4 Surprising Ways to Boost Design Creativity


Designers are a key asset to any paperboard packaging manufacturer. Although some customers may approach their manufacturer with a complete design, others look to the manufacturer’s designers for unique and ingenious packaging solutions. Even if the customer does have their own design, the manufacturer’s designers may have to get involved if it’s not compatible with available converting technology.

With customers’ packaging in their hands, it is crucial that the design team be a wellspring of creative ideas and unique concepts. Fortunately, creativity isn’t a genetic trait that some have while others don’t. Creativity is a human quality that can be nurtured and expanded—often in ways that seem counterintuitive. Here are four surprising ways to boost a design team’s creativity. 

Take a Break
Staring at a workstation or computer screen can be a true creativity killer—especially when a designer is trying to think up a creative solution. We’ve all had the experience of trying too hard to solve a problem, becoming stressed, and getting nowhere. Later, the answer seems to come when we’re in the shower and not even thinking about the problem.

While package designers may not be able to take a shower during the workday, stopping and taking a walk can be just as effective. In a 2014 study from Stanford University, undergraduate students were asked to think of creative uses for everyday objects both while sitting at a desk and while walking on a treadmill. The participants came up with 60% more uses while walking. When designers hit a wall in their thinking, it may be beneficial to stop working and take a walk. To help the creative process, managers may want to create a work environment and culture that allow for breaks and flexibility.

Keep Working
On the other hand, creativity can also emerge when a designer keeps on working. Research has shown that tiring out the brain actually spurs innovative thinking. In one study, participants first carried out tasks meant to exhaust their capacities for focus and attention. They then completed verbal tests that analyzed creativity. The participants that completed the hardest initial task were also the most creative in the second task. Cognitive fatigue may allow us to process thoughts we might normally reject as silly or outrageous. If a designer is having trouble thinking creatively around a certain project, she or he may want to wait until the end of the day to tackle it. With mental reserves on low, unique answers appear effortlessly. 

Get Happy
Creative ideas are born from a designer’s intellect and experience as well as constraints and chosen materials. But there is another ingredient that has little to do with the project at hand—the designer’s mood. Studies show that positive mood can increase creativity. For example, in a study published in Psychological Science, students were put into different moods (using various videos and types of music) and then given the task of learning a rule to classify sets of pictures.  The happy volunteers were much better at conceptualizing the rule than the sad or neutral volunteers. According to researcher Ruby Nadler, “If you have a project where you want to think innovatively, or you have a problem to carefully consider, being in a positive mood can help you to do that.”

So, a happy designer is a creative designer. Leaders in paperboard packaging plants should do what they can to boost the mood of both the work environment and team. One simple way may be to paint the walls of the design department a vibrant color, or to add art. Teambuilding exercises, employee appreciation days, and personalized praise can all go a long way to increase employee morale. In this way, creativity can be fostered even before a package design project begins.

Get Space
Other research on creativity has shown that increasing psychological distance from a project can engender creativity. We experience psychological distance when we perceive something as removed from the present moment, be it spatially, cognitively, or emotionally. Going back to a previous example, taking a walk can be a great way to gain some psychological distance.

However, package designers may also benefit from creating cognitive distance, or thinking about packaging in a more abstract way than normal. For example, maybe a package is not a container to hold product. It is a customer’s problem, ready to be solved with a unique design. Instead of a box to be made, the designer can think of the project as a design objective to be fulfilled, such as increasing shelf presence or enhancing product protection. By choosing a different psychological vantage point, different parts of the mind can be accessed and creative solutions may emerge.

There are innumerable ways to expand design creativity in the packaging plant. These four are just a start. Manufacturers should find and commit to methods that work for them. A commitment to creativity can certainly lead to satisfied customers that return again and again.


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paperboard packaging

1 comment(s) so far...

Love the idea & focus towards looking to something fresh, innovative & driving shelf appeal. Through research, we hear that Brands are striving for a 9-12 month refresh ... let's Applaud their efforts in bridging the gaps between creativity & production.

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