Creative Thinking Tools

Sketchbook/Notebook methodology by Conánn FitzPatrick

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Sketchbooks and notebooks are one and the same when you are an artist. Sketches are notes and notes illustrations of moments of inspiration and enquiry.  The most important part of any system is to stay out of the way of creativity and spark that lights our fire. Pages of drawings can be free conventions unless deserving of categorization. 

Notebooks will have pages numbered before starting so as to allow for greater flexibility. This way, any page can be used day to day. 

Each page should be dated, have a heading and list attendees where applicable.

Index may be a useful addition if it doesn't waste pages. Index could be a list of projects and relative page numbers listed in a row.

Daily list

Notebook is a perfect place for daily list management and lists should be rewritten at the end of each day.  TO-DO items can be generated organically or come from another system. Daily goals, targets and to-dos should be achievable in the time available, with new items being added organically throughout the day.  

Daily sweep

Lists and notes from the day should be reviewed and reorganized into a new daily list for the next day. Items rolling over should be assessed and or transferred into another system. 


Projects can be fleshed out and ideated in a notebook but should ultimately live in a more robust system where they can be managed and assigned effectively.

Notes are blocks of text without actions and can be of any length and can end in a page number at a later time to expand on an idea. p 22

Lists start with a bullet "•". List items are assumed tasks that can be assigned or escalated to a project on another page. Events are denoted with an "o" URGENT items "[]" should be handled immediately or placed in a system/page better equipped to get it done. 

•     item one
•     item two
>    assigned - Fred
<    escalated to project p3
O   Meeting with Bobby
[]   URGENT to priority page or other system
✓  completed tasks get a tick
X   cancelled tasks get an x
-    waiting for others tasks to complete

List capture should be organic and free flowing with items being reprocessed, reconstructed or cancelled on the fly. As with a sketch it is vital that thoughts be able to flow rather than seeking perfection in either tone, structure or clarity.  


Post-its, napkins and other scraps of paper are an inevitable and valuable part of any functioning system and should be included in the daily sweep where the can become more permanent in nature and part of the broader system. 


Team dynamics: Swapping individuals by Conánn FitzPatrick

Throughout the process learning facilitators should be trying to create even teams. By even we mean functionally rather than structurally, acknowledging that individuals perform differently in different combinations. Good combinations are vibrant and productive. Spotting poor combinations is relatively easy, as the productivity of the team will be greatly reduced. Participants should be moved, as needed rather then waiting for a break in the process.

Dominant Leader

Teams should be flat in structure, with all members being equal. Some participants will see it as their duty to take control of the situation and lead the conversation and the direction of the concepts. While this behavior might be rewarded in other settings, it does little to develop the brief or the other individuals in the team. In most cases, drawing attention to this behavior and offering guidance as to the desired structure is enough to redirect the performance of the team.

Doubting/Questioning Member

For most people being asked to trust the process and defer judgment is enough, but for others the urge to question is too great. Nothing is more corrosive to the creative process than questions that narrow the thought process. Conversations should encourage divergent thinking, wild ideas and should be optimistic. There is plenty of time later for the tough questions. Teams exhibiting this behavior will require closer facilitation for a short period, until the team begins to defer judgment.

“What market is there for this idea?” in isolation this seems like a perfectly reasonable question to ask of an idea/product/service. Where these type of questions become the wrong questions becomes clear when we are trying to generate a volume of ideas. In the inspire phase it is important to establish the possible market opportunities for the outcome of the brief, with opportunities being the key phrase. “Opportunities” as an adjunct to a question is like adding a firework rather then a bomb to the creative process.

In the conceptualize phase the type of questions we ask become far more important. Questions should only offer opportunities, energies to the concepts that are being formed. We can trust that the process will give ample opportunity for tough questions later. The aim of the conceptualize phase is to generate a large volume of ideas/concepts. A team of four should be aiming for in the region of 100-200 concepts. There are several reasons for this level of output:

  • Initial ideas will be tied very closely to already established notions (clichéd)
  • Only by exhausting the known to we create opportunity for the unknown to emerge
  • By encouraging the ridiculous and bending the parameters of the brief we can discover new opportunities
  • Through the development of narrative we start seeing the linkages between concepts and start sowing the seeds of innovation
  • As concepts come together through their natural evolution, markets and new opportunities will emerge

As we refine the leading concepts the type of questions become more focused but still leave the door wide open for change and opportunity. The questioner should always see themselves as an explorer, rather then a doubter. As the team becomes more skilled, it gains the ability to inform the doubter as to their impact on the process and suggest a redirection.

