I'm tempted to start this blog with something introspective (like a Calvin and Hobbes moment that catches you unaware) but probably better to dive headlong into the stuff that will spark discussion. So let me get to the point :::
Design is not creative. Design is a science.
De Bono stated creativity can be taught in steps through the practice of lateral thinking techniques. Altschuller recognised a similar pattern across a range of inventive solutions and subsequently developed a systematic approach to creativity based on his findings. Yet there is still the perception that the creative profession requires a unique way of thinking that only a select few possess.
We often overlook the importance of a set process to focus on the final result. The use of a systematic method not only breeds creative consistency, it can be your best friend in those times of high stress and looming deadlines, regardless how bad your hang-over is or whether you’d currently fail a urine test. These tried and true processes have designers like myself to achieve what we inherently consider good design on a consistent basis. Through a structured approach to design, my dream of leaving behind a footprint of award winning brand identities, modular systems, sketches for flying machines and the occasional fine art piece lives on.
In recognising this response to a creative process to stimulate ideas, I began to move away from my surrealist automatic drawing approach toward a formulaic sequence (developed over years of late nights and also yesterday whilst writing this article).
Not that there weren’t failed attempts. Initial experiments at establishing a routine for creative output had begun with a cappuccino, followed in rapid succession by two short blacks before hitting the sketchpad. This simple procedure did at times yield periods of design genius, but unfortunately also resulted in mind numbing clip-art stealing depression. I needed a progression that would be there for me no matter how low I may have fallen (and we’re talking gum on shoe low).
This is not to say I’m building up towards advocating a cold calculated approach, or daring to speak against the random bolt of lightning that strikes as you soap yourself in the shower. I fully encourage the complete immersion of the mind in random chaos (and the body in soap if that works for you like it does for me). But random chaos, the happy accident and any other aha! moments should be one step in a sequence or result therefore, and not a singular relied upon solution.
If you are relying on right brain thinking alone, you are under-utilising that other side of the mind your parents hoped would lead you to a medical degree.
Just think, with both sides working in unison, not only will you be able to think of the most brilliant, award winning, smile-in-the-mind type creative solutions, you’ll even be able to align them to your clients business values (and you thought the day would never come…)
So how do you develop a creative process for an industry that admires typographic self mutilation and third eye opening acid trips (when the damn cocaine just isn’t working)? Easy. Open up CorelDraw and get out your design-for-dummies book. This design thing ain't rocket science. It's about making things look pretty right?
I know, I know, you’re looking around the room to check your colleagues haven’t seen those words on your screen and a guide to step by step creativity. But here it is, without popular request and in all it’s glory, my one-two-three guide to creative genius.
1. Write down the core vision
This is the essence of a design (or brand) distilled into a single sentence. It might be as simple as ‘It’s all about sex’. That aside, it’s the post-it note stuck above your desk that is the concrete reference for each and every idea you create. You get to check anything you do against this driving statement at any time and if doesn’t in some form embody this core essence, you’ve gone a little too far off the track. Which is a good thing, in most instances, all you need to do is take a few steps back to find the breadcrumb trail again.
2. Immerse completely, rinse and repeat
New project comes in, and it’s something you haven’t done in a while. You need to get into the right mindset. Read every book, look at every magazine and talk to all the guys in the office with more experience than yourself (thank you Mr Janitor, you saved my ass again). Look at all mediums for inspiration; architecture, photography, illustration, advertising and movies to name a few. Limit the amount of other graphic designer’s work you look at as a project continues or it will start to subconsciously pervade your own designs. You want to absorb a spectrum of influences early and in one big hit to jumpstart your own thinking. Good stuff will stick in your mind, and inspire you to do even better.
For example, if you’re working on signage, look at every example application you can possibly get your hands on. Historical examples, the latest innovations, concepts, sketches and failed attempts. Then look at black and white photography of the naked form. For inspiration of course. Variety is the key, you’re not looking for trends but possibilities. You’ll probably see stuff you didn’t even realise was possible or applications that aren’t relevant but lead you to a new concept. Do the same for packaging, for annual reports, or for the logo that cheap Uncle Bob asked for (he’ll only pay you in grief and aggravation) but it’s family so do it, then tell him that when the time comes you’ll need him to do you a favour and kiss him on both cheeks. Then in three weeks time, ring him at 2.00am in the morning, breathing erratically and stuttering and say ‘Bob, it all went bad and I need that favour now. Bring your car and a shovel.’ He’ll most probably blubber something incoherent and hang up, but I guarantee he won’t ask for any more logos and you only have to dig one hole with your hands.
It’s a cliché, but it’s a true and tried path to starting a job. You just gotta start and ideas will come (and when they don’t, do it anyway). Destroy that page with every thought that springs to mind. The reality is, you’ll pour out nine hundred and ninety nine ideas of pure rubbish. Absolute gabage. No really. It will be clichéd, imitative design that your old uni lecturer would have pulled out the red pen for. But after it’s on the page, it won’t appear in your head again. Then call it a day and go home. The good ideas will start appearing in the shower that morning and you’ll be desperately trying to draw them in the heat mist on the door with one hand whilst barely holding up your towel and your dignity (which you’ll let go of right when your partner walks in to see you naked and drawing strange symbols on the bathroom mirror. Design can be a lonely career, be warned)