Idea generation techniques for personal projects


Develop a pool of ideas based on a specific brief.

This article gives advice on how to start a project and ways to create a unique ideas!


Please Watch the Idea Generation Tutorial Video above before reading on!


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Coming up with ideas.

So coming up with ideas then, where do we start? Because we always needs a starting point!

The website is all about idea generation, but these ideas are geared towards starting points for a specific type of ideas for concept art such as Character Designs, Creature Designs, Environment Designs and so on.

What if you have a unique brief, a personal project or task? How do we set out to make sure we’re on the right path in achieving our goals?

Firstly... planning is essential; By failing to plan, you’re basically planning to fail!

This tutorial focuses on generating ideas absolutely from scratch with just a simple brief and goal in mind. The process is outlined as follows:

  1. Writing the brief
  2. Idea Generation
  3. Idea Selection & Refinement
  4. Idea Implementation

Writing the Brief


Steve jobs once said “Creativity is just connecting things”, which essentially what we do.

We put the variables in place that need to be there and then we connect the dots by utilising different themes or subject matter to create a unique overall idea, in our case… in this case it will be for a new YouTube banner and theme for the website.

The more dots we have the more connections are required, which ultimately lends to a more unique overall idea, however, we want to keep the brief as concise as possible so that it’s easier to follow and doesn’t become just a mesh of everything which ends up being nothing specific.

How to start writing the brief?

We need to make sure we’re absolutely clear on what we want to create. The brief is the most important part of the process - It’s what sets our ideas up, to achieve what it is exactly that we want to achieve. And we won’t achieve them if it the brief isn’t accurate.

First we need to start by asking a broad range of questions about the project, for example:

  • What’s our objective?
  • Who are we targeting?
  • What do they like?
  • What is the YouTube Channel about?
  • Is there a theme to communicate?
  • What are you selling? And so on…

It helps initially to write everything down on one sheet like this, creating a type of mental map spider diagram.

Asking the right questions will get you the right answers. In this example, I’m focusing on various details associated with my youtube channel, and so the website will play a huge role in how the final banner will be delivered.

Take all of the information you have and whittle it down to what you think are the most key fundamental bits of information. Make sure you always consider who your target audience is!

Through this process of thinking, you should obtain a concrete idea of what your project is about and general direction for where your creative thinking should follow.

So now I have my brief! Considering all the questions, this brief is essentially what I’ll be using to steer the idea for my banner.

Idea Generation Techniques

When it comes to generating ideas there are 2 thinking modes I feel that we need to function in:

  1. Free thinking creative mode
  2. Rational critical mode.

Essentially it's the left side and right side of the brain. The idealistic and creative side which utilises the imagination and the rational realistic side which is based in logic and is rooted in reality; rooted in the confounds of your brief!

The more ideas you have to play with the better. Like peeling of an onion, the more layouts you go down the more chance you have of finding something original and unique! Some of them will be terrible, stupid, foolish, idiotic, immature, average, mildly interesting or irrelevant! And then you might just stumble upon a gem of an idea!

Don’t be trigger shy when churning out ideas. Whether you’re in a group or on your own just write them all down despite what your initial critical mind is telling you!

So to start coming up with some ideas, here are 3 different types of idea generation techniques that can be utilised to really help your creative process.

Brainstorming Ideas


This is essentially writing down your ideas unfiltered!

When starting out, be sure to avoid ‘First Idea Syndrome’ - So often we tend to get attached to the first idea we have, we think it's so good and then just run with it! My lecturer once told me, don’t let good get in the way of great! So regardless of how good you think it is, keep pushing and peeling that onion.

first-idea< Here’s super quick sketch of my first idea, I thought it was quite cool!

SO in this process, just draw or write whatever you’re thinking and don’t judge the ideas until later! Let your pen or pencil loose on the paper or screen and allow anything in your brain to escape. Even if you think it’s bad, stupid or nonsensical... just let it all out, as though you’re tipping out the toy bin!

Are we asking ourselves the right questions to guide our thinking process? Remember to ask questions within the realm of creativity - the type of answers or outcomes we get are always guided by the type of questions we ask ourselves. Consider the who, the what, the where and the how to really shape your idea generation process.

Mind Mapping Ideas


This idea generation technique is similar to brainstorming but instead, we follow a trail of ideas by branching out from specific subject toward related topics, similar to the mind map used when writing the brief.

This enables you to get quite niche and unique with your thinking. This process essentially shifts your thinking down a path through association and gives a certain sense of focus.

It essentially prompts ‘Micro thinking’ - which enables you to isolate a topic and break it down, twist and change it. You might find something unique that completely changes the context of an idea.

Throughout the idea generation phase make sure you take 'Time outs' - especially if you’re stuck! Try not to force ideas. It’s likely that you have deadlines, but a time out is important.

Ideas often come when we least expect them. The best thing we can do when we’re stuck is to just relax! Chill out, go for a walk, socialize, do something totally unrelated. So long as you have a firm understanding of the general brief outline then your subconscious can work for you whilst you’re having fun! Sometime’s a more organic ideas process can be so much more rewarding.