It is only in the evaluation phase that our concepts are finally strong enough to stand up on their own two feet and face the brunt of tough questioning. Even still, while we are open to all questions it is also the responsibility of the questioner to suggest possible solutions. Not fire and forget or shrug shoulders and say they don’t know. Evaluation is steps of stairs, with a parachute. Evaluation is also the polishing phase of the narrative that accompanies the concepts. As the concept climbs the steps provided by questioning the story evolves, where the question knocks the concept back to earth the narrative can alter in order to fit the new need. The Ponderer

Quiet, deep thinkers are great in a classroom and in a team, but too many together creates a quiet and unproductive unit. Redistributing the deep thinkers across multiple teams will improve the situation.

Finding the right combination of teammates can be effortless or quite difficult depending on the group. Issues should be addressed within the group rather than pulling one person aside, quite often the group will have an alternate perspective on the situation and inform the solution. Over time each team will learn to self manage.

Team rotation methods by Conánn FitzPatrick


Letters are people in teams, #numbers are projects and circles are tables/work areas

Three Stage Q&A Rotation

In this model teams rotate around projects in a two-step process illustrated in the diagram above. As the teams come to a natural ebb and the facilitators feel it is time to reenergize the group, each team (fig. 1) is given 2-5 minutes to solidify their narratives. Once the time limit has been reached half of each team moves to the next project, leaving half behind to inform the next team (fig. 2).

This cross over should happen quickly as to prevent any break in concentration. Each project table should now have half of the team who have been working on the project and half of the team who will be taking over the project. They are now given a few minutes (less than 5) to explain their efforts and to ask questions of each other. As soon as the time limit is reached the teams are reunited on their new project (Fig. 3). In other words each team as moved over, clockwise, one project.

Again this cross over should happen quickly. Once settled each team is given a few minutes for those who have just joined the project to be briefed by those there since step two in the process. It is necessary to call time on these briefings and refocus the group to continue with the stage in the process they are at ie. Conceptualizing.

Present Q&A—Rotation

Each team presents their concepts followed by a brief Q&A from all of the other participants. Presentations should be kept below a maximum of 5 minutes with Q&A also being kept to only a few minutes. Once all of the presentations are complete each team rotates clockwise one project table. Once relocated the group are give 5 minutes to discuss what they have received before refocusing and continuing with the current stage of the process.

The disadvantage of this type of rotation is it takes up so much time and breaks the flow of the process. Therefore it is best reserved for switching between phases of the process ie. Transitioning from the Inspire phase to Conceptualizing. This way, presentations can be used as a tool for causing a real break in flow and as an opportunity to set the stage for the next step I the process.

Clapping and cheering is an unnecessary part of the process that adds to the time taken but also ads, pressure, emotion and expectation to a process that is initially difficult enough for the participants. The group quickly gets used to no applause and presentations become much more relaxed as a result. When the time comes for final presentations and project close applause is reintroduced, marking the end of the process.

Team rotation across projects by Conánn FitzPatrick

A key component of facilitating team based creative thinking processes, is the requirement that teams repeatedly move around projects. There are a number of important reasons for this dynamic:

Ideation—Going for Volume

More people, means more ideas. Mastering a process requires repetition; by moving the teams to a new project while still in the same phase of the process, allows them to get a better feel for what it is they are trying to achieve and how to identify the appropriate level of output and innovation.

Team Development—Building the Broader Team

The process is designed around the personal journey of the individual participant. Part of this personal development is the recognition of the individual’s contribution to their team. Secondary to this is the relationship between teams. As a healthy competitiveness develops between teams, it is vital to the advancement of the individual that they see how each team is interdependent and builds on the contribution of the other teams.

Energy Management—Maintaining a Positive Atmosphere

As each project develops through each stage of the process each team will loose energy as they run out of ideas. Until each individual learns to push through this wall and develop fresher more innovative ideas, it is important to build confidence and avoid disheartenment. Observing the energy levels within the group will inform as to when the right time to switch is.

