Creativity

Your constantly-updated definition of Creativity and collection of videos and articles
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What is Creativity?

Creativity is a process designers use to drive their abilities towards making artistic innovations (regarding aesthetics) and technical ones (about tackling design problems). Vital in ideation, creativity involves diversity and structure, splits into stages and types, is learnable and has a variety of methods to try.

See what creativity involves as a vital ingredient in design.  

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There’s More than Meets the Eye to Creativity

Generally, Creativity is often mislabeled as a phenomenon rather than a process, and classic misconceptions about it include:

  • Only imaginative individuals can produce good, unique and useful ideas.

  • The artistic, right-side brain governs creativity.

In user experience (UX) design, creativity is closely linked with innovation and—rather than be a natural-born talent—it involves a set of techniques and approaches anyone can learn. Because users’ problems are typically complex and intricately linked to the many contexts they find themselves in, the ideas designers strive for to solve these rarely “just happen”. Indeed, there’s a formula for creativity:

Creativity = Diversity + Structure

So, you can train your mind to be more creatively productive, leveraging techniques that expand in scale from simple methods up to the creativity-nurturing routine and environment you choose. Creative mindsets can seem anarchic and unruly, but there’s always a method to the madness involved somewhere (along with stages of creativity to grasp). Particularly, it’s important to learn how to tap into divergent thinking—to explore the horizon, including the wild, weird and downright wacky ideas—and then fine-tune your view of what might actually work using convergent thinkingOverall, creative ideas must be novel (i.e., involving a level of novelty that goes beyond anything you knew before making discoveries) and useful (i.e., truly practical for you to develop and ultimately beneficial to your users).

© Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Types of Creativity

Discover how various types of creativity apply to design.

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Creativity divides into two chief spheres that share certain areas:

Artistic creativity

Technical creativity

You would use this to (e.g.) design an attractive logo.

You would use this to (e.g.) solve a problem or put together a strategy as you explore (and push at the edges of) the design space.

Renowned cognitive scientist Margaret Boden has classified two additional types of creativity:  

H-creativity: historic creativity

P-creativity: personal creativity

New for humanity, such as first-in-the-world discoveries (e.g., the smartphone). 

Something that’s new for the person who makes the discovery. P-creativity is what you use when addressing a specific problem. Whether or not your idea becomes a “world first” is another matter, but H- and P-creativity do share common ground when designers make personal discoveries that later become historically important advances.

From a process aspect, we can add a further pair of types of creativity, as defined by Alan Dix:

Ant-like creativity

Flea-like creativity 

You take small and many iterative steps that collectively lead to a novel and useful design. Working carefully, you’ll typically have a solution in sight from early on and leverage convergent thinking to evolve your idea incrementally in a number of versions towards it.

You think wide and wild and jump at an idea that seems revolutionary. It’s the bold type of creativity—and hence often means you’ll go down the wrong avenues searching for optimal solutions—but risks can pay off and unlock doors to reveal radically brilliant insights and solutions.

© Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Tips for Getting Creative

To set out on a fresh pathway and journey towards truly unique and innovative ideas, you have a variety of options to explore (including learning how to overcome bias). It’s perfectly human to experience creative blocks, however, so here are some important things to consider:

  1. Quantity breeds quality – “More is more” in terms of idea generation. Brainstorming, for example, frees you to thoroughly investigate every possible dimension where a great solution might exist, no matter how silly things may first appear.

  2. Look within – Get in touch with your inner self by listing pain points, etc.; which pain points could you solve and how?

  3. Look without – Make detailed observations of what’s going on around you (e.g., your office) and describe or sketch others and what they’re doing.

  4. Break your habits/routine – Change something about your day-to-day life and examine any differences that arise from it. This can encourage the creative juices to flow.

  5. Stop thinking – Just shut off and see if a distraction (e.g., a long walk) breaks the block.

  6. Smother bad ideas – In the pursuit of sheer quantity over quality, sometimes you can bury yourself under an avalanche of thought relating to even just one bad idea. Try getting tough with it to see if it’s actually worth the effort. Maybe it is of questionable value. However, perhaps you can find good aspects or “secret staircases” within it that can take you up or down a level to reveal fresh insights.

Overall, allow yourself to fail – as creativity is an iterative (and enjoyably rewarding) learning process. Sooner or later, you’ll find yourself getting better at exploring your design space, finding intriguing hidden aspects of a problem, learning from mistakes along the way and, ultimately, tightening your grasp as you get a handle on what users really want from a product or service.

"Creativity is intelligence having fun."

— Albert Einstein

Learn More about Creativity

Take our Creativity course.

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This Smashing Magazine piece insightfully explores another side to creativity.

See how designers leverage creativity in this example-rich article.

Here are some helpful tips.

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Literature on Creativity

Here’s the entire UX literature on Creativity by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Creativity

Take a deep dive into Creativity with our course Creativity: Methods to Design Better Products and Services .

The overall goal of this course is to help you design better products, services and experiences by helping you and your team develop innovative and useful solutions. You’ll learn a human-focused, creative design process.

We’re going to show you what creativity is as well as a wealth of ideation methods―both for generating new ideas and for developing your ideas further. You’ll learn skills and step-by-step methods you can use throughout the entire creative process. We’ll supply you with lots of templates and guides so by the end of the course you’ll have lots of hands-on methods you can use for your and your team’s ideation sessions. You’re also going to learn how to plan and time-manage a creative process effectively.

Most of us need to be creative in our work regardless of if we design user interfaces, write content for a website, work out appropriate workflows for an organization or program new algorithms for system backend. However, we all get those times when the creative step, which we so desperately need, simply does not come. That can seem scary—but trust us when we say that anyone can learn how to be creative­ on demand. This course will teach you ways to break the impasse of the empty page. We'll teach you methods which will help you find novel and useful solutions to a particular problem, be it in interaction design, graphics, code or something completely different. It’s not a magic creativity machine, but when you learn to put yourself in this creative mental state, new and exciting things will happen.

In the “Build Your Portfolio: Ideation Project”, you’ll find a series of practical exercises which together form a complete ideation project so you can get your hands dirty right away. If you want to complete these optional exercises, you will get hands-on experience with the methods you learn and in the process you’ll create a case study for your portfolio which you can show your future employer or freelance customers.

Your instructor is Alan Dix. He’s a creativity expert, professor and co-author of the most popular and impactful textbook in the field of Human-Computer Interaction. Alan has worked with creativity for the last 30+ years, and he’ll teach you his favorite techniques as well as show you how to make room for creativity in your everyday work and life.

You earn a verifiable and industry-trusted Course Certificate once you’ve completed the course. You can highlight it on your resume, your LinkedIn profile or your website.

All open-source articles on Creativity

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