Sanity and design may not be such good bedmates. How do I substantiate this statement? Easy, that is what my clients ask me. So it must be true.
When a client asks me for a new concept for a product, I look at what has been done, and then ask, what if a different route had been taken from the beginning. So I pretend the product has no history at all. Because of that I am not making an incremental change to the design, but a radically different approach all together.
The client reacts, (sometimes but not always) with, what, are you crazy? This doesn’t look anything like what we sell now. So I think, (but don’t say out loud) then why did you want to change it? If you want something that looks like it used to, then paint it a different colour. Of course sometimes the client is right, and such a radical change might take away market familiarity, and customer recognition. But in other cases, that may be a very good thing. If the market is mature, why would the customer buy something that looks very much the way the one that they bought looks?
Think of USB hubs, they all do the same thing, and the only difference is the shape of the box. Lots of designers make the box radically different, tapping in on “what will look good on the desktop” market.
So don’t think outside of the box, think like there never was a box in the first place.