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The thoughts, musings, and recent blog posts on design thinking and communications, from the team at NDO*Creative.

Confessions From Stefan Sagmeïster On Creative Block

Aside from being an eclectic designer, co-founder of Sagmeister & Walsh, and an inspiration to any young creative person, Stefan Sagmeister's philosophies are must haves for anyone that suffers from a creative block in their profession or passion.


I believe great design is the solution to many of the day-to-day problems that we face; design in the way we live our lives, design from the chairs we use to the ways we engage with others, and most of all, design meant to improve the quality of life for others.


Whether it's photography, writing, illustration, or design, my realization within the past few years has been this: they all began with a utilitarian function in mind. Whether it was for documentation, geographical purposes, or instructions, all of these mediums initially existed to serve a purpose aside from art.

I believe that clear design and design thinking are the solutions many of us need to solve our problems–individually and as a collective species.

Stefan Sagmeister, one of my biggest inspirations as a designer, thinks so too.

My learnings on divergent thinking and design stemmed from a wonderful visit to "The Happy Show" that Stefan did at the Vancouver Art Gallery back in 2015, and since then I've learned a tremendous amount about design and its impact on humanity throughout history.

 Vancouver Art Gallery, 2015.

Vancouver Art Gallery, 2015.

One of the more fascinating things about Stefan, however, is that every 7 years he completely shuts down his bustling design firm headquartered in New York City to go on sabbatical for a year.

That's right - one whole year. Could you imagine shutting down everything in your life and taking off somewhere for a year to hit the reset button? *Currently Sagmeister is on sabbatical in Tokyo, and previously he went to Bali, which ultimately sparked the conception of The Happy Exhibit (he was when this article was initially written).

In addition to taking a much-needed sabbatical every 7 years, I've picked up some interesting methods that Stefan has when it comes to chopping creative block in half and consistently being able to generate ideas out of thin air through years of study.

And guess what? I'd love to share the one method with you that completely eradicated creative block for myself as a writer, photographer, and marketer – and will change the way you fight any creative block that you have while generating ideas.

Points of Departure - Edward DeBono

According to Sagmeister, a large part of overcoming creative block for stems from a method that Maltese philosopher Edward DeBono pioneered, which he describes as "Points of Departure," meaning that Sagmeister will take a completely random object as a point of departure for a new idea.

For example, if Sagmeister had to design a pen, instead of looking at all the other pens in terms of form and function, or studying his target demographic, Sagmeister looks around the room and picks a random object – say, bedspreads – and uses it as a point of departure to think about how pen and bedspread are related.

Are hotel bedspreads sticky? Do they contain bacteria? Do bedspreads keep you warm? Would it be possible to design a thermo-sensitive pen that changes colours when you touch it?

These ideas and questions all stemmed from bedspreads - a random object of Sagmeister's choosing; the reason DeBono's theory works is because it forces the brain to begin anew and at different points of departure for generating ideas.

The "points of departure" method thrives from randomness and is often referred to as divergent or lateral thinking, promulgated by DeBono in 1967.

So, how does this relate to you? The next time you have a concept or idea you're struggling with and face the creator's block that many of us do – stop, breathe, and pick a random object within your surroundings to determine how it relates to your problem at hand.

Who knows, the randomness of it all might help you inadvertently create your best idea yet. Use this method the next time you're stuck, and let me know how it works out for you in the comments below! Or how it didn't work out – either way, let's use design thinking to do what it was intended to for everyone: solve problems.


Written April 02, 2017 initially as a LinkedIn article; I dug this up after reviewing some of my old work and realized how relevant this was to me, even to this day. ㊙️