The common wisdom is that some people are creative and others just aren’t. I tend to disagree, for me anyone with the desire to experience new things is on his or her way to creative nirvana.
As a graphic designer I have the privilege to work in what is often called the ‘creative industry’. However often my time is spent doing many tasks that many people wouldn’t call creative. I read and write long emails, write business proposals or review projects financial data. The time which I can allocate each week for ‘being creative’ is limited, and there is often less time available than one would like for free creative exploration.
Over the years I’ve learnt that really good ideas don’t come to me any quicker than when I started designing, and that the real benefit of experience is being able to see in an embrionic idea the potential of something much bigger that can and should be nurtured.
I have always been fascinated by the subject or creativity in the wider sense of the term and realised soon in my working life that the worst place to find fresh inspiration were the design magazines, books and websites. Don’t get me wrong they are a great ressource but in my view are more a way to keep up to date with what’s going in the industry or analyse and deconstruct other creatives ways of thinking than a source of pure unaltered inspiration.
A professional creative is expected to deliver good ideas whenever they are needed, in the same way that a good actor delivers his lines on cue. Like actors designers have little tricks to help them deliver when they need to.
Here are a couple of techniques to call upon the creative muses which haven’t failed me so far:
1) Pratice random curiosity
Being always busy we tend to stick to more daily routines than we are aware of, considerably reducing our chances to discover new things and ideas, and therefore nurturing our creativity. When we make time to be curious, we are generally curious about what interest us the most, which considerably reduces the scope of our curiosity. The pratice of random curiosity, like all practices, needs a minimum or commitment and regularity, however by its very nature it is always fresh and new.
I would argue that to reap the full benefits of this practice it should be practiced away from any kind of digital devices or screens. Like a salesperson on commission, the web has a unseemly tendency to point to us to content strangely similar to what we have previously searched for in the hope that we will ‘engage’ and possibly part with some cash or at the very least some personal data. Go analog instead, the physical world contain endless surprises.
Here are just two examples of how to practice random curiosity:
Walk into a very large and well stocked bookshop, stop a department where you’d never usually stop (veterinary surgery, history of religions, modern warfare psychology or nanotechnology patent law anyone?). Pick up any book which isn’t on display but rather hidden on a top or bottom shelve. Open it at random, read a full chapter, talk about it to the next per on you’ll meet.
Do the journey you have done for years by train on foot. Yes it might take two hours but look around and especially above you at the building rooftops. Older buildings often have construction dates, carvings and unusual features, telling us an history we often ignore. Modern buildings are also usually generic in design at floor level, but reveal their true personalities and intend when looking up.
I’m sure you get the idea, but just breaking the routine isn’t enough, you must give your full attention to whatever you are looking at, with a certain degree of sustained intensity. Imagine you have been kidnapped and blindfolded for a week and suddenly found yourself in front of this particular book or particular building. How would you look at it?
Doodling is almost universally considered a bad habit and a waste of time. In an age when the quest for maximum personal productivity has never been more popular, few activities seen as wasteful as doodling. However I have found over the years that doodling is for me a truly unique activity which allows my hand to take control of my brain, generating thoughts and ideas which wouldn’t occur otherwise.
Recent scientific research has highlighted the benefits of doodling as mentioned in articles in Fast Company and theWall Street Journal.
If you have ever been doodling when talking on the phone, often and very quickly a shape calls for another with no apparent logic. By the end of the call you have a full drawing where the individual elements aren’t particularly striking but the overall composition in the page is often suprisingly beautiful. How is that?
When doodling in a relaxed and even relatively absent manner we let many things ‘below the surface’ happen and find a tangible physical expression on paper. It doesn’t matter if the resulting doodle isn’t the solution to a particular problem you are currently trying to solve. Keep doodling and it will come to you later on as you walk down the street.
Try and see for yourself.
François Reynier is Creative Director at Acacia.