Presentation Skills—The Confident Communicator

Team rotation also offers a unique opportunity to develop key skills in the participant. As one team passes off their concepts to the next team, each person quickly realizes after a few exchanges that clear communication is vital to the survival of their ideas. Only ideas with a strong, easily repeatable narrative develop past a couple of rotations. Participants also quickly learn another key communication skill and that is to ask the appropriate questions of the team whose work they are going to be taking over. Not asking the right questions makes building on the work of others much more difficult and lowers productivity.

This continuous development of narrative and questioning, builds on both the confidence of the participant but also on their knowledge of the subject area. Individuals learn that their teammates will have answers to their questions as well as questions of their own. The development of these skills makes a marked difference in the more formal presentations, which are far more mature than those of equivalent students engaging in other methods of delivery.

Failure to engage in timely rotations represents a lost opportunity for key skill development and will have a very negative impact on the overall performance of the group. As the team spends to long in each key stage, they will become demoralized as they run out of ways of generating new ideas. A disillusioned team requires a disproportionate amount of facilitation to get back on track and the negativity can spread rapidly. To short a time and they will be unable to experience the feeling of running out of ideas, which is hugely important to the process.

Capturing and evaluation of creative sessions by Conánn FitzPatrick

Facilitation of the creative process runs in two very distinct streams. One experienced by the Facilitation/Management team and the other experience is that of the creative participants.

It is important that the creative participant stream is completely insulated from the bumps and glitches within the Facilitator/Management stream and that they experience a cleanly run machine within which they feel the confidence to express themselves openly.

Programme Evaluation


Quick Facilitator/Management meetings should be held at the end of each session. These should be stand up meetings and should last no longer then 15 minutes. Focus is on:

  • What worked?
  • Where the scheduled goals met?
  • What went wrong?
  • How was our individual performance and as a team?
  • What can we do better tomorrow?
  • Creative participant performance, are their any problem individuals who need greater stimulus?

These meetings are not recorded, they are informal and purely to maintain the quality of the programme.


Less than 45 minute, Facilitators/Management minuted meetings, which occur weekly in long programmes or at the end of short programmes. These meetings are designed to capture a review of the week/programme based on the questions above while it is still fresh.

Creative Participant Evaluation

Capturing feedback from the participants throughout the process is vital to the success of future delivery. Questionnaires should be designed carefully so they inform the process rather than purely please the priorities of the delivery team, institution or funding body.

Association Methods by Conánn FitzPatrick

Are group-based activities, which can be used to a lesser extent by the individual. They have no boundaries and rely on spontaneous reaction and Quantity of ideas. As the name suggests they deal with ideas associated with the problem (Near and Far association) Creativity within Association methods,as mentioned above relies on a process which must be spontaneous in its nature in order to generate as many ideas as possible. This process is a collective of different processes encapsulated by the familiar title Brainstorming. For all methods a general guideline exists known as The 3 component model for creativity .

Brainstorming by Conánn FitzPatrick

(30mins is usually enough for each session)

Brainstorming is the general collective term for the processes of creative thinking for associations.

It can have its place anywhere in the creative process but is most effective in the initial phases.

It is a process that is effective as an Individual or as a group

There are 4 Rules

  1. Have a well-defined and clearly stated problem
  2. Have someone assigned to write down all ideas as they occur
  3. Have the correct number of people in the group
  4. Have someone in charge to enforce the following guidelines
  • Suspend judgement ("Momentum")
  • Every idea is accepted and recorded ("Quantity")
  • Encourage people to build on other ideas ("Hitch-Hiking")
  • Encourage wacky ideas ("Free wheeling")

Variants of Brainstorming

Individual Association Methods

It is possible to brainstorm on an individual basis, this is a method often used by designers whilst working on sketch pads.

Variants of Brainstorming

6-3-5 Method

This is a very quick and effective method of generating a large amount of ideas. Six participants individually write down three ideas on a specific proposed problem, within a set time (approximately 5 minutes).

These ideas are then passed around five times and each participant adds another 3 ideas.

This generates 108 ideas (6 x 3 x 6).

The one rule, however, is that it must be remembered that this is an association method where the association is relative to the particular list that is held at a given time.

