“Where do ideas come from?” was the question being posed by the Northern Design Festival this year. Trying to find an answer to this question was Angus Hyland, Noma Bar, Patternity, Liv Taylor, Assemble and deadgood, and The Creative Alchemist was there to find out more.

As a creative bunch, we were particularly interested in how both Angus Hyland, graphic designer and partner at the infamous Pentagram in London, approached the question, as well as Israeli-born artist Noma Bar, who has an eye for creating incredibly witty, “double-take” illustrations using interlocking shapes and negative space.

According to recent research by the University of Haifa, scientifically speaking, developing an original and creative idea requires the "spontaneous" side of the brain to work with the "conservative” side, resulting in some of “the most sublime creations of humanity.” Philosophers and psychologists have even tried to create models and formulas for initiating ideas and coaxing creativity. Hyland admitted it wasn’t a question he’d given much thought to during his 30-year career. Not surprising given he’s been named as one of the UK’s top ten designers - perhaps as creative storytellers we sometimes take it for granted that we are simply able to “have ideas” - but where do they come from and how can we entice them?

The first idea explored by Angus Hyland was that the answer can come from “an idea that was already there.” Sometimes the answer is staring you right in the face, it’s simple but it just fits! Simplicity is a key component of effective communication and he very much values a ‘pragmatic’ approach to design – when executing your idea there has to be a need to what you are creating, some form of order where elements are “employed for practical reasons” rather than for decorative purposes. This approach was later echoed by Noma Bar – “there’s no point decorating your illustrations needlessly.”

Hyland went on to discuss the notion of that notorious ‘big idea’, the bedrock to your creative solution. It’s tempting to go all out and find that ‘all-singing, all-dancing’ concept that blows all your other concepts out of the water. But Hyland likes small ideas too. “I defend small ideas. They can have big ramifications,” he says. He even cites “cute ideas” as being just fine too. Whatever the size of your idea, it needs to be fit for purpose - if the magnitude of the idea eclipses the product or thing you’re trying to sell, then you’ve missed the point and the potency of your creative solution might as well be thrust onto a rocket and sent soaring into space. “Worst of all,” says Hyland, “is having an idea for a problem that doesn’t exist.” 

Next up, the paradigm shift. These are ideas that question the conventional, challenge our expectations and confront our mindsets. Forming these ideas requires you to step back and change the way you look at the brief in a fundamental way, just like Hyland’s work for The Pocket Canons. From my experience, asking ‘What if…’ can often throw up unexpected and interesting avenues to explore. It’s about having the courage to go down a path you’ve never been before whilst not really knowing where you’re going to end up.

The very last idea discussed by Hyland was that of “the useful idea.” Organisations such as the RSA challenge innovators and creators to solve societal problems through the power of design, from improving public services, education and entrepreneurship to government policy, wellbeing and mental health. “Design can help you educate” Noma Bar said as he showed us his work for a new book called ‘Chineasy’, which makes great use of his illustrations to help you learn Chinese. He has also produced quick-witted motion graphic explaining the concept of immunology, which can be watched here, alongside other “useful” projects.

The symposium proved to be a fantastic day of inspiration and invaluable insights and we would encourage all northern-based (and even southern-based) creatives to get involved. You can find out more information on their festival’s website about what else is going on. If you need some inspiration when it comes to creativity and generating ideas we’d love to get involved. We run fun, interactive workshops to build distinctive brand identities along with thought-provoking workshops to create just the right name for your business, service or initiative.