Remember the world-famous Apple commercial that goes “Think different”? Although the motto can be interpreted differently, we bet it has something to do with outside the box thinking. Indeed, it is one of the most important skills for designers and marketers trying to grab people’s attention with their projects. But what exactly does thinking outside the box mean? And how do you develop this skill in yourself to create outstanding designs?
In this article, we’ll look at out-of-the-box thinking as one of the vital strategies to creating designs that stand out from the crowd. From breaking the traditional composition norms to just taking a break — there are plenty of ways to train your brain to come up with extraordinary design concepts.
Explore 11 ideas that will have you thinking outside the box so that you can generate more ideas, spark some creativity, and finally get yourself to produce the work you have in mind.
What is out-of-the-box thinking?
To think outside the box essentially means looking at problems from an unusual angle. We’d say, it’s the art of finding uncommon solutions to complex problems.
Out-of-the-box thinking can be applied everywhere. Whether you’re coming up with a new recipe for your dinner prep, holding an investor talk, or crafting your next design — to create something great, you need the skills to generate new and exciting ideas. A mix of creativity, boldness, and the absence of fear is what brings the best solutions.
Why is it so important to think outside the box?
Many designers and marketers strive to develop outside the box thinking to refine their work projects. What exactly can out-of-the-box thinking help you with?
- Develop your own style. When you start thinking beyond the given frames, you are likely to develop your own distinctive style. Think of the many talented designers out there — most of them are famous for their unconventional approaches.
- Differ from competitors. As you develop your out-of-the-box thinking approach, your designs will differ from those of your competitors — and will surely be recognizable among dozens of others.
- Create outstanding design projects. Last but not least, out-of-the-box thinking can help you create design solutions that will speak to your audience in an efficient way. Who knows, perhaps your outside the box thinking will one day lead you to receiving a Cannes Lions in design?
11 ways to think outside the box when you’re designing
1. Ask “what if?” and “why?”
These are, perhaps, two of the most important questions for people trying to think out of the box. As you start designing your next project, ask yourself: what if I mix three fonts instead of two? What if I try to adjust photo properties differently?
Also, you need to keep “why?” on your mind. Question why you’re designing this or that project. Always keep the needs and aspirations of your audience in mind. This way, you’ll let your brain focus on the core of your project.
2. Consult a stranger
It may, of course, be somewhat strange if you just come up to a pedestrian on the street and ask them for advice for your next project. But, that’s exactly what thinking outside the box is about! Different people hold different educational backgrounds and life perspectives, and can bring you ideas you’ve never thought of.
If you need advice from a stranger, drop the shyness and ask them what they think about your design idea. In case you don’t have time offline, try rolling out an online questionnaire or post a question on your blog. In minutes, you’ll be surprised at how many great ideas you receive from complete strangers.
3. Mix colors that don’t usually go together
Although there are plenty of recommendations on how to mix colors conventionally, you can also try to change the game. For instance, if you’re told that yellow and orange don’t traditionally go well together, try to mix them in your design and see how they look. Mix colors of different saturation, value and other parameters.
Discover VistaCreate’s Colors project for more inspiration on mixing colors.
4. Train your brain
Our brain is a muscle. Meaning it can be well trained to come up with non-traditional solutions. Now, what are the techniques for training your brain? We’ll name just a few so you can choose for yourself. Meditate. Learn languages. Download some brain training apps like Lumosity or BetterMe. Learn how to spell words backwards.
Thinking outside the box is a skill that takes practice — so keep doing what it takes for your brain to start thinking unconventionally.
5. Disregard the rules of composition
Some rules are made to be broken. You probably already know the basic rules of composition — that is, the rule of thirds, the rule of odds, and others. To create a design that stands out from the crowd, it’s essential to try something beyond these basic rules. For example, instead of placing an odd number of objects onto your visual, try an even number. Don’t put a grid on your design. Just go with your gut feeling and see what happens.
