of an interpretation, that interpretation is made by connecting it to something previously understood and projected forward.

Essential to ideation is the capacity to look at another idea and interpret it from multiple frames of reference. How might an architect interpret an idea, object or piece of information, and then a sociologist, a anthropologist, a philosopher or a comedian? Only by learning something of these fields will you be able to broaden your interpretation and range of responses.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus

Engaging with the same idea at different points in time, such as rereading a book or watching a film again, five and ten years apart can help develop interpretative skills. It illuminates the shifting sands of the mind, subjective reality and the potential of continual reinterpretation as part of the ideation process in design.

Finally, just as nature produces aberrations to give rise to diversity and novelty, partial understanding or a total misinterpretation can also give rise to new ideas and unexpected outcomes.. 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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