Nimble Design: Creative Thinking in the Digital Age

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“Employers want to hire nimble thinkers: people who are not only content experts but who also are agile in adapting to new technology and new directions in their fields.” — Robin Landa

Robin Landa’s latest book, Nimble: Thinking Creatively in the Digital Age, encourages and nourishes nimble thinking — the ability to adapt and stay ahead of the curve in the constantly upgrading digital world that we live in. Filled with creative and critical thinking tools, interviews with leading design experts and creative thinking exercises, this book navigates the merging of creative thinking skills with critical thinking skills to cultivate powerful strategic designs.

Landa has authored more than 20 books on branding, advertising, creativity, drawing and graphic design solutions. As one of the distinguished designers at the 2014 HOW Design Live, she gave a compelling talk titled, “Build Your Own Brand: A 10 Step Guide.” Robin will return to HOW Design Live to discuss how to become a nimble thinker. (If you haven’t registered, there is still time before her presentation on May 4th!) She is currently a professor at Robert Busch School of Design at Kean University and the creative director of her own firm.


Below is an inside look at Nimble: Thinking Creatively in the Digital Age.

Chapter 1: Thinking Creatively

The Challenge:

Generating viable ideas and creating in the digital age presents new challenges for all designers. Employers and clients call upon creative professionals to quickly conceive and execute grand ideas and react nimbly to rapid changes in industries, technology and business sectors. Graphic designers need to be empathetic, interdisciplinary story-makers working across media. They must fully understand what each specific media channel can do and how each channel can be utilized to deliver an engaging brand experience, contributing an integral element of the brand narrative. It’s essential that designers generate concepts for a campaign or program that take various forms related by strategy, voice and design across channels, ranging from print to social films to websites to mobile apps to web platforms.

Many graphic designers, art directors, copywriters, and creative directors face the new challenge of creating relevant original content for brands, causes and organizations to market online and in social media. Part of this challenge entails understanding how people behave online, become co-creators, and use technology, mobile and social media. Unique content must give people a story to tell, one that engages them enough to talk about or share online.

Industrial designers need to address unexpected challenges to meet market needs. They address usability issues and generate design concepts that address social issues facing the global community. Reconsidering what functional objects are all about—whether reinventing the concept of a car or a soccer ball, or wheelchair or eyeglasses—requires keen imaginations that synthesize need, beauty, function and experience.

To face these new challenges, consider:

  1. Viewing a design or visual communication problem with a new mind-set.

  2. Cultivating your creative thinking and preparing your imagination.

  3. Becoming a design expert with additional knowledge gained by keen interest in a broad range of subjects

A New Mind-Set

Let’s begin to adapt our thinking about design, branding or advertising solutions by thinking of it as content creation rather than as creating an artifact. Rather than thinking about solving a problem, approach the visual communication goals with an open, experimental mind-set. To do this, set aside the closed conventions of what design or advertising is supposed to be. Instead strive to understand how to make a brand social and create content and product design that people will find engaging, relevant or beneficial. Ask: Is the idea flexible? Is it entertaining? Is it informative? Does it have value? Will it positively impact society? Does the idea inspire content that people will share? How will the idea manifest and function for the capabilities of specific channels and platforms?

The motto of this new mindset is: Entertain. Inform. Be useful. Do good.


Imagination Prep

In the design professions (graphic design, industrial design, product de- sign, advertising design and interior architecture design), a problem is given and you have to solve it. However, to solve a given problem well, a designer must learn to think like a scientist rather than a detective. My premise goes back to Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld in 1938:

For the detective the crime is given, the problem formulated: Who killed Cock Robin? The scientist must, at least in part, commit his own crime as well as carry out the investigation. … The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of math- ematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old questions from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.

This holds true in design too. Your goal is to prepare your imagination so that original works and ideas can emerge. This is a developed capacity. We have to enhance our imaginations like fine artists: for instance, René Magritte took the familiar and made it strange and Odilon Redon took the strange and made it familiar.

Want to read more? Nimble is available for purchase through MyDesignShop.