Organisation of Ideas

These methods work best with a matrix chart to ensre all ideas are collected.

Idea 1            

Idea 2            

Idea 3            

Participant 1


Participant 3

Participant 4

Participant 5

Participant 6

Idea & Problem Bank

( 30mins is usually enough for each session )

Group activity This is a secondary level process.

There are 5 main steps then repeat until ideas become exhausted

  1. Think of a Problem
  2. Deposit problems into the Bank
  3. Withdraw problems and create solutions
  4. Deposit solutions into the Bank
  5. Pick a new problem
Brain writing Pool

( 30mins is usually enough for each session)

Developed by the Batelle Institute in Frankfurt, Germany

  1. The Problem, or Design Brief is explained to the group In silence each individual jots down their ideas on a sheet of paper ( in either written or sketch format ).
  2. When an individual has created 4 ideas or has a mental block, the paper is placed in the centre of the table.
  3. They then select a sheet from the centre of the table and try to add more ideas to it.

Each sheet is anonymous and the same sheet could be selected several times. This can be more effective than normal brainstorming.

The SCAMPER list

This system was elaborated to create a design checklist- below (John Arnold, the founder of Design division, Stanford University)


Who/What else instead?

Other ingredient, material, processes, power, place, approach, tone of voice?


Create a blend, an alloy, an assortment, an ensemble?

Combine units, appeals, ideas, purposes?

  • What else is like this?
  • What other idea does this suggest?
  • Does the past offer a parallel?
  • What could I copy?
  • Whom could I Emulate?
  • New twist?
  • Change:
  • meaning,
  • colour,
  • motion,
  • sound,
  • odour,
  • form,
  • shape,
  • change...?
  • What to add?
  • More time?
  • Greater frequency?
  • Stronger?
  • Higher?
  • Longer?
  • Thicker?
  • Extra Value?
  • Plus ingredient?
  • Duplicate?
  • Multiply?
  • Exaggerate?


  • What to subtract?
  • Smaller?
  • Condensed?
  • Miniature?
  • Lower?
  • Shorter?
  • lighter?
  • Omit?
  • Streamline?
  • Split up?
  • Understate?

Put to other uses?

New ways to use as is?

Other uses if Modified?



  • Interchange components?
  • Other pattern, layout, sequence?
  • Transpose cause and effect?
  • Change pace, schedule?
  • Transpose positive and negative?
  • Opposites?
  • Backwards?
  • Up side down?
  • Reverse roles, change shoes, turn tables, turn the other cheek?
Fish bone Diagram

The fishbone diagram is a method of clarifying a problem. The technique best works with problems which start with terms like What, Why and How.

Once the problem is identified and placed at the head of the fish, the bones of the issue are defined using different categories. These are the parts of the problem which will be dealt with individually. Categories are decided by brainstorming the general issues of the problem. Typically they may include:

M's: Man, Machine, Method, Materials Maintenance and Mother Each (Environment)

P's: Price, Promotion, People, Processes, Place/Plant, Policies, Procedures and Product

S's: Surroundings, Suppliers, Systems, Skills, Service

This list is indicative and not exhaustive. The categories are used to stimulate brainstorming around the causes under each. At the end of the process the problem is more clearly defined.

Structured free association
  1. Write down a symbol (word, figure, object, condition) which has a link to the problem
  2. Note down new links associated with step no.1 without looking at the link with the initial problem
  3. Repeat step 2 until there are no more ideas
  4. Study the list and choose the ideas which have merit
  5. Use the associations from no.4. to create solutions to the problem.
Lotus Blossom Technique

The principal of this technique is by using the problem analysis as the central theme, ever widening circles or "petals" are created with related ideas, which themselves become central themes and so on.

  • Starting with a theme or problem,Record this statement or word in the centre of the page
  • Find eight ideas related to this and place them concentric to it.
  • These are labelled A-H.
  • Select each of these ideas A-H individually and create other concentric diagrams for which eight further ideas are created, relative only to each individual idea.
  • These new ideas are numbered 1-8
  • This process continues until exhausted

The 3 component model for Creativity by Conánn FitzPatrick

Domain relevant skills:

Knowledge and facts with technical and subject relevant skill bas i.e.
understanding design and the specific problem brief

Creativity-relevant skills:

The experience of creativity process and application of a proper work style i.e.
Practice and talent

Task Motivation

The difference between what you can do and what you will do

Classification of Methods:

Analytic-Systematic methods by Conánn FitzPatrick

Are based on analysis and systematic description of a problem. The collation of inventory solutions, variants to sub-problems and the analysis of combining these ideas to achieve the best solution.

