The beginning of any design is a need.
It might be simple or it might be complex. It can be a small project, finished in a day, or can be a major project taking months to complete, such as a house construction or renovation, or a new set of furniture. Often it is a collection of several different needs or problems that lend themselves to common solution.
A good way to begin the search for solutions is to define exactly what is needed. This is not always obvious -- and not always easy to pin down.
Try to find the essential item or items which, once accomplished, will make life easier or better or more enjoyable than it was before, or solve the problem at hand.
For example, if the need is "to provide space for some new stereo equipment we just bought," we must define what we mean by that. Do we need to provide a separate space for the new equipment, or should we re-think the existing stereo equipment storage and combine the two projects? If we do need more room, will this include just the equipment we bought, or should we allow for equipment that we will add in the future? On the other hand, perhaps we ought to rearrange the equipment we have, throw away some older gear, and use the space that's already there.
Each project is different, but all have a central problem, or set of problems.
Pinning them down is essential, because if they are not understood or addressed, a design will be created to solve the wrong problem, and the original difficulties remain--or become worse.
A good next step might be to list the known facts and aspects of the project. It would include:
With any luck, some ideas will emerge from this list. Proceed to generate and gather ideas and concepts.
They can be your own ideas, but there's nothing wrong with borrowing ideas from others. Fine designs abound in books, magazines, trade journals; draw from them and from real life--museums, galleries and public buildings, and yes, other people's houses.
Many of them will contain features that will catch your eye, and you wiil learn about the ways other people have solved similar problems. You may like only one thing about a particular design, but record the one thing you like. Keep track of ideas by clipping photos and articles from media sources, but also keep track of your own thoughts and ideas by putting them down on paper as words or drawings.
No idea is too silly to throw in the mix; after all, you're not committed to anything yet, so why not dream? Think up different ways to accomplish the goal, even though you may never use them. In exploring them, you might find things that you can use that wouldn't have occured to you otherwise.
Once you have a bag full of ideas, work to prune down to the ones that work best. This is the time to sketch, paint or sculpt different ideas into visible form, to play with shapes, colors and textures, and to begin to weave together the final design.