Some people seem to learn a language effortlessly, others seem to be highly talented when it comes to sport. It's also possible for people to succeed at something, even if they're not especially gifted in that field. Sometimes it's simply a question of putting more effort in. The same goes for creativity.
Thumbnail image - Minerva and the Muses © Web Gallery of Art
Creativity is difficult for a lot of people to quantify; it's a broad term, but an important skill. Creativity is what drives us as designers. Creativity and expertise is what makes the difference between an amateur and a professional. Creativity is usually a personal talent. And the good news is: anyone can learn to be more creative in their work and life.
How is it possible to stimulate your creative mind? Well, there are different techniques, but arguably the most important aspect is observation.
I’m starting to think that the key difference between designers and non-designers is not what they make, but the way they see things.— Lea Verou (@LeaVerou) April 6, 2013
Creative people see the world differently than others; they are efficient observers.
"Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people" - Leo Burnett
Creativity is often characterized by solving a problem situation (a desire) in an original and unexpected way, whilst also remaining useful. Creativity may be something quite obvious, such as the development of a suitable logo for a company, but applies equally to complex situations in politics, science, economics and many other fields.
These are the two key words to remember: unexpected and useful. At the outset of any given project, clients will have certain expectations. You and any team members working with you will also have expectations. Creativity allows you to work beyond the boundaries of those expectations, ultimately delivering something innovative and valuable.
Throughout history, people have been trying to explain and understand creativity. During the very early stages of civilization, people assumed that creativity was something mystical. A creative person was simply an open box, filled with inspiration by a divine entity. Think of the Muses at the time of the Greeks; the godesses of inspiration for science, art and literature - the source of all knowledge. You were either one of the lucky few, or you weren't.
Many psychologists had their opinions on creativity too. Sigmund Freud believed that creativity was the result of a tension between the conscious and the subconscious, linked with desires for wealth, power and love. Long did psychologists consider creativity as something for artists and scientists; the ordinary man seldom coming in contact with creativity. This perception changed over time and people started to realise that creativity could apply to anyone.
This idea was exemplified by the 'unusual uses' tests performed by psychologists and scientists during the mid 1900's. They gave subjects the task of listing possible uses of a single brick in a bathroom.
Depending on how many possibilities were listed within a specific time, scientists would get an idea of an individual's creativity and their ability to think divergently. Creativity, even then, was mainly characterized by recognizing unusual links.
Creativity in Design
We designers are creative in very obvious ways. Our creativity is immediately evident and tangible. We have to deliver concrete results in the form of a website, corporate identity, a graphic layout and so on. For us, creativity is therefore a continuous challenge every single time we turn on our computer or open up our sketch book.
"You can't wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club" - Jack London
Nowadays, it is understood that creativity is a cognitive process, influenced by both social and personal factors. It's also believed that creativity tests are only partially able to measure our creativity owing to its complexity. Creativity is also something of a gift. When presented with a problem, some people will come up with creative concepts in matter of minutes, while others may need a day to deliver stereotypical solutions.
Happily, creative ability can be improved. First and foremost, theoretical knowledge of creativity is important. It will help you understand why you are creative, how you are creative and why sometimes it just won't work. Having a bad day is only partly the explanation. Suffering creative block can always be explained and this is something we will look into in coming articles. Having this theoretical knowledge will mean that it's possible for you to find solutions to your creative problems. This series will also simultaneously offer a clear link with creativity in the real world.
Where do I Start?
Before we actually begin with studying process, block and techniques, we first need to start with your own creativity. Looking at how others do things is easy, the challenge is pushing yourself to be more creative in your own work and life. The motivation and desire to improve is important, but ultimately, this is something very individual. There's no golden rule which will improve your creativity.
The Creative Subconscious
It's important to understand that you are already creative in your daily life. Each website that you develop, every dish that you cook, decisions you take each day are you being involved with creativity. Should you pay more attention to this? Not at all. Let your brain do its job. For now, we will look into this as something external. As we improve our tangible skills, we will also improve on a subconscious level.
To get started, there are just two simple rules:
- Everything is possible
- Everything is allowed
Remember that creativity lies in the power to do unusual (useful) things. Not everything might be useful at first sight and it never should. This is about developing a basis to be creative. Oh, and spoiler: there will be times that you will not achieve the desired results.
For now we will ignore the connection between commercial work and creativity. Why? It creates pressure and pressure is not always what you want while being creative. Particularly as we're just starting out, we're going to take things slowly. Over time we will make concepts more concrete and discuss their application in your commercial work.
Your Inner Child
A great idea to improve your creativity is to look how you were as a child. Did you draw? Did you write your own stories? How did you get inspired as a child? Chances are, you never had to look for inspiration. As a child you weren't prejudiced and neither did you have a framework in which you worked, lived and thought in. You were free in all possible ways. Therefore, a lot of people give the advice to look at the world and your work as a child again and take nothing for granted. However, this is far from simple and it's way too big a step to start. We'll start simple and improve your creativity step by step.
As an introduction, we'll start easy. I challenge you to stimulate your creativity on a daily basis. In whatever form, in whatever outcome.
When people specifically ask for some tips, I usually challenge them to buy a sketchbook and be creative in it every single day, even if you just spend five minutes on it. You can carry this out however you want: drawing, sketching, writing, whatever. The form doesn't matter. It's important that you start to be more creative in your busy life without having to think of commercial purposes.
You'll notice that it isn't always easy to do this. People have the idea that creativity is always linked with something practical and useful. When you're personally being creative, without a commercial context, you absolutely shouldn't focus on delivering something practical or useful. I often have ideas that seem completely irrelevant at first sight, but later on it's possible for me to connect the dots and find it useful after all. Even then, there are loads of ideas and sketches that are completely useless and that's alright, it's part of the process.
It's important to understand that creativity is a time-bound process and that you won't always achieve efficient results. Two lessons can be drawn for the time being: Everyone is creative every day in their life and everyone can improve their creativity so that it's commercially interesting. That will be the purpose of the upcoming articles.
During the next few articles, your input is important. What content would you like to see? What appeals to you specifically where creativity is concerned? Your suggestions will be taken in account while the session progresses. Feel free to write down any questions or suggestions in the comments and I'll gladly take a look at them.