This method is regarded as a systematic method, because its nature is to step by step solve problems before grouping them together again to create an overall solution. It is also regarded as analytic because various problems are solved by creating comparisons with analogue problems.

Function analysis by Conánn FitzPatrick

This type of analysis helps to determine the skeleton of the product or system in question. It does not deal with the form elements such as aesthetics, dimensions or materials. Its place is particularly relevant with a product that is radical and new in its invention. The designer must distance themselves from the problem The key question to ask when using this system is:

What is the new product to do and how could it do this?

It is a method that allows a designer to take a “Blue sky project” and create a brief that is much more manageable and focussed. It's an energy saver of sorts.

Morphology by Conánn FitzPatrick

This method was created by Fritz Zwicky. This method comprises of many variations, but in design only the Morphological chart is used. This is a chart of many dimensions which results in a solutions matrix. This method relies on four steps

  1. The problem or brief must be formulated as concise as possible
  2. Identify all parameters which might occur as part of a solution
  3. Analyse solutions with regard to the aims and objectives of the brief
  4. The best solutions are developed and presented at the next level.

The Morphological Chart

This chart shows the various thought process of solutions for a cabinet design.


Components Store Protect Access Energy Transform
A fixed shelf open storage open none
B pull out shelves glass doors horizontal translation motor
C adjustable shelves horizontal doors dual translation hydraulic
D glass shelf vertical doors dual translation pneumatic
E turntable slath door rotation hydraulic
F rod folding door rotation muscle mechanism
G racks vertical sliding door rotation translation gravity
H drawers horizontal sliding door rotation translation upward force
I baskets none lift off support rods muscle lift

These types of matrices are most effective when combined with sketches. (A small thumb nail in each solution box)

Decision Areas by Conánn FitzPatrick

This is a list of the main factors that will have an important influence or impact on the development of the design.

For Products these may include the following

  1. Its function or functions
  2. The packaging of components
  3. The operation Principles
  4. The form (of individual parts)
  5. The Materials used (for individual parts)
  6. The Manufacturing Techniques
  7. Ergonomic issues

From this list a series of options will be created. The next step is to chart options

Analysis of interconnected decision areas (AIDA) by Conánn FitzPatrick

When analysing a problem a number of different decisions may have to be taken. These decisions are interconnected to each other and will have influence over their feasibility. This method, which is similar to Morphology, can be used at any stage of the design process. Its aim is to quickly eliminate unlikely solutions and propose combinations of interconnected ideas to create feasible solutions. Three steps are required:

  1. Establish Decision areas
  2. Chart options
  3. Represent the decision areas and options : Option Graph

This method can be repeated with new decision areas to create a more focused idea. However this is a good stage to create the appropriate visuals to clearly illustrate the options.

Options for the design of an all weather child's push chair

A. Type of cover
  • A1. Permanent (ridged)
  • A2. Removable
B. The position of the access area
  • B1. Between both axles
  • B2. At front
  • B3. At back
C. Arrangement of handles
  • C1. Straight across bar
  • C2. Parallel bars
  • C3. Adjustable
D. Storage of unit
  • D1. Minimal flat pack
  • D2. Folding
  • D3. Ridged frame
E. Seat arrangement
  • E1. Facing Backwards
  • E2. Facing forwards

A1:D1. If the cover is permanent it is unlikely that the unit can become minimal

A1:D2. If the cover is permanent it is unlikely that the unit can be effectively folded

B2:E1. If the access is from the front it would be impractical for the seat to face backwards

B3:E2. If the access is from the back it would be impractical for the seat to face forwards

C1:B1. If a straight across bar is used it would be difficult to gain access from the back

C1:E1. Using the straight handle would imply that a backwards facing seat would be impractical

The following diagram can then be generated. It outlines the no go areas by connecting the sub factors by a line.