6. Go take a shower
There are numerous cases of people saying their greatest ideas came to mind when they were showering. Indeed, showers can provide a good distraction, and, as your brain gets to refocus attention, you’re likely to come up with new, non-traditional ideas as you design.
We’d recommend this: next time you’re feeling like you need to pause, grab a virtual pen and piece of paper, hop in the shower, and see what comes to mind.
7. Build on kids’ perspectives
Kids think unconventionally because they’re not constrained with stereotypes and fears. They are free in their thinking, non-judgemental, and, what’s important, very interested in life. So, next time you’re about to come up with your design solution, ask a kid what they would do with it. You can also observe how kids communicate with each other. Also, why not ask a kid to draw something for you so you can put it to work?
Channel your inner child as you go — be a little naive, question everything, see no boundaries.
8. Seek inspiration in your previous works
Remember the designs you created when you were just starting out? Maybe it’s time to bring them up and see if you can recreate them in your new and improved style. We bet you have a dedicated folder on your laptop with your precious designs. Look at what you were creating a year ago or so — what if the inspiration lies there?
Kind reminder that for VistaCreate Pro users, we offer a Version History option that maintains design history if you want to recover anything.
9. Surround yourself with people from different industries
They say, we are who we communicate with. Now, it’s time to think about the people who surround you and how you can learn from them. Do you have a musician around? Perhaps, your brother or sister has a PhD in neuroscience? Are there any actors or kinologists you can talk to?
Try spending a day with your friend who does dubbing to see how they work. What good can you derive from their working routine? Note your findings and try to apply them in your working routine, too.
10. Learn unusual skills
If you want to master the art of out-of-the-box thinking, it pays to be learning something new. Grab your school physics book and read it in a random way. Enroll in a French class to feel like a beginner again. Learn how to plant and take care of cactuses. Study how parrots behave. Remember: the more knowledge you can absorb, the better ideas you are likely to come up with.
As you’re reading this article, think of three books from different spheres that you’ve bought, but never opened. Maybe it’s time to give them a read and see how your perspective on things changes afterwards.
11. Change your designing routine
Say you’re working daily from 10 to 6 at your office. You then start thinking you’re stuck on coming up with a new project idea. Perhaps, it’s time to shake things up with your routine. Try to work from home, a park, or a friend’s countryside house. Shift your working hours so that you work in the evening and rest while everyone else is at work. If you’ve never worked to music — listen to some great playlist and see how it affect your thinking and productivity.
Our brain sometimes gets too used to certain routines, and giving yourself a new working experience can bring some fresh, out-of-the-box ideas. You can also try out different relaxation techniques to boost your performance.
Outside the box creative campaigns
To exemplify the out-of-the-box approach, we’d love to show you a couple of outstanding marketing campaigns that won our hearts.
It’s a Tide Ad by Procter & Gamble
In this video, advertisers took all the famous marketing cliches from popular brands and boiled them down to one thing: if the clothes in the ad are clean, it has to be Tide. This way, they basically branded all other ads with Tide, and created a huge fuss around the brand. No wonder the idea got the authors, Saatchi & Saatchi New York, a Grand Prix at Cannes Lions 2018.
Puma Fastest Annual Report
A couple of years ago, Puma released its traditional annual report that was supposed to be read in… 9.58 seconds. Instead of rolling out lengthy and boring yearly reports, the company came up with a creative idea to show all key figures while Usain Bolt was running. To us, this is yet another great example of thinking outside the box.
Piñatex by Dole Sunshine Company
What if we could wear pineapple leaves? The campaign by Dole Sunshine Company aimed to decrease the volume of pollution and introduced a vegan, cruelty-free sustainable alternative to leather, made from the fiber of pineapple trees. Piñatex is now used by many fashion brands like Nike or Hugo Boss. Thanks to the technology, the company managed to preserve the leaves that would otherwise go to waste.
Thinking outside the box in design is essentially about creativity. It’s also about the bravery it takes to break stereotypes, let go of fear, let your inner child play in the open, and create anything you’d like. We hope you can apply these easy techniques to whatever comes your way. Hey ho, let’s go!