Adobe-full Adobe Behance arrow-down arrow-right LineCreated with Sketch. close-tablet-03 close-tablet-05 comment dropdown-close dropdown-open facebook instagram linkedin rss search share twitter
Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco


Never Brainstorm with a “Blank Slate”

Will Turnage tells us how R/GA uses a “Technology First” mindset to unleash its most creative ideas.

Consider the following two statements:You can do anything you want.

You can do anything you want with this box of colored pencils.

Like most option-obsessed humans, you might prefer the limitless potential of the first statement. And like most creatives, you might believe this “blank slate” is an essential element of your ideation process. But Will Turnage, VP of Technology and Invention at digital advertising agency R/GA, thinks you’re wrong.

As the man in charge of guiding and developing R/GA’s groundbreaking digital products, Will believes that paying respects to the unique capabilities of individual mediums builds the most efficient bridge to great work.

Step inside R/GA’s Manhattan offices, and you’ll likely find Turnage and his team engaged in a practice he calls, “Technology First.” Like the colored pencil example, Technology First starts by selecting a very specific medium for communication, then creatively exploits its full potential.

In other words, it’s the opposite of blank slate. And according to R/GA, this approach creates a powerful informational framework for ideas to emerge, with benefits that include more efficient ideation, faster implementation times, and better campaigns.


Technology First starts by selecting a very specific medium for communication, then creatively exploits its full potential.

For R/GA’s roster of international clients, this hyper-focused constriction has resulted in highly creative, highly effective digital work. Like the Nike+ mobile app, where focusing on Facebook’s “Like” technology led R/GA to produce an imaginative twist on standard tech. By rigging status updates submitted through the app to trigger applause, runners can now spread the word of their athletic activity online with a status update — and their friends can literally cheer them on through their headphones by “Liking” that activity.

Or The Digital Dinner Bell, an Android app for spice and seasoning brand Lawry’s. The creative process for this app began with the question, “If you could shake your phone like a dinner bell, what useful activity might that create?” Today, parents can automatically text message their families about what’s for dinner and when it’s ready, just by “ringing the bell.”

“When we sit down to brainstorm, we don’t ask ourselves, How can we use technology to reach this brand’s objectives?” says Will. “We’re very specific – How can we use the technology behind Facebook’s ‘Like’ function to reach this brand’s objectives?”

Hatching a strong creative concept is never easy, so we asked Will for his tips on thinking with a “Technology First” mindset.

Enable creative thinking by embracing arbitrary constraints. What if your idea only worked between 2:13 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. each day? What if your mobile app could only show one sentence and one button at a time? “You’re basically saying, look, you’ve got text, links, and 140 characters,” says Will. “What can we do with that? It’s normally a lot more than you think.”

Put emotional adjectives in front of specific technologies. What does a sad tweet, ecstatic check-in, or head-over-heels text message look like?  How does it work? This exercise can loosen up your team and get the creativity flowing.

Pick an everyday interaction and internet-enable it.  What if the door knob to your conference room had a Tumblr?  What would it do? What would it say?

How about you?

What brainstorming constraints does your team use?

Carmel Hagen

Carmel Hagen is the founder and CEO of Sweet Revenge Sugar Co., a company developing mindfully delicious alternatives to refined sugar. For creative kitchen inspiration and mixologist tips, follow Sweet Revenge on Instagram at @enjoyrevenge or visit

Comments (8)
  • Christian Rooney

    I agree with this! It reminds me a bit of Jack White, who feels that by restricting what he can make music on (only analog recording equipment), he maximizes his creativity.

  • Ajay Karwal

    This reminds me of this article – http://www.graphicdesignblende

    It’s definitely good to have some boundaries in place. A blank slate can be quite daunting.

  • James Lawther

    You only need look at the advances in technology during the second world war to see how constraints can boost creativity.

