Mar 20, 2009

Concept Map: A Model of The Creative Process

*Created in collaboration with Jack Chung, Shelley Evenson, and Paul Pangaro.*

The creative process is not just iterative; it’s also recursive. It plays out “in the large” and “in the small”—in defining the broadest goals and concepts and refining the smallest details. It branches like a tree, and each choice has ramifications, which may not be known in advance. Recursion also suggests a procedure that “calls” or includes itself. Many engineers define the design process as a recursive function:
discover > define > design > develop > deploy

The creative process involves many conversations—about goals and actions to achieve them—conversations with co-creators and colleagues, conversations with oneself. The participants and their language, experience, and values affect the conversations.

See also our [How do you design?][1] collection of models.

[1]: “How do you design?”

Download PDF


  • Michael Anton Dila

    Mar 31, 2009
    9:42 am


  • Josh of Cubicle Ninjas

    Mar 31, 2009
    7:30 pm

    These are stunning. Thank you for the inspiration!

  • jimkastkeat

    Apr 1, 2009
    3:18 am

    I recently drafted a similar process (collect ideas, sort helpful/unhelpful, group ideas, connect the dots, bring it to life).

    This seems to say the same thing, only the layout is much more helpful than my quick note in my moleskine!

    Thanks so much!

  • Graham Smith

    Apr 1, 2009
    6:50 am

    I can’t fully see this on my iPhone but totally get the gist of it and can make out the overall structure.

    Looks neat, will download PDF when I get home.


  • chris

    Apr 11, 2009
    5:34 pm

    just come for a check up to see if there are an new ones, loved the innovation and behold, there is creativity. quite relevant to a graphic designer will have to remember march time a new one due.

    very good, thanks. lovely circles to resound with design and the creative process in a loop. great stuff.

  • Rick Barron

    May 26, 2009
    1:28 pm

    Your concepts maps have always been remarkable and informative. Well done on this one! Give my regards to Paul Pangaro.

    Rick Barron

  • justin chitakatira

    Jun 1, 2009
    1:47 am

    Very helpfuland inpirational.

  • aaron

    Jun 4, 2009
    7:11 am

    Great job, thanks for the pdf. Going to try to put this up in the office.

  • Gordon Mattey

    Jun 12, 2009
    11:40 am

    you should put this into prezi (, it would work really well.

  • Carlos Guarda

    Jun 24, 2009
    8:36 pm


  • Mike

    Aug 11, 2009
    1:38 pm

    Great work! Are you guys OK with printing these posters for use in our offices?

  • jax

    Aug 13, 2009
    6:56 am

    Love it…thanks!
    Love the schematic and insights…

  • Qin

    Oct 22, 2009
    10:06 am

    that was so impressive! and very inspiring as well, I was actually looking for a nice form to articulate a more distributted pattern of creative process, and Bang~ here I go 🙂

  • Kelli

    Dec 28, 2009
    3:16 pm

    Hanging this up at my desk as we speak.

  • John Merritt

    Feb 15, 2010
    2:27 pm

    Incredible Map!

  • xplorer

    Mar 13, 2010
    1:53 pm

    Absolutely stunning! Love the design, love the concept, love the layout!

    What tool did you use to draw them? Illustrator?


    Aug 15, 2010
    11:27 am

    your comments are well discussed. you are effective and innovative in your map

  • Zuleika Dobson

    Apr 4, 2011
    11:49 pm

    I was all for the concept until I tried to read the text in the two right areas.

    How am I supposed to read not only upside down but at an angle?

    I would issue a terse “do it over!” if I had been in charge of this project.

    To call this good design is a bad joke.

  • mike mcauley

    Jul 25, 2011
    3:22 pm

    You talk about the creative process and the design process as if they are the same thing. Musicians, artists and designers may well use different processes.

    Mike McAuley

  • gary

    Dec 8, 2011
    9:28 am

    Liked the innovation map and came back to drink from your creativity well – thanks gary

  • Al

    Oct 14, 2012
    12:28 am

    Cool idea, but it’s hard to read.

  • kibrom

    Jan 6, 2013
    11:47 pm

    I love the concept

  • Shalin

    Aug 31, 2014
    9:59 pm

    Creativity is not a process that can keep track of I think it comes from the birth. If somebody is trained to be creative, its just practice not creativity

  • xlysoft

    Nov 6, 2014
    8:44 am

    Great job – a really nice visualization of the process.

  • SARA

    Apr 25, 2015
    2:07 am


  • Shalin

    Nov 2, 2018
    3:01 am

    We have created useful concept mapping diagrams for learning. You can find more concept mapping templates in the diagram community of Creately online diagramming and collaboration software. There are 100s of diagram templates and examples in the community to be used freely.

  • Peter Hall

    Mar 4, 2022
    9:33 am

    I still use this diagram of the Creative Process for teaching design students in London. It’s really helpful to illustrate non-linear approaches. Thanks!

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