It’s the Northern Design Festival in Newcastle from 7 to 16 October, and this is the question of choice.

We come across creative ideas everywhere we go: they’re in music, art, architecture, advertising, design and pretty much every part of human life. In fact, the creative industries alone are supposedly worth £84.1 billion to the UK economy.

Here at Cool Blue everything we do originates from that spark of creativity, that vital idea which produces an elegant design or an effective piece of communication – it’s why we decided to sponsor Northern Design Festival and its awards in the first place.

But for the amount of ideas we come up with and implement, isn’t it strange (and a bit terrifying) that we don’t really know where ideas come from?

Northern Design Festival has given some fascinating insights from the industry’s best and brightest. We went along to see some talks and here are a few theories we came across:

“Ideas come from the effort of the mind” – This is the suggestion from Angus Hyland, partner at Pentagram, who also abides by the motto that creativity is 10% inspiration/90% perspiration. There’s no mystery here. Just think strategically about what your objectives are and what idea will achieve them.

“Ideas come from looking at one thing and seeing another” – This was a much-quoted phrase from designer and filmmaker Saul Bass. This is all about thinking laterally, and letting your associative and creative juices flow.

Ideas come from the subconscious – Instead of putting in effort, why not just stop thinking altogether? Let the sludge of thoughts in your subconscious sort it out for you, until the idea finally pops up into your waking mind (a favourite technique of stream-of-consciousness artists and writers). If you do your best thinking in the shower, then this is why.

Ideas come from a moment of random inspiration – The central concept in Jonah Lehrer’s book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, is that everyone relies on “the clichéd moment of insight” like in “stories of Archimedes in the bathtub and Isaac Newton under the apple tree”. But if you’re on a deadline, don’t wait around.

Ideas come from having problem to solve – This one has my vote. All of the best ideas solve a problem or fulfil a need, whether that’s designing something better for our homes or answering a brand’s brief in an effective way. Plus having a problem in the first place really focuses our thinking and channels our creativity. You can see this most effectively in designers like pen-maker Ajoto, which we voted Best New Designer at the Northern Design Festival launch. They refined an everyday product with precision manufacturing and a soulful ethos that speaks to their customers: “Be creative. Stay curious. Make your mark.”

I find theories like these really interesting, but maybe the answer to where ideas come from doesn’t really matter – just as long as the ideas keep coming.

If you want to see more, get out to Northern Design Festival events across Newcastle before they close on Sunday:

Tanya Garland, Managing Director of Cool Blue, presenting the award for Best New Designer

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