• Ray

Structured Daydreaming


Designers should make time to daydream.

As the cultivators and ushers of good ideas, it's our job to make sure we're finding the best ones.

Plenty of people see good ideas and say, "That's so simple! I probably could have come up with that!"

And they're often right! Good ideas aren't hard to come by. The most difficult thing is making the time to think them up in the proper setting. If sometimes you find yourself banging your head against the wall when designing, then read on. 

One of the ways I search for good ideas and problem solve in design is a technique I call structured daydreaming. It's so simple. It works like this:

Find a place to sit or recline where you won't be disturbed.

Away from computers and phones. Away from people you know. Maybe it's a lawn chair in the park or perhaps the sofa in your den, or maybe your bed.

Pick a topic you'd like to think about.

It could be a design problem you're trying to solve or a broader concept you'd like to explore. Anything really.

Now, just sit and space out for 20-40 minutes. Think about your topic.

Roll it around in your mind. Let your brain wander off, and only bring it back if it's gone too long. Consider the crazy, the mundane, and the radical.

That's all there is to it! Take notes if you want to, but only in intervals (if you're writing, you're not daydreaming).

In our modern lives, there are so many distractions and tasks and emails that we don't get a chance to sit down and think undisturbed for more than a few minutes. Most of our days are spent on auto-pilot. This is terrible!

Sometimes it's just good for us to sit and stare at a wall. Or a tree. Or the sky.

This is why I love plane rides! Insane, right? But when I get bored of books and my smartphone and trying to light my shoe on fire with flint and tinder, there I am, with nowhere to go. And it forces me to daydream. It's like someone turns on a spigot of creativity and once it gets going, I can't jot notes quickly enough.


On a related topic, I recommend reading about techniques that harness a deeply trance-like consciousness you reach just prior to falling asleep, like Salvador Dali's "sleep with a key" and hypnagogia.

Happy daydreaming!