Designing Like MacGyver: How to Solve Design Challenges with Creativity and Resourcefulness
Updated: May 2
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Designers face challenges every day, from tight deadlines to limited resources. But what if you could approach these challenges like MacGyver, the resourceful TV character who could solve any problem with whatever tools he had on hand? In this post, I'll explore how you can apply MacGyver-like thinking to your design work and come up with creative solutions to even the toughest challenges.
If you are not familiar with MacGyver, it's an older 80's T.V. show. Growing up, my mom was really into it. I eventually got hooked too. But only because of the SNL parody, MacGruber, and the recent parody spinoff movie MacGruber. If you're here reading this post, chances are you were also first introduced to MacGruber. (Thank you SNL for helping bridge the culture gap between me and my mother).
The MacGyver Approach to Design:
For a little character background, MacGyver had this amazing ability to solve the most complex problems using everyday objects. Like creating a defibrillator to save someones life using a rubber mat, electrical cord, and two candlestick holders. (Doctor Mac S1 E15). In another episode, he fashions together a gas mask using only a plastic bottle and wet newspaper.
Crazy right? These crazy solutions work because MacGyver is always able to look beyond the apparent need at hand and focus on the REAL need. The need to save this man's life. At its core, the MacGyver approach to design is about using creativity and resourcefulness to overcome limitations. Instead of focusing on what you don't have, you focus on what you do have and find new ways to use it. This might mean repurposing existing materials, using unconventional tools, or thinking outside the box.
Examples of MacGyver-Like Thinking in Action:
Here are a few examples of how you can apply MacGyver-like thinking to your design work:
Repurpose materials: If you're working on a budget, you might not be able to afford expensive materials. But that doesn't mean you can't create something beautiful. Look for everyday objects that you can repurpose, like cardboard or plastic bags, and find new ways to use them in your designs.
Use unconventional tools: You don't need fancy tools to create great designs. In fact, sometimes the most effective tools are the simplest ones. For example, delivering client designs via Google Slides or Powerpoint. Or one of my personal favorite online tools: Photopea. These are tools most people have access to so they arn't kept away by paid subscriptions.
Think outside the box: Sometimes, the best solutions come from thinking outside the box. If you're stuck on a design problem, try approaching it from a different angle. Ask yourself what would happen if you turned the problem upside down or looked at it from a different perspective.
Tips for Designing Like MacGyver:
Use What You Have. MacGyver was a master of using whatever was at his disposal to solve problems. Similarly, designers can make the most of the resources they have on hand, whether it's repurposing existing assets or finding creative ways to use low-cost materials.
Think Outside the Box. MacGyver was known for his unconventional solutions to problems, and designers can benefit from a similar approach. Sometimes, the most innovative solutions come from breaking free from conventional thinking and exploring new ideas.
Embrace Constraints. Designers often face constraints, such as limited time or resources, that can feel like obstacles to creativity. However, constraints can also be a source of inspiration, driving designers to think creatively and develop innovative solutions.
Learn to Improvise. MacGyver was a master of improvisation, and designers can also benefit from this skill. When facing a design challenge, try working quickly and iteratively to develop multiple solutions, and be willing to experiment and make mistakes along the way. This can help you arrive at unexpected and innovative solutions.
It's easy to get stuck on solving a problem when we get caught up on what we think the result should look like. But this limits our perception and possibilities. Creative problem-solving requires us to broaden our possibilities by looking beyond surface-level issues and identifying what is truly needed. Unfortunately, our expertise and experience can often hinder this process. We must learn to approach problems with a fresh perspective, as if we are newcomers who are not bound by our preconceived notions. Rushing to conclusions never truly solves anything. Not in design and definitely not for MacGyver.
Hi, I'm Kelsey. I'm the daughter of a small-town crafty man and resilient, savvy woman who grew up with more animals than people. I'm a brand photographer and designer currently living in Gainesville, FL. I love nothing more than to work with others to bring out their authentic self to share with the world.
Have photography or design related needs? Let's chat!