I spent some time today, with a colleague, reflecting on the creative process. I am frankly skeptical of the sleek processes so often advertised by design and innovation consultancies. Having been in the trenches of design-making over the last two years, these narratives and diagrams are beginning to seem more like a disguise for the raw, ugly, unpredictable creative chaos that ensues once the suits leave the room, than true representations of the inner workings of a creative group working towards a solution. But there is a process (if inaccurately described) nonetheless; something happens between prompt and solution.

Luckily we didn’t have the gall to try to codify the process ourselves. Nor did it seem like a particularly enriching activity. Instead we simply put on paper all the things we do when we engage in creative problem solving or any kind of creative process for that matter. Below is a short video of that process.


We finished the exercise both feeling creatively spent. The process of downloading remembered techniques and habits onto paper (168 actions in all) involved some of the very behaviors we were memorializing: visualizing things, consulting inspiring designers, employing user-centered design methodologies, asking friends for help, taking breaks, hydrating, talking about the meaning of life, drinking coffee, etc.


We did not discover any new ground-breaking secret, except perhaps that the secret is there is no secret. Certainly designers are trained with a toolkit unfamiliar to a laymen, but it seems to me that the difference is not in the techniques available, but in the DOing itself. As designers we simply engage in these activities day in and day out. Sure, we try to view the world through a lens of how could it be better and engage with each other in a paradigm of advancing amorphous little blobs of possibility into well-articulated visions for a future state. But on many days that’s not an inspiring sight, and certainly not something that can be boiled down to a diagram on a website. I think Chuck Close says it best:

The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.
― Chuck Close

Or if there were one design activity I would pluck out of the lot as my favorite it would be: “Just Start!”

[back to thesis]