The Matrix Grid


This is essentially where you create a visual grid of new or existing ideas, especially ideas generated using the previous techniques.

Having visual reference of keywords or phrases associated with your brief on one page will help you to fuse common elements together, and enable you to extract more from them! You might find something extremely unique and creative. It basically re-positions your thinking.

In the images you can see how I’ve taken some of the keywords and phrases from the Brainstorm and Mind Map sessions. I tried to combine various ideas to essentially create a new one. This is a really efficient process, it’s kind of like making your money stretch as far as possible, but instead you’re maximising on your initial thoughts and seeing how much more you can get out of them.

Idea Selection & Refinement

So now we’re at the stage where we’ve got all of our initial ideas together. We want to choose about 3 - 5 ideas or themes

And from these different idea types, we can branch out and really hone down our final theme, ready for further development. This selection process is to really figure out what has potential and what doesn't.

We want to push and pull the ideas, ask further questions, reflect back to the brief and keep asking which ideas tick the most boxes of our brief.

Here are my shortlisted ideas:

  • 3-1-shooting-star-explosions
  • 3-2-brain-maze-race
  • 3-3-surreal-world
  • 3-4-nueron-brain-tunnels
  • 3-5-electro-atom

Firstly, sift through all of the ideas and try to create a shortlist ready for the final stage of development.

You ideally want to start pushing and pulling each idea. A good way to help develop an idea is to 'Flip it' - Take various details of your idea and dissect it, reposition it, replace it... basically play with it! Try to see your initial ideas or thoughts from multiple perspectives! Try to change the questions around for example: ‘How to attract a fan base?’ could be changed to ‘How to lose a fanbase?’ - And then avoid doing that! Or continue to generate ideas depending on the answers...

As you can see throughout these shortlists I’ve started to build up some 'Visual Reference' to accompany the idea. This will help to indicate a general mood or look and feel and will help to give insight of potential ways that the idea can be developed, as well as demonstrate just how you envision it to be should you choose this route.

When deciding on your final ideas it’s good practice to 'Ask friends & family' for honest advice, but don’t simply ask ‘if this is good’ .. that’s a leading question, and you really need to be strict with filtering out the good ideas from bad ideas. Ask them to be honest, ask them to try and guess for example who the idea is intended for, something specific - something to match it against the brief with, and if it doesn’t match then ask them why.

Based on feedback from some friends and my own judgement; reflecting on the brief and which ideas I felt were the most viable, I made some tweaks and narrowed down my selection pool to 3 main themes. These are slightly more refined with more conclusive visual drawings.

Some Idea refinements:

  • 1a-nueron-brain-tunnels
  • 1b-nueron-brain-tunnels
  • 1c-sketch-2
  • 2a-shooting-stars
  • 2b-nueron-brain-tunnels
  • 3a-sureal-world
  • 3b-sketch-3

You can use use 'visual call outs' to help visualize various elements of an idea. This can help for your own personal reference, and when showing to other peopl. This is a common practice within the concept art industry when showing ideas to clients. It saves times rendering out ideas that you aren't fully committed to.

With my own personal idea, I started to develop various sprite characters which I felt could be present within all of the themes. I considered how things would work in general and the potential for each theme, as this isn’t just a one off banner for me.

Once you have a good pool of ideas, one of the final things that can really help us to make the right choice moving forwards is 'the overnight test'. If you're really not sure if an idea works or not then shelf it for a night… or more! If you have a favorite and still like it after this period then there’s a good chance it works in general. You’ll get to see it with fresh eyes, and allow it to sit on your subconscious which can iron out any inconsistencies for you!


Coming up with ideas isn't easy! It's tough. It takes time, effort and patience. Remember it all starts with having a clear vision or goal, and by taking a methodical approach to generating ideas it will help toput you on the right track; utilising creative techniques such as Brainstorming, Mind Maps and the Matrix Grid.

There are many more way to come up with ideas, so consider exploring different possibilities and remember to seperate your thinking process! Make sure you're strictly creative in the early concepting phase, and don't be critical until it's time to really start refing and selecting which ones are worth taking forwards.

Ensure no bad ideas slip through the net by being critical during the selection process, always reflecting back to the brief to make sure your ideas don't deviate from the end goal.


Next Steps to Improvement...

Practice the 3 Idea Generation Techniques

These techniques will work even when coming up with ideas created by our pool of Idea Generators. It's dedicated to helping you learn the principles outlined in this drawing tutorial in a practical way; by prompting various drawing tasks with various criteria to explore different rules of composition and structures.




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Resource Links

Art Generator Blog: Visual Language Principles
Art Generator Blog: Drawing & Gesture
Art Generator Blog: Character Design Process
Art Generator Blog: Painting Process
Art Generator Video: Character Design Timelapse
Art Generator Video: Creature Design Timelapse

Art Generator Process: Environment Design
Art Generator Download: Anatomy Reference
Art Generator Video: FanArt Design Timelapse
Art Generator Video: Website Tutorial


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