The creative process isn't just magic. Web Hosting Search's Jane Campbell explains how and why designers' creative process works, and goes through it from practice and preparation to execution
For many project managers and clients, the creative process is an unexplainable phenomenon that appears to be more magic than substance. For designers, the task of continually explaining that the creative process is real, and there is indeed a method to their madness, becomes a rigorous exercise in refraining from drop-kicking their sketchpads and laptops across the conference room. As communicators, it should be fairly easy for designers to explain how their process works and to some extent why it works. Unfortunately, the feeling associated with the creative process is hard to describe. It is, however, a process and there is method behind it.
Practice, preparation, and training
The creative process begins with a foundation of training, practice and preparation. This does not mean these things are necessary for creativity, it simply means that the process of creativity is easier to facilitate with a solid foundation of learning. In order for a designer to provide an inspired piece of work, the mundane act of translating the idea from the mind to its final destination must not be hindered by a lack of understanding of how to execute the idea.
Training is the actual act of learning how to do things. Whether the designer creates a design by hand or uses software, such as Photoshop or Illustrator, the tools cannot impede the process. For this reason, it is of the utmost importance that a designer learns how to use them efficiently.
In preparing to design, a designer must understand what has already been done and how they can do things differently. This is the beginning of the spark of creativity. Designers study everything. Inspiration can find its way into the mind of a designer in many ways. It may be a painting by Monet or the rhythm of pillars at the entrance of a neoclassical-style courthouse that inspires a design. Looking, seeing and understanding are three fundamental skills a designer must posses in order to create extraordinary designs.
Conception and incubation
Many times, you may find a designer looking out a window or sitting on a park bench doodling in a sketchbook. You may think they are simply daydreaming, or even worse, goofing off. In most cases, this is actually the most productive phase of the creative process. This is the time when a designer is incubating all of the different ideas that have spawned from preparation. This is the phase of the creative process where the designer may find two dissimilar ideas and pull them together into one cohesive concept. This is the so-called “spark” of creativity. If you interrupt a designer at this point in the process, you may find yourself dodging technical pencils and sketchpads.
The incubation period can also be very environment dependent. Ideas may be circulating through the designer’s mind, or making their way into the sketchpad, when they see something in a photograph hanging on a wall or hear a particular melody. If there is any time within the creative process that could be considered “magical”, this is it.
In some cases, this part of the process is very deliberate. Sometimes, though, the designer won’t even realise that their mind is putting different ideas together until the moment of illumination.
This is the light bulb moment. Everything comes together and the most brilliant design idea is born. Unfortunately, this is not a part of the process that can be set to a schedule. Most of the time, this moment hits a designer when they are least expecting it or when it’s inconvenient. These moments seem to occur when a designer is in the bathroom, driving, or at a meeting that they can’t get away from.
At this point in the process, it’s incredibly important that the designer has access to the tools that will allow them to express the idea, such as a notepad, sketchbook, pens, pencils, paper, or a laptop. Once this eureka moment has occurred, the execution of the idea is almost a formality.
Execution or implementation is the final phase of the creative process. This is the point where the years of practice and preparation are most valuable. If a designer knows their tools inside and out, the execution phase will invariably be very short-lived. This is the point where many art directors or creative directors hand things off to their graphic designers. They explain the concept or show sketches, and the designer takes it from there.
It is also during this time that a designer must evaluate whether or not the idea is actually a good one. Good designers recognise that not every idea is good. However, it’s often hard to tell whether or not an idea is good or bad until they have mocked it up into something that looks more final.
The creative process is cyclical. It begins with the work of preparation and practice and sees its fruition in the final phase of execution. Whether the idea ends up being good or bad, the creative process is still successful because a good designer will learn from both and apply it to their future projects.