…And Pigs Might Fly

Imagination has limits. We can only visualise things that we know about or have experienced.

So, what about flying pigs? They don’t exist, yet we have no problem imagining such creatures.

Maybe so, but we have all the information needed. Start with a pig, add a pair of wings, encourage the new species to take off and watch it zoom overhead with a victory roll. Imagination can make mental images of things that are unreal by connecting random bits of information. Whether the result is possible or impossible doesn’t come into it, but even if imagination seems boundless it won’t work when it has no information, it cannot create something from nothing.

This has implications for our creative process of which our imagination is just one part – albeit a crucial one. It means that our ability to create is limited by the limits of our imagination. More information is the key to more creativity and our ability to adapt. 

Every design project starts with research to give imagination more information to play with – not just about the subject of the design brief but also about its context, and the wide-ranging connections that any solution might have.

In broad terms, our imagination can help us to increase our ability to adapt if we can help it by finding ways to stimulate our innate curiousity, to encourage information gathering, and to facilitate communication of information between individuals.

However, perhaps we should also ask how our imagination can help us to become more aware of connectivity in solving problems? Because if we ignore how one decision affects another we may find ourselves somewhere that we don’t want to be – breeding only those species of pigs that have a reduced carbon footprint because they can fly themselves to the abattoir.

Angela Berry is a designer and watercolour artist who studied Advanced Design at the European Institute of Design in Milan, and who has also worked creatively as a photographer and choreographer. The author of books including, The Gateway to Watercolour, she is coming to the end of a five-year project studying all aspects of creativity with publication as a long-term aim.