Design Fundamentals

Can we be more creative?



The goal of this inquiry-based activity is to get us thinking about ways that we can increase our own creativity.

Creativity means different things to different people and professions, but all these groups tend to have one thing in common—they usually want to be more creative. This can be a challenge given the daily pressures we face in our personal, educational, and work lives. Not to mention the ever-changing environmental factors we encounter each day. It's difficult to be creative when so much changes around us on a regular basis. People, locations, sounds, hunger, thirst, feelings, stresses, supplies, lighting, knowledge, support, feedback, etc. All of these things can greatly impact our ability to be creative and get things done.

Defining Creativity
So… what exactly is creativity? The general consensus is that creativity is the creation of something truly original. Now this can leave a lot of room for interpretation, so let’s look at it a little deeper. Many people have shared their opinions on what creativity is, and Dr. Leslie Wilson (2007) has complied several on her Web site.

  1. “You cannot use up creativity. The more you use the more you have.” -Maya Angelou.
  2. Creativity is marked by the ability or power to create–to bring into existence, to invest with a new form, to produce through imaginative skill, to make or bring into existence something new. -Webster’s Dictionary.
  3. “The emergence of a novel, relational product, growing out of the uniqueness of the individual.” -Carl Rodgers (psychologist an writer).
  4. “The occurrence of a composition which is both new and valuable.” -Henry Miller (writer).
  5. “The ability to make new combinations of social worth.” -John Haefele (CEO and entrepreneur).
  6. “A special class of problem solving characterized by novelty.” -Newell, Simon, & Shaw (team of logic theorists).
  7. “Any thinking process in which original patterns are formed and expressed.” -H. H. Fox (scientist).
    “Fluency, flexibility, originality, and sometimes elaboration.” -E. Paul Torrance (educator, academic, creativity investigator).
  8. “Creativity is the process of bringing something new into being.” -Rollo May (writer, philosopher).
  9. “A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.” -Frank Capra (film director)
  10. “Creative thinking involves imagining familiar things in a new light, digging below the surface to find previously undetected patterns, and finding connections among unrelated phenomena.” -Roger von Oech.
  11. “... the ability to use different modes of thought to generate new and dynamic ideas and solutions.” -Carnevale, Gainer, Meltzer.
  12. The National Curriculum in Action Web site (2007), which outlines The National Education Curriculum for England, defines creativity as a set of four “characteristics of creativity.”
    • Imagination. The creative process should always involve thinking or behaving imaginatively.
    • The imaginative activity must be applied to a purpose, or to achieving an objective.
    • The creative and imaginative process must generate something original.
    • The creative outcome must be of value in relation to the objective or goal.

As mentioned before, most of these definitions share the view that something new, innovative, original, unique, and novel is created. Keep this definition in mind as you explore and develop your own creativity. One caveat: many believe that creativity should also be the creation of something of value to society and life in general. For example, curing an illness or improving a process to shelter and feed the needy is a creative product of value. However, conceiving a new and innovative way to deceive, oppress or harm people is not a creative endeavor that will benefit mankind. Let your conscience and ethics be your guide.

Inquiry Question 1
So… Can we be more creative?

Read opinion 1 below and discuss with your group your findings and opinions. Use the evidence below to defend your position. Be prepared to share your conclusion(s) with the class.

Maybe not… Creativity may be reserved for the gifted few
Dr. Leslie Wilson (2007), suggests that higher level creative thinking may be unattainable for some people. Wilson outlines five progressive levels of creative ability. She suggests that the first three levels can be reached by anyone who has enough determination and motivation to reach them. The first three levels can also be attained with proper training and education. The fourth and fifth levels, however, may be reserved for those who are naturally gifted with creative talents. The five levels of creativity from Wilson are as follows:

  1. Primitive and intuitive expression: This first level of creativity incorporates the primitive and intuitive expression found in children and in adults who have not been trained in art. There is an innocent quality to primitive art, but also directness and sensitivity. The naive artist creates for the joy of expression.
  2. Academic and technical level: The second level of creativity is the academic and technical level. At this level the artist learns skills and techniques, developing a proficiency that allows creative expression in myriad ways. The academic artist adds power to expression through the mastery of craft.
  3. Inventive level: Many artists experiment with their craft, exploring different ways of using familiar tools and mediums. This heralds the level of invention. Breaking rules is the order of the day, challenging the boundaries of academic tradition, becoming increasingly adventurous and experimental. Inventors use academic tradition and skills as a stepping-stone into new frontiers.
  4. Innovative level: At the level of innovation the artist, writer, musician, inventor, thinker is more original. Materials and methods that are out of the ordinary are introduced. Now the creator breaks the boundaries. The academic or inspirational foundation remains as a substructure of unconscious thought guiding these creative efforts.
  5. Genius level: The fifth level of creativity is characterized as genius. There are individuals whose ideas and accomplishments in art and science defy explanation. Genius is arguably the one level that is unexplainable and perhaps unattainable for most of us, something that an individual is born with.


Now read opinion 2 below and discuss with your group your findings and opinions. How does this new information change your point of view?
Use the evidence below to defend your position. Be prepared to share your conclusion(s) with the class.


