There's more to design than arranging type and picking colors. That's why defining the problem and developing a strategy are the most important first steps in the design process. Being creative, drawing, experimenting with colors and type should happen only after the scope is defined. So, after you and your client are in agreement on the scope and strategy, it's time to develop ideas that not only fit the strategy but are creative solutions.
I used to approach this step of visual experimentation as a free-for-all activity. I was free to go anywhere I wanted. Then I would evaluate what I came up with later. Which is fine occasionally. But I found that I always struggled when I was under a tight deadline, I was busy with other things, or I had projects that didn't lend themselves to a lot of visual ideas.
Then I began systematizing my visual experimentation. When I chose to do just a few things for every project, and within a set amount of time, I started coming up with more predictable results. My ideas tended to be more inline with the project guidelines and strategy. And I tended to come up with more of them to choose from and develop.
So, here are at least 3 things I would recommend doing each time you want to come up with creative ideas:
- Make lists.
The creative brief, discussions with the client, and your research should bring several thoughts to mind. It's a good idea to get these thoughts down as lists in different categories. One list could be emotional components. Another can be those must-have elements. And another can be about the client's like's and dislikes.
- Turn keywords into visual pathways.
After developing a good set of lists, highlight keywords from each list. These words are either the main points or repeated words. Then by using mind-mapping, a thesaurus, and a dictionary these words will not only bring up new words, they will act as pathways toward visual solutions.
Now that you have a number of pathways and ideas, it's time to draw several thumbnails. It's a good idea to develop at least 20 or so ideas. This will give you a good breath of ideas to choose from and develop further. And this will stimulate even more ideas as you draw.