It is very common to hear design practitioners, advertising eggheads, and artsy-fartsy commentators telling us to think out of the box in their attempt to coax us into coming up with ideas that are extraordinary. They seem to be under the impression that hearing this can nudge us in the right mental direction. I have this nagging suspicion, however, that people mouth “You oughta think out of the box, fella!” for the following reasons:

  1. To sound cool and hip.
  2. To remind people you need to hire them for being so.
  3. To make you open up unnecessarily.

On many occasions, I’ve proven all of the above to be true. And there is no need to apologize.  In fact, thinking out of the box is far better than being pedestrian or dated when it comes to ideas. Clearly, technically-inclined people (or those working alongside such people) need to be aware that professionals in creative design don’t think the same way they do. Suffice to say that, in my experience with design-related encounters in the past, the creative process designers go through from ideation to execution, no matter how serious, does not always get the response they have in mind.


We haven’t even touched on the visual images designers play with to illustrate the ideas bubbling inside their heads. The visual possibilities that accompany the design making process make creative people aware of the many mutations their ideas undergo. There is no reliable scientific study available to prove or disprove how this is related to creative processes or pursuits. But unconscious visualization is a well-known reality among art and design practitioners even among non-art inclined individuals!  Elementary psychology offers a lame explanation for this: it’s called autosuggestion.

However, design gurus boldly disagree with it and regard the mental imagery invoked in this process as as imperfect ideas that are still undergoing thought focus. Those form as the creator’s imagination finds creative paths never before taken by himself or by any of his colleagues. The idea that only artistically inclined people have this capability is pure vanity. Ordinary folks, too, can imagine how they want things to look like: say, a room in the house, a car, or a lover.

Vanity aside, the challenge is to come up with something visually unconventional yet cleverly familiar to provoke response from the spectator, one that disrupts accepted imagery usually associated with certain ideas by replacing them with a totally unexpected visual reinterpretation.


Once an idea becomes crystal clear and its execution has made its point clear in visual terms, another creative process takes over. We begin to see how each part of the idea behaves on its own. Witness how a design team goes about presenting the big idea cut into small bits and pieces before putting it back together to convey a cohesive whole. The process goes as follows:

  1. Designer accesses all layout thumbnails from either Dropbox or Box apps on his tablet. Knows his RingCentral virtual PBX well enough to even keep back up ready on his iPhone.
  2. Makes a slideshow of his design series approach in perfectly correlated message resonance between visual and non-visual elements.
  3. Concludes his presentation by showing you the situational “box” your brand is currently trapped in — and how everything is bound to change for the better now that that box has been disposed of.

With this sort of process, thinking outside of the box becomes a habit worth keeping and not an empty suggestion.