Subtitled “A Soft-Systems Guide to Creativity, Problem-Solving, and the Process of Reaching Goals,” The Universal Traveler happily demystifies the creative process by describing short, compact tasks that anyone can pursue along the non-linear path to confronting problems. Dozens of exercises unfold within the book’s overall trajectory, which begins by accepting and defining a problem and ends with implementing decisions and evaluating results. Diagramming a big spiral that ends close to where it begins, the authors describe this iterative journey as a “round trip” (feel free to conjure multiple meanings for the word “trip”).
Reimagine your subject by applying a series of verbs to it. Performing actions such as multiply, divide, invert, transpose, freeze, flatten, soften, or extrude can allow designers to quickly generate diverse solutions to a problem.
Given a particular kind of object (a newspaper, chair, camera, or shoe box), make a chart listing its physical or functional attributes. Create new solutions by linking elements from each column. Alternatively, create something new by marrying two seemingly unrelated objects or ideas. For example, combining a fireplace and a table could yield an eating surface that you can cook on, a hearth that is a coffee table, or a fireplace that transmits radiant heat through a glass hood.
Study archetypal solutions to recurring problems. Most commonly repeated forms are highly functional structures that have been tested by time. A child’s drawing of a house reflects a basic building type that works well in climates where the snow still falls. Use archetypes as the basis for solutions to new problems. Could a house, a book, or a sandwich help you design a logo, a poster, or a package?
No longer in print, The Universal Traveler can be found on Amazon Marketplace and other second-hand book services. Better yet, find a copy in your school or public library, or borrow one from your favorite hippie friend.