Creative Thinking Techniques

In our first week back after Christmas we have been exploring creative thinking techniques.  These are a variety of methods for systematically expanding the field of one’s creativity.  Some rely on breaking down the subject matter into manageable chunks, while other work through changing one’s perspective entirely when looking at the problem.  In this post I will briefly explore several.

Our first task was called ‘Forced Analogy’ in which we were split into groups of three, given cards with two words on, both of these words were entirely random and seemly entirely unconnected.  Our task we to attempt to find similarities in the two things and diagram them.


This task was interesting to me, the diagram itself was an education, however it was dubious whether what we had come up with was truly useful in itself. I feel that the technique’s utility will be more obvious when applied to a real project, something we are yet to do. In concept, at least, I see that this technique would be a useful tool when approaching a difficult task.

Picture association

Our next task was again in our groups.  Each group was assigned a specific creative thinking technique and asked to do research and compose a short presentation for the benefit of the class.  Our group was tasked with researching picture association.  Here is our combined work.  We used a shared google document to record our work which allowed the three of us to impart what we’d learnt simultaneously from our personal laptops, an excellent tool.  Here is what we found.

Thinking Techniques: Picture Association

Using a key picture to aid in identifying a word

This method allows the readers to associate the word with a visual image

If you’re truly stuck for ideas, perform an image search on your topic of choice, pick a random photo. Work backwards from the picture, developing a story around how the photo was taken.


For example, if you see a picture of a dog looking up at the night sky, ask yourself what it could be thinking. Is it a stargazing dog? Does that dog secretly long to be an astronaut? Perhaps a story about a space dog would be awesome! In fact a space dog would make a great mascot for any business so we could look at the best business mascots. So on so forth.

This may be considerably harder with stock photos, but characterise the people within the image and the more imaginative of you out there will prevail to develop some fantastic ideas through this technique.

How picture association could be used in practice (for graphics):

Pointout/highlight words that the pupils are having difficulty identifying when responding to a brief. Choose the words that can be easily visualised and portrayed in an image sense, write the word onto a piece of card and on the other side of the card draw the image that word/words describes.

  1. Place the card/cards onto the table and ask the students to read the words and turn the cards over so they can see the image that responds to the word.
  1. Remove the cards from the students.
  1. Write the words on a whiteboard at the front of the class where all students can see the word and ask them to draw the image that goes with the word:
  1. Or alternatively draw the image on the whiteboard and ask the student/students to write the correct word that identifies with the image.
  1. if correct then move on to the next word/words that they were having trouble with, if incorrect then revisit the word and again visualise the word to them by drawing the correct image yourself to give them a visual stimulate to help tem learn and understand the word/words they are having trouble with and do not understand.
  1. Revisit this later on to make sure that the students understand the words.

Picture association can be done in several ways, simply combining two random images and seeing where their attributes converge in whatever way, or using said images to create a scene in one’s imagination and through its visualization give you a story behind your design.

The techniques we studied as a class were varied and interesting. We looked at seven in total, two of which I have covered. I want to record a brief summary of the remaining ones for later reference.

The Checklist

This is essentially a list of questions which you should ask yourself before beginning your work.

Alex Osborn, who is often coined as the father of brainstorming, established around 75 creative questions to help encourage ideas in his fantastic book, Applied Imagination. It’s well worth a read if you can get hold of it, but to give you a head start, there are six universal questions that can be asked:

  • Why?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Who?
  • What?
  • How?

Ask yourself these question (in some form) every time you create content, and chances are you’ll come up with some pretty interesting answers.

Six Thinking Hats

Developed by Edward de Bono in the early 80s, this popular technique is now used by businesses all over the world. They involve putting on a selection of metaphorical hats when it comes to making a decision. Each hat represents a different direction of thinking.

  • White Hat – Facts
  • Red Hat – Emotions
  • Black Hat – Judgement, Caution
  • Yellow Hat – Logic
  • Green Hat – Creativity
  • Blue Hat – Control

Lateral Thinking

Another term coined by Dr. de Bono, this involves looking at your situation in a different way. The simplest answer is not always right. We solve most problems in a linear fashion.We take a step by step approach to finding our answers. De Bono encouraged others to look at their situation differently, to step sideways for a second if you will. This allows people to re-examine their predicament from a much more creative point of view.

Say for example you have a client who sells tractors. If you were thinking in a linear fashion, you may feel the need to create content about how great tractors are because you need to sell tractors. Thinking about things laterally though opens up a world of possibilities. Try looking at the bigger picture.Tractors are a key component to farming, farming produces food and resources. Farms also house animals. A popular children’s rhyme about farm animals is Old McDonald, you may wonder how that rhyme came to be. Why not create content around the origin of that rhyme?

The Reframing Matrix


The Reframing Matrix tool was originally created by Michael Morgan, and published in his book “Creating Workforce Innovation.” It helps you to look at a problem from different perspectives.

You use the tool by drawing a simple four-square grid and putting your problem or issue in the middle of the grid.

You then choose four different perspectives that you will use to look at your problem, and brainstorm factors related to your problem, starting with each of those perspectives.


SCAMPER helps you develop new products and services. Many of the questions it uses were created by Alex Osborn, but Bob Eberle developed the mnemonic.

SCAMPER stands for:

  • Substitute.
  • Combine.
  • Adapt.
  • Modify.
  • Put to another use.
  • Eliminate.
  • Reverse.

To use SCAMPER, you simply go down the list and ask questions regarding each element. Remember, not every idea you generate will be viable; however, you can take good ideas and explore them further.

Lotus Blossom

The Lotus Blossom technique is designed for groups and is used to provide a more in-depth look at various solutions to problems. It begins with a central core idea surrounded by eight empty boxes or circles. Using brainstorming, eight additional ideas (solutions or issues) are written in these boxes.


Attribute Listing

Attribute listing is a means of getting you to focus on as many attributes of a product or problem as possible. In breaking down the elements of a problem or object, you can look at each in turn and generate new ideas. The technique is particularly useful for considering complex products or processes in that it allows you to consider each feature or stage and look at the associated attributes in detail. You can also specify the criteria by which you want to examine an attribute, for example it could be quality, cost or speed of production. You can also look at the attributes from a range of perspectives:

Metaphorical Thinking

Metaphors are powerful shortcuts to instant and memorable understanding. They evoke vivid images and allow us to “see” things from a new perspective, and so are useful tools for creative problem solving. Use metaphorical thinking to help explain complex ideas, create impact in your presentations, and think outside the box.




Author: David Rothwell

I am a Graphic Communication student at Cardiff Metropolitan School of Art and Design If you like any of my work, have feedback (good or bad) or would like to get in touch, please do

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