The Origin of Ideas

When I started out five years ago, self-taught, hacking my way into User Experience Design, I somewhat arrogantly thought I was special.

That each bright speak, each new idea, each insight came from my own hidden well of creativity & brilliance.

That the metaphorical lightbulb going off in my head represented the process of my creativity: from nothing to fully formed idea in the snap of my fingers.

Yet the more experienced I have become, the more I design, the more I observe in other designers, the further from reality this viewpoint seems.

 The Power Of Discourse

We think of ideas as our own, yet they are not.

Ideas are a manifestation of our thoughts, actions & beliefs.

In turn, these thoughts, actions & beliefs are shaped by experience. From what we absorb around us. From what we are influenced by.

The cultural context we find ourselves in — from TV, film, government, conversations, artwork, books, some advert we walked past earlier — all of these things influence us. (Whether entirely or to some extent is a separate philosophical argument.)

Each theme, or ‘discourse’, as philospher Michal Foucault calls them, forms our thoughts, actions & beliefs.

If we accept that these discourses influence our thoughts in their entirety, ideas, therefore, cannot be considered our own in the sense that we come up with them in isolation. They are not the result of individual agency, but of these discourses influencing us.

An example: Let’s say you believe in climate change. When did that belief form? Was it a moment of individual enlightenment? Was it from reading one single book when you were younger? Or was that belief, in fact, formed over years? By a few books, a few articles, a documentary you watched, a discussion you heard over the dinner table, of images of Hurricane Katrina?

So What?

It may not come as a surprise to many that culture influences your ideas, and your ideas influence your designs.

Yet merely acknowledging this fact & dwelling upon it can improve you as a designer.

Because rather than frustrating yourself by trying to force out the next big idea, instead you can focus on your influences.

What are the main influences on your life? Or on your design work?

Could you seek out better influences? Ones that will lift your thinking & your work to a higher level?

Which influences could you cut loose?

Is browsing Dribbble all day the answer? Or is it, instead, taking a walk around your neighbourhood?

We all have an ego. One that makes us think we are special, that we came up with that idea by ourselves. With no external help.

But the simple acknowledgement that this is not the case will make you more open to be inspired by external influences. Learning how to leverage that to inform your ideas, and therefore your actions, will help you take your design work to the next level.

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Henry Latham

Henry Latham

Founder, Prod MBA

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