What is creativity? Do we need it as designers? Design is a lot about best practices, guidelines, and following proven patterns. At the same time, though, it’s about thinking outside of the box and reinventing the wheel at times. Without creativity, the design industry, and any industry really, would be stuck in the same place it was when it began. Creativity creates innovation.
Creativity is defined as being “characterized by originality of thought; having or showing imagination” – Dictionary.com. In other words, it’s thinking of and doing something that is original – not copied, re-done, and perhaps not anything that follows previously defined best practices. To be a creative professional, you must break the rules sometimes. In this post, we’ll look into some ways you can tap into your inner creativity. Everyone has the ability to do so, it just takes a bit of free-spirited thinking, and a right mindset to begin coming up with new ideas.
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Design Something, without Examples
It’s usually great to look at other design examples and take on best practices. For the sake of creativity, though, try not to get any inspiration before designing something next time. By not looking at other examples, you’ll be less inclined to copy, repeat, or even pick up bits and pieces along the way. To discover your unique style, create something that comes completely from your own mind.
Image credit: pagedooley
Try this exercise: take out a piece of paper and begin drawing. Draw what ever you wish, in any way you wish. (It doesn’t matter if you’re not a great illustrator, nobody has to see it!) It can be abstract, realistic, detailed, or simple. Feel free to draw from one point and then outward, or organize the piece and fill in the details. Whichever way you wish – and also feel free to ignore all illustrative design and art advice you’ve learned previously. What did you come up with?
Note that it is important that you use paper and pencil for this exercise. Using Photoshop or some other graphics program could limit your creativity, and interrupt you during the creative phase when switching tools or figuring out how to accomplish certain techniques. If you do however feel inspired to bring your drawing into the digital world afterwards, then so be it. You now have a drawing to reference.
Feel free to create different things and repeat this exercise as much as necessary to get a true feel for what your unique design style is. This can help anyone to begin thinking of new ideas, and implementing them right away. We often try to do perfection first, which can limit us tremendously. We think of what others will think, whether it uses the best proven practices, whether it communicates effectively, whether it uses proper design principles, and so on. In order to find something new, though, we must ignore all of these things temporarily.
Further Define Your Unique Style
After a few practice rounds, or at least one good creative outburst on paper, we can begin thinking of all the technical jargon – design principles, best practices, matching colors, design communication, and more. If you have adequate experience in design, you may have implemented many common design best practices already, without even worrying about it. That’s great if it’s become instinct. Feel free to refine further, working around the design drafted by your own unique style. Create better balance here, a piece of asymmetry for more visual interesting and primary point of interest there… you get the idea.
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For many, a good illustration on paper could not be directly used as a portfolio piece (unless you’re an illustrator). It can, however, be used as inspiration for a graphic design, website design, sculpture, web app, or anything else. Take into consideration how abstract the drawing is. Are you more interested in abstract design? Perhaps a new, more abstract, direction in your work could provide you with more interest, and lead you to more creative and fulfilling projects. Does it follow a specific style or look (grunge, baroque, glossy/modern, minimal)? Take a look at different tutorials or examples within this area to see if anything further inspires you. By then looking at inspiration that is related to your own style, you can refine your skills.
Take one feature of your illustration, or set of illustrations, and explore it further. If it’s a very balanced (the feature) look, delve more into balance and symmetry to see how you can improve that area even further. If you focus around certain objects in design (from nature, household items, large structures), explore new ways to create design out of them. If you tend to use certain colors, look into similar color palettes, complimentary color sets, and how to work with those colors better. Also, look up the meanings of those colors – doing so can be fun, inspirational, and lead you to even more creative work. Take those meanings and turn them into design.
Put in the Time and Effort
Finally, don’t just read this article, perhaps do the exercise, and go on doing things the same way as before. Put in the time and effort to become more creative, and to explore your own personal style. By designing around what inspires you and what you are best at by nature, you’ll enjoy design work much more. You may also begin to see more creative work coming in from clients and other paid projects.
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Create a time slot each day, each week, or otherwise to do creative work. This is how a business can grow, as opposed to being stuck in a rut of unwanted bread-and-butter work. Do whatever you want in that timeframe, but make it creative work. Either draw, create a web design, or play around in Illustrator to make a new print design. It doesn’t have to be for anyone or any company specifically – but do get it out there. Share the work you do on the side in your portfolio or on Flickr. Get feedback, take compliments, and even make improvements if you’d like. After each new release of a design with no creative restrictions, you can further define your own creative style.
