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In the Shadow of the Valley of Creativity

Yesterday at the end of a pretty good work day, I came across several websites with superb design, that made good use of the latest web standards. It was a positive experience seeing these sites, because they truly inspired me.

However, as sometimes happens, I began to feel a bit bummed out after the initial inspiration wore off. Actually, very bummed out. Suddenly the design and advanced technical state of those sites made me feel my own design work was old, crusty, and behind the curve.

Over the years as a designer, I've found this roller coaster ride a somewhat regular pattern. Sometimes good creative work inspires me, then causes me to evaluate the status of my own design work in comparison. I call the second phase of this cycle the valley of creativity, because it literally feels like I'm down in a dark valley. It's not a pleasant place to be.

Last night, I shared my feelings about being the valley of creativity with my wife. How it can make me ponder selling hot dogs from a three wheeled pushcart or running a jackhammer in a construction crew, rather than continuing as a designer. But even as these thoughts popped into my head, I could see that they were crazy. I love being a designer.

Fortunately, the valley stage gives way, sometimes in minutes, other times in hours, to the third phase of getting energized. This is where I rise to the challenge of inspiring design, by doing great design of my own. It's a good place to be. Even though I'm in the same state as in the valley, my positive outlook has returned. I'm excited about design again.

As I pondered my state of creativity last night, I began to see how important the valley of creativity is. In fact, it seems almost critical — the valley is the humbling process which allows me to honestly evaluate where I am and then strive for the next level.

Today, while I know there is still much to learn, my state is better than a year, or even 6 months ago. I'm advancing with web standards, CSS, HTML and with all of the sketching, journaling and thinking I've been doing, I feel much more creative.

Yes, there are opportunities to do better work and improve. That's what I love most about design — there is always another project on which I can practice my craft in a new way. And to me, design is as much about the process and the journey as the result.

Is this cycle is common for other designers or other creative people? I suspect it is. It would seem so, since we're always encountering something more creative than what we generate ourselves — there is always a challenge.

I choose my path. I can resign and give up, and stay at my same level, or I can rise to the challenge of even higher creative work. I choose to rise.

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