How to generate infinite design ideas?

by Mary Vallverdu Sabia June 08, 2021

How to generate infinite design ideas?

How to generate infinite design ideas?


Nothing like being faced with a blank sheet of paper. Nothing like having to produce ideas, design options, answers to problems or variations of elements for a collection. Is there a method that helps us to imagine and think faster, think laterally and produce more results


Yes, there is, actually there are many techniques to develop creativity and today I want to share with you one of my favourite tools to produce ideas. Here we go!...

Design is game, game is practice


I remember being 9 years old and drawing, like every afternoon, finishing the drawing and looking at the dress I had just painted and thinking... if instead of the straight skirt I made a cut, this dress would look different. 

I drew it again. 

I looked at the new dress and thought.... 

if instead of a V-cut the neckline was straight, this dress would be different... 

and so I drew more than 30 variations of the original dress. 


I really enjoyed doing this, so I took all the drawings of dresses I had in my drawing folder and made between 30 and 40 variations of each one. 

To me they were just drawings, but the one who was very surprised when I showed them to her was my mother. She showed my drawing folder to every person who came to visit. 


12 years later my fashion design teacher at university was telling us "I want 40 designs for this collection by tomorrow". My classmates were terrified, it seemed like an impossible task but I wasn't worried, I felt that I was prepared (without knowing it) for that moment.


When I was 9 years old I was designing lines and series of collections without even knowing what they were, I just did it by instinct, because I thought it was fun



The Roukes list


This unconscious exercise starts from some fixed premises of shapes, colours and general concepts that should be followed and from these generate ideas and many solutions for the same problem, this exercise made great sense when once I finished my degree and already working as a designer I found something called “the Roukes list”. 


In this list N. Roukes (1988- Design Synectics: Stimulating Creativity in Design. Massachusetts, USA, Davis Publications Inc). suggests a series of verbs that propose actions to change the same concept in order to produce different results.


We, as creatives and designers, already perform some of these actions unconsciously when working on a concept, but many of the actions on this list are sometimes not taken into account and it is a great help to have it at hand for those afternoons or evenings when the muse arrives late to meet us.


The verbs that Roukes proposes in his list are:



Simplifying, omitting, moving certain parts or elements. Taking something out of context, compressing it, or making it smaller. Think: What can be eliminated, reduced? Which rule can you break? How can you simplify, abstract, stylize, or abbreviate?


Repeat a shape, color, image, or idea. Reiterating, duplicating somehow. Think: How can I control the factors of appearance, repercussion, sequence, and progression?


Putting things together. Connecting, uniting, mixing. Combining ideas, materials, and techniques. Think: What kind of connections can be made with different modes, frames of reference, and other disciplines?


Moving the topic to a new situation, environment, or context. Adapting, placing again. Taking the topic out of its natural environment. Transferring it to a different social, political, or geographic context. Looking at it from a different point of view.


Extending, expanding, advancing, or annexing. Magnifying. Think: What else can I add to the idea, image, object, or material?


If the topic is inorganic or not animated, thinking about if it had human qualities. Jumping into the topic yourself.


Making the topic bigger or smaller. Changing the proportion, size, dimensions, or graduated series.


Superimposing similar ideas or images, overlapping. Superimposing different elements from different perspectives or periods of time. Combining sensory perceptions (color, sound...). Think synchronously: Which elements or images from different frames of reference can be combined into one simple one?


Mobilizing visual and psychological tensions. Applying repetition, serialization, or narration. Giving life to not animated topics.


Changing or replacing. Think: What other idea, image, material, or ingredients can be substituted for all or part of the topic? Which supplemental or alternative plan can be employed?


Creating contrast and strength. Expressing clearly. Not leaving anything halfway done.


Separating, leaving apart. Using only one part of the topic. Think: Which element can I get rid of or focus on?


Separating, dividing, splitting, dissecting. Think: Which resources can you use to divide it into smaller elements or elements that seem discontinuous?


Twisting or turning the topic, taking it out of its true form, proportion, or meaning. Think: Can it be made longer, thinner, thicker? Can it be burned, broken, submitted to “torture”?


Camouflaging, tricking, covering. Using species that mimic things as an example. Think about subliminal images. How can you create a latent image that subconsciously communicates the desired idea?