The Psychology of Creativity
Let’s take a step away from creativity techniques and practices, and rather focus on the psychology of being and feeling creative. There is no one person that is not creative, nor is one person more creative than the next. Creativity is just being able to think of new ideas, and implement them. With practice of creating and refining new ideas, a person can definitely seem more creative than others, and it’s also likely that that person will feel more creative, and productive, more often.
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“When it comes to creativity, there’s good news and very good news. The good news is that the mysteries of the creative process are finally giving way to a rigorous scientific analysis. The very good news is that, with the right skills, you can boost your own creative output by a factor of 10 or more. Significant creativity is within everyone’s reach–no exceptions. What’s more, greater creativity breeds greater happiness. The creative process is itself a source of joy for most people. And with new creative powers we’re also better able to solve the little problems that beset us daily.” – Capturing Creativity (Robert Epstein)
Psychological studies on creativity, or the ability to come up with new ideas, feel intrigued about the new ideas, etc. put to rest the myth that only certain types of people are creative. We say all the time that designers, artists, and the like are “creative people,” but this really only means that our professions require us to have more creative thinking on a regular basis. Also, because of our professions and passions, we may be more creative because we simply have more practice with creativity.
Take Regular Breaks for New Ideas – It’s Proven!
Scientists agree that there is no one piece of the brain that establishes creativity, as there is with feelings of love, basic motor skills, language, and complex logical thinking. Instead, creativity is the ability to capture (and implement) ideas that pop up when the brain is not focused on something specifically. New ideas come from an open, unstressed, and undedicated mind. Ever had an amazing idea when walking the dog, going for a run, or simply drowning in the front of the TV? This is why breaks and free time are so important to the productive and creative process.
From the psychological standpoint, creativity only takes one thing: a relaxed and open mind. In order to think of new ideas, explore new things, take regular breaks from work, and allow yourself to completely detach from work for a longer period of time every once in a while. Then, when an idea comes up, write it down – when the urge comes to act upon it, then work with the muse and do so (even if it means giving up your break!).
Dreams Can Help
We can’t always force ourselves to dream, but the fact is we do dream regularly, and we can get a lot out of them. Dreams can create truly random events, visualizations, and concepts in our mind, and can be used in a conscious state to use creatively. Some of the most famous musicians, designers, artists, engineers, and more, said that their brilliant and most famous ideas had come to them in a dream. The secret of these people is: they consciously captured the idea behind their dream, and took action.
Salvador Dali’s famous “The Persistence of Dreams” was quoted by him to have been a direct visual representation of a dream he had. Other noted bits of creativity that were inspired by dreams were Paul McCartney from the Beatles and the song “Yesterday”, the invention of the sewing machine by Elias Howe, and the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by novelist Robert Louis Stevenson.
In order to encourage dreaming (we dream every night, so we should rather say, ‘In order to encourage remembering dreams…’), get at least 7-8 hours of sleep, and explore something new, or have conscious creative time, every day. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is the time when dreaming happens, and occurs approximately four hours after falling asleep. It’s when the brain does the most recovery, and when the most information can be put into memory. See why only five hours of sleep is bad?
Furthermore, having creative time each day by discovering or learning new things is a great way to get the brain to “work harder” at night. The phase of sleep where your brain processes new information and ideas into memory is the same phase that processes dreams. So, with a more active mind, you may get more active (and creative) dreams to recall.
There is no one person that can be naturally more creative than the other. While many people do carry more of a desire than others to be creative, and also, one person may be more artistically talented than another, it doesn’t imply that these people have special abilities. Rather, these people have just put in more effort and practice at giving themselves the time and openness for gaining new thoughts, and then acting upon them. A person who can illustrate well, design well, come up with new development concepts, and creatively find more efficient ways of doing things can only do these things because they have practiced at it, and have developed their own personal method that works best for them.
Creativity has long been a mystery to many, but it doesn’t have to be. With practice, and a sense of balance between work, leisure, and exploration, anyone can grow their creative abilities. In the world of designers, that skill is incredibly valuable, and it is a skill anyone can obtain.