Where do creative ideas come from?

‘All designers probably say the same thing, that inspiration is everywhere and in everything. We study the work of great mathematician and designer, Buckminster Fuller and others like him – it leads to new ideas.’ So says lighting designer Ian Cameron.
The source of ideas can be fairly general. For example, the Inspiration for the architect Michael Graves’s range of Alessi homewares was the components of ships – indentations on the teapot, sugar bowl and spoon are like ship’s rivets; the parts of Alessi’s famous bird-whistle kettle are coloured blue for cold (the insulated handle) and red for hot (the bird whistle); a large wing nut-shaped handle is the winder of the clockwork kitchen timer; and so on.
Or the inspiration can be more specific. For example, architects David Marks and Julia Barfield, designers of the London Eye, had previously won an engineering competition in 1989 to design a Bridge of the Future. Their proposal was for a single span across the Grand Canyon, designed to be constructed from one side only, based on the structural principle of a dinosaur spine. The design was inspired by seeing dinosaur skeletons on the couple’s visit to the Natural History Museum in London.
Almost all highly creative people say that they have experience or knowledge of, or are interested in, many different things and it’s often the combination of ideas, technologies, etc. from the different fields that provide the new ideas. For example, eco-architect and interior designer Oliver Heath says ‘we do a lot of research into images, looking at what’s going on around us, taking inspiration from what’s going on in the world, reading architects magazines and homes journals, searching on the internet. I go to exhibitions. I go to markets quite a lot where I see a lot of trends coming back, but seeing things coming back but in a different way, or in a different way of putting things together. I’m always looking out for things, or different ways that things go together.
An excellent (non-technical) example of the various sources of ideas comes from those that inspired the Beatles to create the songs and music on their pioneering album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Members of the band were interested in a very wide range of musical styles, techniques and ideas from Stockhausen and John Cage to J.S. Bach and these sources led to specific compositions on the album, such as George Harrison’s classical Indian-music influenced ‘Within You and Without You’.
Thomas Edison’s old adage that ‘Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration’ also holds true. Almost every highly creative innovation, which goes beyond an initial idea or inspiration, involves long periods of hard work, changes in direction and often failure and frustration. Modelling and experimentation, usually working with other people, are crucial elements in translating ideas into novel and worthwhile innovations.

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