A List Apart

Menu
Issue № 8

The Creative Process

by Published in Graphic Design, Project Management

Creativity and innovation are constantly pushing us forward. I’m talking about scientific breakthroughs like cream cheese, groundbreaking new philosophies: “I procrastinate therefore I’m lazy,”  and seedless water melons. But ask a friend to think up something creative on the spot and he’ll look like he ate a bowl of ice cream in a hurry. It’s indeed an elusive process. Creativity and ideas don’t come on command, they seem to spring up when we least expect it — like a rod of lightning bending our mind in unexpected directions, showing us the way.

Left and right

Article Continues Below

Eggheads believe that our two brain halves control different “modes” of thinking. This hypothesis was spearheaded by Roger Sperry, who won a Nobel Prize for his research in 1981. The “modes” are roughly divided like this:

Left brainRight brain
LogicalRandom
SequentialIntuitive
RationalHolistic
AnalyzesSynthesizes
Objective Subjective
Parts Wholes

The left brain (don’t get delusions of grandeur; you don’t have two brains) is concerned with logical thinking, analysis, and accuracy, while the right focuses on aesthetics, feeling, and creativity.

Seems like the right half is is our creative friend, while the right is plotting against us. New ideas comes from breaking out of the norm, ignoring limits and facts,  venturing where no one has gone before, to seek out new galaxies and civi… err sorry.

The left brain, on the other hand, analyzes, sorts stuff, and dwells in details, generally sabotaging our creative thinking.

This is bad news for all who weren’t blessed with left-handedness, since that means you don’t have a dominant right-brain. Left-handed:  right-brained, right-handed: left-brained. Confusing, eh? But before you decide to start doing everything left-handed, listen to what I have to say.

Use your right brain

Basically we want to involve our right brain and numb the left one as much as possible.

Remember, this is brainstorming, we’re not in production, things doesn’t need to be perfectly logical at this point. We need to extract stuff from the brain and put it on some more tangible medium — to find the seed of the idea that will put a Ferrari in our garage.

The trick is to teach yourself to ignore rules, conventions, and must-be’s.

If you’re creating art, just doodle. If you’re writing, just scribble. If you’re a lawyer, change occupation.

Even if you don’t have a clue what you’re doing, you can’t escape your unconscious. It moves in mysterious ways.

After a while, nice ideas will start to surface. This might not happen right away; often, you need to train your brain into this sort of thinking (especially if you’re right-handed). So keep at it. If good ideas were cheap we’d all be filthy rich.

In time, you’ll have a bunch of ideas. Some might work, some would shred your reputation into tiny tiny pieces.

Take a step back

  When you’ve been brainstorming for a while you need to take a step back and let things settle in your mind. Sleep is excellent for this. While you dream, your subconscious will go through information it has assembled,  sorting and chewing it over. When you wake up the next morning you might just have figured things out.

  Similarly when you have been working on a project for too long, it’s easy to get blindsided. Something is not quite right but you just can’t figure out what it is. Another scenario is that you think it’s perfect, release it —  and after a couple of days you find all sorts of horrid mistakes. So take a break, relax, and let the brain do its thing.

Work this way

When I start writing an article I don’t write in any particular order, I don’t care about spelling, grammar, or wording. I write fast and keep on writing without looking back. I leave details for later since that entails the left brain. This way I get my right brain working in high gear.

Similarly when I try to come up with a new graphic I don’t think: “I think I’ll make sad-looking dog with fluffy hair.” I simply grab the airbrush, spray like a madman (it’s particularly funny watching one’s co-workers’ expressions if they see the work at this stage), run it through a bunch of filters, crop it, blend it, mix it and shake it all around.

Using this process, eventually you’ll create something where you see a glimmer of a shape or concept that is worth pursuing.

When I look at some of my “art” I have almost no clue how I created it. I know approximately how it was done, but the steps I took to get there are blurry.

YES! Meetings

This technique was described at a course I recently attended and it works remarkably well.

The idea is to take a group of people, set a topic and let the ideas flow. Whatever the idea, everyone must encourage it: “Yes!”

This helps the eliminate fear of being ridiculed in a group; loss of fear can spur you to make things up. Wacky,  impossible ideas are not only tolerated but encouraged. As people loosen up, the topics seem to gravitate towards sex, fortune, and omnipotence. But these are best-selling concepts, so you needn’t worry.

Until we meet again

Don’t be depressed if you are right-handed. We left-handed folk have shorter life span by about ten years, and live in a society built for right-handed people — which probably has something to do with the former. Still, you know what they say: better to burn out than to fade away.

About the Author

No Comments

  1. Sorry, commenting is closed on this article.