Attribute listing by Conánn FitzPatrick

Attribute Listing could work well with the SCAMPER method, where destruction methods are used to brainstorm. It needs an ideas generation method to compliment it.

It comprises of the breaking down of a problem into smaller and smaller pieces and then seeing what is discovered as this is done. It is related to Morphology. It is a method that seems to be best for quality improvement for complex problems.

It allows the designer to discover if all elements have been investigated.

A simple example is that of a torch re design:




Casing Plastic Metal
Switch on/off on/off low beam
Battery Power Rechargable
Bulb Glass Plastic
Weight Heavy Light

It allows focus to begin on one or two specifics before generating an ocean of ideas.

Matrix Chart by Conánn FitzPatrick

A Matrix Chart can be created to help decision making and also to clarify concepts after a brainstorming session. It is very similar to a Morphological chart, however more casual in its structure. It can also be used as a starting point for creating ideas. Several Matrices may be used together to create a plan for different design directions. The design of a chair for an office could be the initial brief. For this a general matrix could be generated:

Ideas Minimalist Standard Hi-tech Additional function
Single support X X X
Double Support X X X
Tripod X X
Four Legs X X
Levitation X X X
Suspended from above X X
Solid Base X X X X
Back support X X X X
Balance related posture X X
Wheels X X
Movement X X
Adjustment X X
Swivel X X
Automation X

Thirty four Design directions are outlined so far for each of these a Matrix chart containing Materials or Processes could be used

Options Woods Natural and manufactured Metals (Ferrous and non ferrous Alloys) Glass Polymers(Thermoplastics, Thermosets and natural)
Injection Moulding X* X
Compression Moulding X
Extrusion X X

Forming Processes Vacuum:Superplastic:Draped:Jigs

Casting X
Rotational Moulding X
Blow Moulding X
Cut and Machined X X X X

* Similar process used for Light Non ferrous alloys

This method could continue for specifics such as fixing and joining methods or surface finish.

Options Graph by Conánn FitzPatrick

The options graph illustrates the various ideas and their working combinations. The solutions. Rather than outlining the solutions, lines are used to connect the ideas that are most unlikely, due to cost, functionality, weight, surface finish etc. This is because there are normally a greater number of possible solutions than impossibilities to any problem.At a glance the designer can see the potential designs that must be presented to give the client a full range of choices.

Creative Thinking Assistance by Conánn FitzPatrick

Creative Space

Some people find it effective to have their own creative space. This may be a layout of a room in which they have music playing in the background. It could also be with respect to a certain layout of items on any work surface that they are familiar with, which helps them feel in control.

Others may feel it necessary to spend some time away from the problem, perhaps a walk by the beach or a form of fitness training can create the clarity of mind to create new ideas.

Creative Posture

The way in which an individual sits or stands can have effect on creativity. Everyone seems to have a slightly different posture when they are at the peek of their creativity. For some it is worth remembering this position, in order to recall it when faced with a mental block.

Mental Block

This is a common problem that is occurred with in the creative world. People have the tendency to be creative for about 4 hours in any given day. So it is important that when a mental block occurs that the individual has the initiative to move on to some thing new. Perhaps make an updated presentation of new ideas, maybe attempt a different problem, creativity method or alternative project, but most importantly know when to take a well timed, clean break from the problem.

Expression Form by Conánn FitzPatrick

Expressive Forms can be described as product sculpture and are closely associated with the study of styling. In order to gain a better comprehension on form a simple task has been set.

Your task is to select two descriptors which include gender and and 2 attributes from the list below. You must then through the use of form, balance and colour create a design which echoes this combination of descriptions.


  • Male
  • Female


  • Speed
  • aggressive
  • solid
  • spindly
  • passive
  • assertive
  • friendly
  • fun
  • conservative
  • tacky
  • quality
  • sophisticated
  • gentle
  • relaxed
  • flowing

You must model the shape within a space envelope of 50mm x 71mm x 100mm.

Consider the use of the following to help communicate your theme.

  • Convex, concave or flat surface
  • Lines or curves indented or extruded from the surface
  • Balance and centre of gravity
  • Motion, dynamic and stance
  • Surface texture and colour
  • Layered geometry or apertures, which change the apparent weight or balance of the object.