Posted 27 November 2019

Central Saint Martins tells us how to turn yourself into an ‘ideas factory’

Ideas just ping into our heads with a lightbulb moment, right? Think again! While we kicked off our series of extracts from Central Saint Martins’ new book Foundation: Key Lessons in Art and Design with portfolio top tips, our second instalment is an exercise that will help you hone your idea-generating process. Through this brief you'll master effective research, sharpen up the way you develop thoughts and practice visualising your proposals onto the page or screen. It's a way of working that will be a complete godsend next time you're stuck on a project. Continue below for the brief and get ready!

Central Saint Martins Foundation: Key Lessons in Art and Design

The Brief

Create a proposal for a piece of work, giving consideration to its conceptual basis, the material it is made from and the process involved in making it. Then, accumulate a body of research and use this to inform the ideas that you will then develop into a set of possible outcomes. You do not have to make the work, so you do not need to be inhibited by practical considerations.

Through drawing and annotation you will communicate everything about your planned work. This project asks you to think broadly and ambitiously, and to experiment freely.

Consider the following list of terms, you will use these to inform your work:


1. Feminism
2. Anarchism
3. Futurism
4. Utopianism
5. Sensualism
6. Masochism


1. Air
2. Concrete
3. Hair
4. Rubber
5. Water
6. Ink


1. Cut
2. Fold
3. Suspend
4. Expand
5. Wrap
6. Knot

Illustration for Ideas Factory, Anarchy

The Task

Step 1

Research the -ism
Roll a dice to select an -ism. Draw all the associations that you have with the -ism, and ask for further suggestions from those around you. There is no wrong answer.

Use a library and the internet to clarify the definition of your term and identify historical reference points using as many sources as possible to map out a wide-ranging list of points. For example: anarchism

Step 2

Brainstorm the material
Roll your dice again to select a material. Look around you for examples of that material and list its different properties. Now sketch visualisations of all the associations you have in relation to your material. For example: air

Step 3

Brainstorm the process
Roll the dice to select your process. List examples of this process and visualise through drawing its properties and associations. For example: wrap

Step 4

Join the material and process
Select at random a material reference from your research and a process example. Imagine ways you could combine them. Sketch out what might result from this combination. Forget about practical or technical considerations. For example: concrete (concrete park bench) and fold (pleated skirt)

What would a pleated concrete bench look like? Or a pleated concrete skirt for that matter?! Repeat this process with 10 different combinations and use line drawing and notation to represent them. Try not to overthink, and do not edit.

“It is helpful to imagine a location for your work – this will give you a set of restrictions and forms to design around.”

Step 5

Add the -ism
Connect the ideas, properties and forms gathered so far to explore the potential of a whole range of hybrid thoughts. What happens when you put multiple, seemingly unrelated elements together?

For each of your 10 material and process combinations, now explore adding the -ism. How can your material and process hybrid be used to express the ideas relating to the -ism? For example: how might a pleated concrete bench be utopian?

Sometimes the relationship with the -ism is connected to the location chosen for the work, or to how it would be used.

Step 6

Select ideas and develop a visual language
Now you have some ideas for creative proposals on the page, remind yourself of your initial research and identify which of your proposals best encapsulates the concerns you feel most interested in.

Each of your ideas will already contain clues about the ways you might visualise it. Materials have inherent properties and each -ism provides you with a range of already established aesthetics that you may or may not wish to embrace or reimagine.

Step 7

It is helpful at this stage to imagine a location for your work. The location will give you a set of restrictions and forms to interact with and design around.

Step 8

Create an A2 visualisation of your proposal
Creating the visualisation of your proposal will not simply be a process of showing what your idea looks like, but also a process of storytelling and persuasion. Clarity and simplicity are key.


Central Saint Martins Foundation by Lucy Alexander and Timothy Meara is published by Ilex, £25. Available to purchase here.

Written by Lucy Alexander and Timothy Meara
Introduction by Ayla Angelos