Letting go of your prejudices (while staying inside that thinking box)

by Miia Lemola & Ekaterina Nikitina

Design Thinking workshop and concomitant readings have given us a lot of inspiration. However, it has also activated inner critics in us. We would like to share our thoughts about prejudices and limitations in creative thinking.

Creativity – a gift or a skill?  

In the workshop, we were thrown to the deep end to practice Design Thinking instead of analysing the term which might have confused us. For example, in the article “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking” (Buchanan, R. 1996) the focus is heavily on the philosophical question on what Design Thinking is. While the core idea of Design Thinking being about experimenting and understanding human experience is in the article, it does not bring it to concrete level. Buchanan’s work is also criticized by Lucy Kimbell (2011) for his generalisation of designers’ role in the world rather than studying individual designers’ approaches.

By throwing us in the deep end in the beginning we were forced to train what is the beginning of all thinking – ideas and creativity. We learned that creativity is not something a person has or not, but it is more like a muscle you can train. Many of us suffer from of our insecurities and prejudices such as “I’m not a creative person” and “I can’t come up with any ideas”. In the Social Distancing in Educational Institutions assignment we learned to create new ideas by making unlikely combinations of topics identified in mind maps. 

Letting go of your insecurities and prejudices help you in the process of becoming creative and designing new services. This happened also to highly introverted, technical and rule-oriented people such as Akshay Kotheri and Ankit Gupta who by attending a Design Thinking workshops in Stanford University eventually invented an app that was praised by Steve Jobs (Kelley, T. & Kelley, D. 2015).

Picture 1. Tschimmel, K. 2020. Workshop 4.-5.9.2020. 

What about the box?  

As an encouragement for training our creativity we often hear “Think outside of the box!”. Although, how far outside of the box are we expected to think? Do constrains make us more creative or do they block our ability for ideation?

We as designers are always limited, among other aspects, by the culture of the society. In the article “Creativity, Design and Design Thinking a ménage à trois” (2020) Katja suggested that the result of creativity is “changing a symbolic domain of culture”. If a product is too revolutionary, it might not be acknowledged as valuable by the community. It happened before to famous painters, writers, musicians, and scientists. 

The society constraints were also (accidentally) demonstrated in the class during Perception exercise (Picture 2). The task had only one “correct” answer, although fellow students suggested three other decent options. In this case the range of correct solutions was limited by the task creator. 

Picture 2. Tschimmel, K. 2020. Workshop 4.-5.9.2020. Edited by Ekaterina Nikitina 

Although limitations might be a brake in creating process, designers could also benefit from them. 

Famous Russian blogger and designer Artemiy Lebedev suggested that limitations, are “a real creative opportunity”. A designer receiving a clear assignment would do a good job, while a designer asked to do “the best something” would produce nothing (Lebedev, A. 2012.). Also, Kelley (2015) mentions that a few boundaries can not only spur more creativity but might also help to (re)frame the challenges. We felt this in class when workshop tasks had time limits. 

Combining the best of both worlds 

All in all, creativity is a doing process. Although studying history and a variety of theories of Design Thinking is vital, we found practicing creativity more efficient for understanding the ideas behind the subject. We also agreed that setting constraints – staying inside the thinking box – is a working solution for embracing creativity. However, when all the participants are in creative process with open heart and mind, not only innovative ideas are welcomed more likely by the community, but we grow as designers and realize that we can create. 

Picture 3. Source: Unsplash 

Miia Lemola & Ekaterina Nikitina. Course A9299-3004 Design Thinking. Laurea 2020

Ideas stolen from: 

Lebedev. A. 2012. The virtue of limitations
Buchanan, R. 1996. Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. 
Kelley, T. & Kelley, D. 2015: Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All 
Kimbell, L. 2011. Rethinking Design Thinking: Part I
Tschimmel, K. 2020. Lectures in Laurea University of Applied Sciences, 4.-5.9.2020 
Tschimmel, K. 2020. Creativity, Design and Design Thinking a ménage à trois. 

6 thoughts on “Letting go of your prejudices (while staying inside that thinking box)

  1. I think it’s intriguing reflecting what creativity is. Certainly some people consider themselves more creative than others, but is this really true?

    During the workshop we learned that there are many ways to innovate. Not only should we be able to produce many ideas, but also different – out of the box ideas that break social norms. Therefore it’s crucial that we work in multidisciplinary teams to find potential solutions to existing problems in society.

    By staying curious, human-centric and with a strive to understand customer emotions, we already get quite far. It does require training and the right tools, but not being creative is a bad excuse.


  2. As you pointed out in your post, creativity is a doing process and it is that type of activity you can train like a muscle. In addition, there is also the social aspect into doing – e.g. when you are together with a group of people who don’t know each other, the “doing” has some magic powers for group dynamics.

    The more or less formal introduction rounds usually don’t spark that much of a tickle in the creative muscle, compared to what can we experience when we focus on physically doing something together, such as start building mind maps or prototypes. Or just have a dialogue around a topic, that is doing together too. As there is so much creativity in each individual, the creativity just multiplies when we work – and do – together!

    Br, Taika

  3. I like your observations on the prejudices and limitations of creative thinking, Miia and Ekaterina.
    I strongly agree with the idea that creativity is not something a person has or doesn’t but rather something one can nurture by practicing and using some specific tools and exercises in order to foster the creative thinking.

    Also there are many other things that can influence creativity such as the personal and professional experiences, access to knowledge, climate, society, family, state of mind, etc. I believe being aware of this information is also important as there can be times when your creative capabilities may be limited by certain factors that can be overcome.

    Elena Howlader

  4. Ekaterina and Miia, thank you for the interesting blog, it was exciting reading!

    It was nicely written about your experiences and feelings during our contact session and how you link them to the course reading materials (or otherwise). One of the most important insights I got from Katja’s workshop was the idea that creativity is a skill we can train and develop, and I like the way you describe the process of this training: we were literally thrown in the deep in the beginning. 🙂 When doing our practicing exercises, I was thinking about the same problem: how far outside of the box we were expected to think? Thank you for the illustration of the optional solution for the crosses task, it was accurately my method, but I marked as “wrong”.

    I was also surprised to find a mention of Lebedev in your text. He is a significant person and I used to follow his blog or website several years ago, but in course of time forget about his existence. I find the anecdote about the design assignment with no limits is really relevant to the discussion.

  5. I appreciated the advanced language and academic approach with multiple references to scientific articles. The idea that limitations in the creative process produce superior results resonated with my personal experience. Indeed, clear tasks produce more precise, and often valuable, outcomes, however, how can one create something truly innovative when too many boundaries are in place? As the statement referred to A.Einstein goes: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”. This fragile balance is something I hope we will be looking for along the SID way together. Thank you for a thought-provoking post.

  6. Hi Ekaterina and Miia,

    Thanks for your insightful observations! You hitted the nail on the head with your description of our first workhops – I totally felt like we were thrown to the deep end to practice Design Thinking 😀 But it was also a lot of fun and really eye-opening.

    The individual excercises for learning to think outside the box were really a wake up call to notice how often we actually can limit ourselves not to think creativelly. But as you said, I think it’s really releaving to see creativity as something you can learn, not as something you are born with.

    You sum up wonderfully in your last sentence that all you really need is an open heart and mind to create something innovative and to grow as designer.


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