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Jumping right on the heels of yesterday's post about problem solving I wanted to share some design advice I received from punk designer Art Chantry a few years ago. When I was in school I had the opportunity to participate in a visiting designers workshop that was run by a selection of noteworthy designers with unique experiences and individual project assignments.
The particular course I took was traded off between designers including Alexander Isley, Laurie Rosenwald, and Art Chantry. Each designer's portion was set up over three days: a day for lecturing, a day for designing and a day for critiquing; very fast paced to say the least. After the first two exercises with Isley and Rosenwald, I noticed that these designers had streamlined their processes in a way that depended on instant creativity. Their consistent theme of advice was that over-thinking a design problem will typically result in wasted time and a final product you usually won't want to slap your name on.
So, ok... don't over-think your design problems... but now my question, which I presented to the third designer, Chantry: if you aren't "thinking" too hard about the problem, how do you make your first design answers count? How can you draw out that "ah ha" moment early in the process?
Chantry's response was simple (and somewhat startling): JUST TAKE A NAP! See what happens. So I did, headphones on, notebook beside the bed and sure enough after about 30 minutes I couldn't keep my eyes shut or my pen off the page with ideas. What Chanrty was getting at was the fact that creativity is a subconscious activity. Think about the last big idea you came up with.... where were you? Maybe driving on your way home from work, or laying in bed at 3 in the morning. More than likely you were doing something where your conscious mind was preoccupied with anything other than the problem at hand.
Doodling or journaling is another good way to distract your mind. I have heard people say "you have to put your heart into your design" and I remember thinking, "Sure, easier said than done!" What I hadn't realized is that the abstract concept of our "heart", lie in our emotions, memories, and experiences, all a part of our subconscious, which we do have access to. Because our conscious mind can only focus on one thing at a time, it is important to learn how to tap into our subconscious thoughts in order to pull from those emotions that will feed our creativity.
This probably does not come as new information but seeing how easy it is to get wrapped up in deadlines, budgets, and the need to be efficient I thought this post could serve as a refreshing reminder that creative ideas can't just happen on their own. Taking a moment step back from the immediate problem to let your mind wander can be extremely rewarding. Next time you're in a pinch and just can't come up with that great idea, take a minute to doodle in a sketch book, make a list of associated words, walk around the block or just go take a nap!