Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming

Graphic Design Thinking

With thirty tools and techniques, Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming by Ellen Lupton is a high-level look at a wide variety of approaches to increasing creativity. Each tool is presented in short, often two-page overviews comprising of a definition, and simple how-to steps. Brief case studies follow, providing a tangible example of the tool in use.

While the book’s format does not provide deep insight into any of the tools, it is useful as a jumping off point for further research into the tools that might work for you.

Presented in three sections: How to Define Problems, How to Get Ideas, and How to Create Form, Graphic Design Thinking is the sort of book you don’t need to sit down and read cover to cover. You can instead reach for any time you are in a creative rut or are looking for something to jump-start your thought process. Its value will vary wildly from person to person depending on their previous exposure to the tools discussed. I believe a handful of potential tools makes it worthy of some bookshelf space.

A few of the tools I found interesting follow:

Brand Matrix

Clear text and simple visuals explain the use of a brand matrix—a tool every designer involved in branding should be aware of.

Graphic Design Thinking Brand Matrix

Graphic Design Thinking Brand Matrix Case Study

This Tea packaging case study uses the opposites Formal/Informal, and East/West to map the space. A great follow up to this brief introduction to brand matrix is Corporate Brand Matrix on the Identityworks website.

Action Verbs

I was inspired by Action Verbs, a process that involves manipulating a preliminary idea by applying various verbs.

Graphic Design Thinking Action Verbs

Graphic Design Thinking Activate an Idea

“Each verb suggests a structural, visible change or transformation. Designers can use this exercise to quickly create fresh and surprising variations on an initial idea.”

Rhetorical Figures

Rhetorical figures force active connections between concepts.

“Of particular value to designers are rhetorical figures, or those literary forms and tactics that deviate from ordinary communication. (…) Rhetorical figures, while typically referring to verbal language, can also apply to images. These structures can serve as tools for generating concepts or suggesting alternative arrangements”

Graphic Design Thinking Figures of Speech

Graphic Design Thinking Rhetorical Chairs

Virginia Sasser provided the content for this section of the book. A nice follow up to this tool is Rhetoric in Graphic Design on Slideshare.


Sprinting is a technique that forces you to work in a fixed time frame—a tool I stopped using after college but have picked up again when working on thumbnails.

Graphic Design Thinking Sprint

Graphic Design Thinking Sprints

Twitter Typography Series by Krissi Xenakis uses popular tweets to experiment with typography through sprinting.

Tracing With Toilet Paper

Tracing With Toilet Paper is an excellent case study of an unconventional tool.

Graphic Design Thinking Tracing With Toilet Paper

Used as part of a course taught by Pongtorn Hiranpruek, this method of drawing involves tracing onto toilet paper, using markers to encourage bleed through onto a paper below.

How Designers Think

Graphic Design Thinking concludes with How Designers Think, a short section of questions posed to a number of established designers including Erik Spiekermann, Ivan Chermayeff and Steven Heller. If you are interested in exploring alternate ways of approaching design, Graphic Design Thinking is a nice introduction to dozens of idea generating tools—just be prepared to do some follow up reading to get the most out of the proposed tools.


  • eric|von|leckband says:
    Jul 6 at 05:08

    Great review on this book. I recently picked it up and have be incorporating throughout my workflow. It is a fun little book with really good info.

  • Jim Rush says:
    Dec 3 at 09:22

    This seems like a very informative book, I’m thinking about getting it for Christmas. Thanks for the introduction.

  • Abdullah says:
    Jan 5 at 05:17

    i think its all about the big idea and brainstorming comes in its reflection

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