On second thought… Maybe we can be more

Is creativity simply a choice? Let's look at the "investment theory of creativity."

We can develop creativity in students, according to Robert Sternberg (2006) a creative researcher and professor at Tufts University. Sternberg and his colleagues are creative researchers building upon and advancing the work of Paul Torrance and J. P. Guilford. Torrance and Guilford are American pioneers of the study and testing of creativity.

Professor Sternberg suggests that creativity is not isolated to a gifted few. Instead, he suggests that creativity is a choice that anyone can make. Sternberg’s investment theory of creativity states that anyone can be creative if they are willing to invest the necessary time and effort into the creative process. This time and effort requires that we develop (invest in) six areas needed to realize creativity.

  1. Intellectual skills. We must see problems in new ways, differentiate between good and bad ideas, and have the skills to persuade others to follow and value our new ideas.
  2. Knowledge. We must invest enough research in our field in order to know where it has been, where it is currently, and where it could go. We must also be aware that too much knowledge can hinder our ability to think in new ways about an “old” subject.
  3. Thinking Styles. The best thinking style to encourage creativity is a style that favors thinking about things and deciding to think in new ways.
  4. Personality. There are several important personality traits linked to creativity including; A willingness to overcome obstacles; defy the crowd; take sensible risks; a tolerance toward ambiguity; and believing in one’s self.
  5. Motivation. One must be truly interested in the creative task at hand in order to be creative. One must either love their work (and experience intrinsic motivation), or, they must choose to be motivated toward reaching their creative goal.
  6. Environment. One must have a supporting and rewarding environment that they can be creative in. Without it, creativity may never be encouraged to show itself.

When these six factors align, creativity is encouraged and expressed. Sternberg reiterates though, that choice is still a large factor that happens on multiple layers. Not only must one decide to invest in all six areas, but one must also decide to use these investments toward doing something creative.


So… which side are you on? The gifted few? Or, the investment theory? Is there another side?
Let's discuss as a class your positions and conclusions.

Graphic designers and artists should realize the value of the creative process and embrace it and use it. There is value in investing in the six areas mentioned above, especially when the creative well runeth dry and we have to be creative for our jobs and clients. Group work and sharing creativity is an excellent way to build from the brain power of others. Art directors, creative directors, managers and teachers can also lead by example. They should help by offering an environment that encourages creativity and stimulates sharing and interaction. A little pressure never hurt either. Research shows us that some level of pressure to get a task done increases our creativity and our ability to stay focused on a task. Too little pressure, or too much pressure, had been shown to have negative affects on creativity and problem solving.

While Wilson’s opinions do contrast Sternberg’s, there are some similarities. The investment theory can be found in the five levels of creativity—especially in the first three. The first three steps show that with the proper investment in practice and formal education, anyone can be creative and create something original to them (meeting the generally accepted definition of creativity). The investment theory can also be found in levels four and five. Some people, even though they may exhibit some degree of creative genius, still need to be shown how to focus and direct their gift. Levels four and five can be present, but still may need the academic substructure and personal motivation to realize them and bring them out in valuable, worthy creative endeavors.

Inquiry Question 2
How can we be more creative?

No matter which side you're on with the first question, I think we agree that we all can be more creative. Whether you're trying to move up the three steps, or invest in your own creativity, you'll want to have some real-life exercises that you can use. Well, here they are…

The articles below are full of helpful ideas for you to use to be more creative.

Your In-class assignment:
Read though them and create a list of three creativity-boosting exercises that you will test this semester. We will really use these, so choose three that you can try in your life.

  • 5 Surprising Techniques to Increase Your Creativity
    (full article)
  • An Easy Way to Increase Creativity
    (full article)
  • 7 Ways to Boost Your Creativity
    99U by Behance
    (full article)
  • 7 Ways to Increase Your Creativity
    (full article)
  • How To Boost Your Creativity
    (full article)

Choose 3 creative-boosting exercises

Each of the three exercises you do this semester will compare three different areas that might make you more creative (or productive). Here are a few examples:

  1. Doing your sketches in three different environments (home, park bench, or coffee shop)
  2. Taking a walk before, during, or after your homework
  3. Rewarding yourself with chocolate before, during, or after your homework
  4. Doing your homework while listeing to three different types of music
  5. Getting feedback on your design work from friends and family face-to-face, through email, or posting it to social media
  6. Working on your design projects in the morning, afternoon, or evening

These are just a few ideas for you to choose from. Find something that would really help you grow and that fits into your life.

Share your results

Implement these into your everyday life. We'll have three class periods this semester when we check in and you report to class how each exercise is working for you.

Three times this semester we'll meet in class and you'll report to the group:

  • What was your creativity-boosting exercise? Explain how/where you used it.
  • Has the exercise increased or decreased your creativity?
  • What evidence do you have that your creativity was affected?
  • What would you change about this exercise going forward?


Journal your progress as often as you can so you have something to report. Simply write down a few short sentences each week as you use your new exercise. It'll be interesting to track your progress.

Article References