    Very interesting article

  • Simon Paul

    Yes, this is totally true! I hate designing with no specificity. I’m a problem solver by heart as a designer. And that means I need the problem defined to be effective at what I do. Classifying goals and mediums, for which a project will be executed, greatly improves both efficiency and effectiveness of my work.

  • Chris

    This post is awesome! Thanks to the author.

  • Robert Schreib

    Always have some medium of recording ideas on or near you, since it’s impossible to tell when your muse will hit you with a thunderbolt! But you have to write or record it on the spot, or your stream of consciousness might wash the idea away if you just think you can retain it later. WRITE IT DOWN!-NTH!

  • bassamtarazi

    You can do anything but you can’t do everything. This is the statement I think of when I read this post. We are horrible when there is too much choice because we fear “the wrong choice” and what that choice might feel like (see: regret).

    It’s amazing what happens when we apply constraints to a problem. We actually feel less pressure. My favorite constraint is the time implemented one. I don’t worry about writing a blog post or an article in a sitting, I like trying to see what I can write in 10 or 15 minutes. I find that I write much more freely in that scenario than when I sit looking at a blinking cursor with every possible literary option right in front of me.

  • Web Outsourcing Gateway

    Brainstorming with a “blank slate” is like going with the flow of the situation, you have no plan, no agenda, no direction which leads you to nowhere.

  • kinder borussia dortmund torwart trikot

    kinder borussia dortmund torwart trikot…

    Frequently We do not place up upon weblogs, but I want to condition that this established up really pressured me personally to do so! substantially superb publish…

  • beats by dre solo hd

    beats by dre solo hd…

    Rather fantastic submit. I merely stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I have really liked browsing your blog posts….

  • The 5 Most Dangerous Creativity Killers – 99U/Gregory Ciotti | Johnny's Warehouse

    […] self-restriction can often boost creativity, the Harvard study shows that external restrictions are almost always a bad thing for creative […]

  • Never Brainstorm with a “Blank Slate&rdqu...

    […] Will Turnage tells us how R/GA uses a “Technology First” mindset to unleash its most creative ideas.  […]

  • The 5 Most Dangerous Creativity Killers | Janak Mistry

    […] self-restriction can often boost creativity, the Harvard study shows thatexternal restrictions are almost always a bad thing for creative […]

  • Kreatywny myślenie - zabójcy kreatywności TOP5

    […] sciencedirect” […]

  • 3 Art Lessons from Reality TV Shows - Gnomon Workshop - How to Improve as an Artist with Unique Challenges | The Gnomon Workshop News

    […] other one to draw a picture of a robot. Odds are fairly good that the guy who draws the robot will end up with a more creative and detailed picture than the guy who didn’t have any special requirement. Why? Restrictions encourage creativity. […]

  • Stop Pretending, and Start Innovating | Mr. Grayston

    […] that don’t address any challenge or more questions that answers. There’s the brilliant 99u article that talks about giving two groups of creative types a creative task: one group was […]

  • 8 Tips for Brainstorming Like the Best of Them | Your Business Insights

    […] you want to think of creative ideas, you can’t go into a brainstorming session with a blank slate. […]

  • Brainstorming 101: Tool First | ideaFM

    […] the following article Never Brainstorm With A Blank Slate by to find out […]

  • How to Master Your Habits in 6 Powerful Steps

    […] move your attention to other parts of the challenge. Use other words to reframe it and also try and constrain your brainstorming by focusing on smaller details that affect the problem as a […]

  • Harry Potter Transforms Class Dojo: Why Creativity Craves Constraints | ideaFM

    […] many of their design and innovation projects with a tool-based constraint and firmly believes that constraints are essential to creativity. So let’s see this in […]

  • Don't Brainstorm With A Blank Slate | Lifehacker Australia

    […] Never Brainstorm with a “Blank Slate” [99U] […]

blog comments powered by Disqus

More articles on Brainstorming

Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco
Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco
Sort designed by Garrett Knoll from the Noun Project
Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco
Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco