Design and the Subconscious Mind

Design and the Subconscious Mind

Within every person is the power to create.

If you’re a designer or an artist, that power seems easier to wield because we are visual learners and thinkers — we can “see” what we want to put on paper or in pixels. In this post, I want to attempt to compare the work of designers and artists with a power that is, in fact, within all of us.


I’m sure you’ve heard of The Secret, which is based on the Law of Attraction. In case you haven’t heard of it, the Law of Attraction is, well, a “law” which states that what you think about most is what you attract — so if you think positively, you experience positive events; think negatively, you experience negative events. The idea is that this all happens through the use of your subconscious mind. Your subconscious mind speaks to you through gut instincts and helps align events in the universe with what you think about most and, therefore, attract. It’s not a religion, yet it shares many aspects with many religions and has a pretty heavy belief system. The subconscious mind can come up with an infinite amount of solutions to problems your conscious mind may never conceive.

We’ve all experienced a dry spell in our creative juices when working on a project. To help get our creativity flowing again, we’ve called it quits for the night, started work on a different project, or taken a breather by going outside or watching TV until we get that “aha!” moment. Part of the reason for this temporary creative drought lies in the loss of communication with the subconscious mind. The conscious, logical part of our mind gets in the way and creates a block, causing us to get frustrated looking at a blank canvas. On the other hand, we’ve all experienced that moment when we’ve been working on a design and make a happy mistake — a twitch of the wrist, a wrong keystroke, a different color selection than what we originally intended, or even coming across a new resource at the exact moment we need it — with the end result of creating something better than what we originally intended. That’s the work of the subconscious mind.


Repetition affects our subconscious mind by helping us remember or experience what it is that we want, and by helping us to learn. When we research for a design project, we peruse CSS galleries, magazines, and other industry-specific collateral. Researching allows us to focus on the various elements, designs, and information related to the project, unknowingly letting it bake itself into our subconscious mind. When we attempt to design a logo, we start out by sketching 20 or 30 different ideas, none of which really appeal to us and which are meant to be discarded. This is because the creative, subconscious mind is still thinking, while the logical, conscious mind is trying to figure things out. Each sketch is a new thought drilled into our subconscious, and at the same time, a conscious attempt to create what our subconscious is thinking (confusing, huh?).

Many times, an idea strikes us in the middle of the night or right after we wake up. When we sleep, our subconscious mind takes over and processes all the information accumulated throughout the day, some of which we dream about. Waking up and falling asleep are the two moments our conscious and subconscious minds are in close communication, which explains why our best designs come to us unexpectedly at those times. We might visualize the design direction all of a sudden and we just “know” that’s the one.

Occasionally meditating or thinking about designs while you focus on other things can give you the potential to create your best work. After all, what better thing to trust than your own mind?

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