The importance of intuition in the design process
Einstein famously said, “Intuition does not come to an unprepared mind” – a statement which rings particularly true in the world of design. Essentially, intuition is the ability to understand something instinctively without the need for conscious reasoning. In the context of design, this presents as a non-rational pull prompting us to follow a particular path, explore a seemingly-incongruous idea, or form a surprising conclusion.
It could be said that intuition is the basis of art, rather than technique. Whilst all designers draw on both, I believe the balance naturally tilts toward intuition as we gain experience – as the mind becomes, like Einstein said, more prepared. Of course, good design relies on good process – so intuition (despite its inherent whimsy) must be handled practically and factored into a designer’s working process.
Our intuition is always engaged in response to our client’s idea, vision, or objective.
My own process is notoriously hands-on. Whereas once upon a time as a junior designer, I would’ve spent hours at a computer pushing pixels around (per instruction) – today, I shut the computer down, get my hands dirty, and encourage our team to do the same. This might mean getting some paint brushes out, leaving the studio and collecting elements from nature, exploring art from centuries past, or creating an expansive word map. Whilst this is a decidedly creative process, it’s important to note that it is never just creativity for creativity’s sake. Our intuition is always engaged in response to our client’s idea, vision, or objective. This process of listening, extracting, and understanding is where the real magic begins. Without this preparation, there is no goal to be met, no challenge to be solved – our intuition would essentially be rudderless, asking ‘What is it you want me to do?’
With a clear understanding of the objective at hand, our intuition can be fully engaged. Essentially, we must hand over the reins, trust our experience, and be led willingly wherever intuition chooses to take us. Sometimes details of the journey are clearly evident in the resulting design outcome – textures from leaves, for example, or Chinese iconography. Often though, it is less literal. Even if our intuitive exploration ends in what seems to be a dead end, it will always produce a small spark, a reference point, a fork in the road, that guides us to surprisingly useful places.
Our reward for relinquishing control is unpredictable out-of-the-box thinking that delivers true differentiation.
Such is the value of intuition. Our reward for relinquishing control is unpredictable out-of-the-box thinking that delivers true differentiation. By asking intuition to act on the original idea, we arrive at an unexpected but entirely meaningful conclusion. Rather than a trendy design outcome that ticks the boxes from a technique perspective but is entirely hollow conceptually, we end up with intuitive design which tells a story on the page. This approach delivers a thoroughly-considered, strategic resolution to the original challenge, making the process of presenting work to clients far easier and more rewarding. Often, a single, well-considered concept – informed by hours of intuitive exploration, but nailing the brief – delivers the greatest return on investment.
One thing is certain: following your intuition is never wasted time.
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