Sep 24, 2012
THEME: Point of View

Jump-Starting Creativity: a Toolkit for Designers of All Kinds

We’ve all heard this Confucius adage: “Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Since my early teen years, I’ve known I needed to do something creative with my life. I’m fortunate to use my creative energy often at Perkins+Will, and I’m always consciously looking for ways to keep the work I do in sync with the thing I love. One path to this is sketching.

Our firm’s Innovation Incubator is a micro-grant program that supports the culture of innovation through small research projects. When my colleague Pamela Steiner and I were selected to participate, our goal was to investigate the current “State of Sketch” within Perkins+Will. Our ulterior motive, however, was to break up the ordinary. In a firm heavily fueled by digital design and fast-paced deadlines, we embarked on something that forced us to slow down: re-introducing sketching, drawing, and doodling into our practice.

Working for an amazing firm like Perkins+Will has its perks, including working with creative powerhouses and contributing directly to major projects. The other side of the coin, however, is the panic I sometimes feel from the job’s demand for constant creativity. Surely I’m not the only designer who experiences this unique brand of writers’ block — that sheer terror felt when looking at a blank piece of paper (or artboard, if you’re speaking Adobe) and not knowing what comes next. While I do enjoy the pace of my work, here’s the challenge: When you’re staffed and scheduled to start a new project, you start it. When you’re booked for a day of concept work, you do a day of concept work. On the day it’s scheduled. If you find yourself having an off day, you deal with it.

That last expectation, that a creative stroke of genius must occur whether or not the right side of your brain came to work today, always gives me pause. If I can’t do this every day, am I a fraud? How do I snap out of it? Will it go away?

To respond to these questions, I’ve developed the following emergency survival kit (60% of the time it works every time):

  1. Start each day with a sketch of something fun. Some people run each morning to clear their minds. I sketch something – even if it’s just what I plan to wear for the day – to recharge. If taking those 20 minutes will make me more efficient throughout the day, that’s 20 minutes well spent.
  2. Take a walk. Strolling through an office of creative types is part breather, part gallery walk. Playing voyeur as you pass colleagues’ desks, monitors, and sketchbooks gives you a glimpse into what is happening beyond your pod. Your innate curiosity will get your creative juices running.
  3. Ask for help. Someone else’s brainstorming around a project and resulting excitement about an idea can be contagious.  All of a sudden you’re BOTH pumped up about that color, typeface, or form. How did you not see this heavenly combination before?!
  4. Postpone. You didn’t hear this from me, but mental health is more valuable than air and just as easily overlooked. At the risk of sounding like an entitled Millennial, if you can’t force yourself to be creative, try again tomorrow. A friend once wisely reminded me that “design is not a life or death situation.”

Particularly on those off days, keep this toolkit handy. A little personal time, teamwork, curiosity, and creative muscle massage can all go a long way.

Written by Kelley Bozarth

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