Recipe: Prepare Your Mind Studio

In the book A Technique for Producing Ideas (2003), James Webb Young states that a critical stage in the design process is simply preparing your mind and that designers in particular are interested in all things; inquisitive, questioning, explorative.

The idea behind preparation is that designers make use of certain types of cognition to create new ideas. What this cognition is (precisely) is slightly harder to specify but the outcome is, as creativity experts agree, creativity is an outcome of a functioning, thinking mind (Craft, 2001; Heilman, Nadeau & Beversdorf, 2003; Sawyer, 2011)

But there are a couple of necessary conditions to this that this recipe focuses on (you might recognise these as central to Ken Robinson’s definition of creativity (2001): ‘the intentional creation of value’):

  • Value. That the ideas we are connecting have some kind of synergy, proximity or similarity, whether superficially or conceptually, and that this is valuable.
  • Intentional. That to create a new idea requires a further step that many people forget – doing something about your new thought to represent it and make it ‘real’ (more real than only a thought, anyway…)

So this recipe aims to work on these aspects of creative design cognition – preparing your mind

Serve to:
Anyone – slightly better with students with some experience of design sketchbook/diary/journal keeping


Very low

As easy as you want it be…
Low/no bandwidth and connection.


  • Asynchronous communication method (for instructions and
  • Sketchbooks, pens, pencils
  • (Optional but recommended) Virtual Design Studio to share specific outputs
  • (Optional) digital sketchbook
  • (Optional) Synchronous meeting space


Studio activity:

Run this method as a regular activity as part of a larger curriculum plan or studio. For example you might run it as a weekly (ongoing) activity with a get together – a ‘show and tell’. Or you could run a Blackboard Studio with a Weekly Preparation Session for students if they are preparing for a portfolio or journal assessment. You can also set this as an elective Free Design Time period each week to allow students to explore any personal interest or simply encourage it as a design behaviour.

Set students the challenge of Preparing your mind (see section below for ideas). The aim is:

  • To engage in new thinking that might be challenging
  • To make use of that new thinking to create new ideas
  • To get into habits of design behaviour – observation, thinking, recording, sketching, ideas creation, concept development

Make sure students keep a sketchbook, design diary, journal, anything, to make notes, sketches and doodles of things you come across. Direct students to keep some space in their sketchbooks for future ideas!

Encourage students to regularly go back through their sketchbook and add any other ideas or scribbles they think of. In particular, get them to pay attention to potentially interesting ideas and to even take a photo of these to share with the studio.If you’re running this as a studio, have students upload A sketch a day

Prepare your mind:

Ask students to Prepare by encouraging them to do something different

  1. Read something totally different:
    • Pick a random publication and read it. Then read it. You don’t necessarily have to understand or even like it – but there are hundreds of potential ideas waiting to emerge. To get you started, try Spudman, the publication for people interested in all things potato.
    • Have a look at anything at all on
    • Pick a random Wikipedia page and read it. Follow up on anything interesting (and think about editing it if it needs a touch up).
    • Go to your (online) university library and BROWSE! (It’s like using Google but a bit harder)
  2. Do something different:
    • Take up a brand new hobby or pastime – something you would not normally try (different thinking leads to new ideas…). Yoga? Karate training at home? Or a but of Body Percussion? (Do this carefully and with extra safety in mind to avoid unnecessary hospital visits).
    • Have a regular making project that only you know about (such as making the world a better place by adding stick-on eyes to things to give them a face).
    • Try a daily observation of particular things (e.g. sunsets; views from a window; – take pictures, notes or videos. Doing this extends your thinking into recording.
    • Have a go at the Daily Create, the digital storytelling MOOC, DS106
      (Groom, 2011).
  3. Learn something new:
    • Take an adult education class in something different to you. Try something from OpenLearn
    • Attend a video lecture at your institution that you wouldn’t normally attend and really try to make sense of the subject
    • Try a technique tutorial in a medium you are unfamiliar with (search YouTube for pen and ink or ‘I hate photoshop’
    • Try to limit your tools and draw like Leonardo
    • If all else fails, try Bob Ross
  4. Listen to something different:
    • Listen to a genre of music you normally wouldn’t
    • Pick a totally different radio station
    • Select a random podcast
  5. Communicate something (your already know) differently:
    • A 10-year-old child / your grandparents
    • Someone who doesn’t have much time
    • Someone who doesn’t read
    • Someone who despises creativity
    • Someone who really doesn’t understand
  6. Feel something new: look around you and interrogate a physical thing you see. Try to go beyond the superficial material and focus on your experience of the object as well as your thinking. Pick a physical object and ask:
    • Why is it like that? Who uses it and why? What does it feel like?
    • What are the properties of the object that make it the way it is?
    • How does what I think about the object affect it?
    • Now, see if you can change it…
  7. Regularly and deliberately create new ideas – For 10-15 minutes each day, be deliberately creative and generate ideas. Use specific methods to be creative and try to think which ones work best for you. (See if you spot any patterns…)

Notes and tips:
The list above is for starters only – you’ll know your student better and can tailor your activities to suit them.

The high degrees of independent working in this recipe might benefit from additional pastoral checks on activity and progress.


Craft, A. (2001) An analysis of research and literature on CREATIVITY IN EDUCATION, Prepared for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, unknown.

Heilman, K. M., Nadeau, S. E. and Beversdorf, D. O. (2003) ‘Creative Innovation : Possible Brain Mechanisms’, Neurocase, vol. 9, no. 5, pp. 369–379.

Robinson, K. (2001) Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, 1st edn, Chichester, Capstone Publishing Ltd.

Sawyer, K. (2011) ‘The Cognitive Neuroscience of Creativity : A Critical Review’, Creativity Research Journal, vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 137–154 [Online]. DOI: 10.1080/10400419.2011.571191.

Young, J. W. (2003) A Technique for Producing Ideas, New York, McGraw-Hill.

Published by Derek Jones

Derek Jones is a Senior Lecturer in Design at The Open University (UK), part of the OU Design Group, and the Convenor of the DRS Pedagogy SIG. His main research interests are: the pedagogy of design and creativity, embodied cognition in physical and virtual environments, and theories of design knowledge.

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