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The Creative Process: Staying Inspired + Original

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Creative vs. Re-Creative

We consistently strive to be innovators, individuals, and creative thinkers, and yet we repeatedly find ourselves falling into a loop of re-creativity. Taking a step back to redefine creativity as innovative problem solving reveals it as a mere process: one that can be refined. As creative thinkers, staying fresh and getting inspired is the most difficult part of that process. We consistently play catch up by tracking trends, exploring the creative community and immersing ourselves in the industry. Having instant access to an endless library of work by other artists, researchers, and developers automatically amplifies the temptation to be over-influenced by existing work, increasing our likelihood to get lost in their ideas. Of course, nothing is ever entirely new, but we can trace the paths others have taken before us to help us go further and push our projects past the confines of the existing. And although many say there’s a fine line distinguishing inspired work from borrowed ideas or styles, I have to disagree. Look at a piece of work. It either feels too familiar or refreshingly new, right? Bam. There’s your guide. The creative process can often times become an internal battle, but you can track your journey and ensure a result to be proud of.

Get Your Bearings

Before you set off on your path, you need to define a destination. As a designer, the questions I often ask myself are, “What are your clients’ goals? What sets them apart from their competitors? What message are they trying to send?” etc. But no matter the task, having a clear end goal will get you where you need to go, faster. It’s ok if your defined problem or direction shifts or expands mid-project. It’s expected. Just ensure that the change in direction is dictated by the project’s needs and not your struggle to mold it onto an existing solution.

The Path to Innovation

Innovation truly is a path, so give your self some running room. You have four potential checkpoints at your disposal. Let’s work backwards. Checkpoint 4 is The Solution. It’s the end of the road, your final design. One step back from that is Checkpoint 3: The Landscape. This is existing work created by others (or even yourself). Adding a little more distance takes you to Checkpoint 2: The Research. This is where you start concepting and looking into your ideas. It’s a blend of original thought penetrated by available information. Finally, the start of the yellow brick road is Checkpoint 1: The Brainstorm. This consists of your initial, unbridled thoughts.

The Brainstorm: Be your own resource.
Before you throw yourself into the bottomless pit of indexed inspiration we call the internet, just start sketching your ideas or do a word vomit. This will be the first test of how well you know the problem you need to solve and help establish a direction for your concept. Don’t be afraid of your own ideas. The first ten are guaranteed to be terrible (yes, there should be more than ten). Accepting this will help tear down the wall of your creative blocks and get over your blank canvas phobia.

The Research: Don’t Google what you’re looking for.
If you want to establish a brand, don’t go on BrandingServed.com. If you’re looking for a button design, get off of dribbble.com. You’re in puzzle-piece-filler-mode if you’re looking at existing solutions to your problem. You’re standing one step away from your solution when you do that. You should be 4 steps away to truly innovate. As a designer, a great source of inspiration for me is my childhood. Demonstrating ideas and communicating simply is the basis of good design as well a good children’s story. They are simple, unique, and meaningful. The takeaway here is: don’t look for specifics. Generalities are your friend.

The Landscape: Use what you find as a path, not a final destination.
Work backward. Consider the concept behind your favorite inspiration. What makes it work so well and how can you rethink their solution? Remember, don’t tweak. Innovate. And use your inspiration resources as an extension of yourself, not a replacement.

The Solution: Own your work.
When you allow your designs to develop based on someone else’s work, you’ve become a slave to your design. You’re just a monkey pushing pixels. Step back and rethink it. Take ownership of what you do and understand your own creative process. Be honest with yourself by being honest with others. Can you show your inspiration proudly along side your work and sincerely call it your own? When I was younger, I made the mistake of comparing myself to those I aspired to, ultimately throwing myself into a trap in which I was destined to fail. Step out of that bottomless pit, trust your gut, and give yourself the time you need to grow. You usually know when your work is tiptoeing along a fine line. Ask yourself if your design “fits” or if it’s been tailored. Do not let yourself convince you that it’s ok when you know it is not. Push yourself harder.

Don’t tweak. Innovate.

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