Opposing the function of the original topic. Negating, thinking the opposite. 


This is essentially the process of recognizing similarities between different things. Analogies are psychological tools that everyone employs on a mostly conscious level. For example, a Calder mobile can be compared to a tree: branches, leaves, and movement. Comparing, looking for similarities in things that are different. Making comparisons of the topic with elements from different disciplines. Think: What can I compare my topic to? Which logical or illogical associations can be made?


Ridiculing, imitating, caricaturing. Having fun with the topic. Transforming it into a joke. Making the humorous side come out. Thinking about funny references.

MIXING (hybridizing)

Creative thought is a mix of “mental hybridization” in that the ideas produced mix different topics. Thinking: What would I get if I crossed a ___ with a ___? Transferring hybridization mechanisms to the use of color, shape, and structure. Crossing organic and inorganic elements such as ideas and perceptions.


Leading astray, falsifying, lying. Although telling lies is not considered socially appropriate or acceptable, it's the material that myths and legends are built on.


A visual symbol is a resource that occupies the space of something different than what it really is. For example, a cross represents a medical health service. Public symbols are clichés that we all know. Private symbols have a special meaning only for their creators. Think: How can I impregnate the topic with symbolic qualities?


Transforming, converting, transmuting. Putting the topic through a process of change (an object changing color) or a more radical change in that the topic transforms its configuration.


Building a myth around a topic. In the 60s, pop artists converted Coca-Cola, movie stars,

mass-media images, and other frivolous objects into visual icons of the art of the 20th century.


Fantasizing about the topic. Using it like something unreal, absurd, monstrous, or scandalous. Breaking down mental and sensory barriers. Think: How can I expand my imagination? What would it be like if...? (What would it be like if cars were made of stone? or What would happen if night and day happened simultaneously?)


I made myself a poster that I printed on giclee paper and hung in my studio to fill me with inspiration when it comes to improving and looking for options for a concept. You can download the poster in print quality at this link.

How to generate ideas blog post by Vallverdu-design. Design process. Graphic resources for fashion designers and fashion illustrators 

These verbs can be applied both to graphic design and to the artistic process of a pictorial work as well as to fashion and accessory design.


The list in action

The idea is to take the concept as for example: we have to design a pink school bag for a 10-year-old girl. 

Then we take the list and start asking ourselves: how can we make the design simpler, what elements can we subtract, what elements can we repeat, can I move that pocket, how can I modify the proportion of the different parts to give a more fun effect, etc. etc. 


Now, whether the changes make sense and whether they actually "improve" the design will depend on the designer's taste and the style of the brand for which you are designing.


I recommend that you also print out the list and keep it handy because by using it several times you will notice how the verbs or actions of change are engraved in your brain and are transformed into creative thinking tools that you will always use in your future work.


In these images I show you an example of this exercise that I love to do to produce many results, or as I see it, many answers to the same problem. 

How to generate ideas blog post by Vallverdu-design. Design process. Graphic resources for fashion designers and fashion illustrators 

Starting from the same premises, in this case: I designed 80 flat bags, in 1 hour and a half with the premises that everything had to be: flat bags, with rectangular and circular shapes and black and red colour.

How to generate ideas blog post by Vallverdu-design. Design process. Graphic resources for fashion designers and fashion illustrators

You can also see the video of the process here:



How to reach infinity?


Now before we finish, the title of this blog post is called "How to generate infinite design ideas?" and Roukes' list has 25 main actions plus 4 or 5 within each one, so.... 

How can you generate infinite ideas with this method


What if instead of taking a single action such as "Subtract some design element, you add "REPEAT another element". Combining all the actions in the list with each other and multiplying with the design elements we can play with, the possibilities become infinite. What if we combine them 3 by 3?  What if you come up with more actions that are not in the list? 


I hope you find this resource very useful when working on a concept. Do you have any other technique to generate ideas? How do you activate your imagination? I would love to know your opinion, write me in the comments. 



*Some of these URL's contain affiliate links which means if you make a purchase I may receive a small commission. It supports me as a creator and doesn't cost anything extra for you :) Thank you for supporting me!





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Mary Vallverdu Sabia
Mary Vallverdu Sabia


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