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Entries in Creativity (23)


Design Stagnation and Renaissance

Tonight's posting has been brewing for several days, but wasn't fully steeped until I came across Design In-Flight Magazine earlier today. Jason Santa Maria's excellent cover story, Fighting off design stagnation was the key to releasing these thoughts.

I found Design In-Flight magazine via Andy Clarke's excellent And All That Malarkey weblog. It was today's post, Fighting off design Stalinism which caught my eye, along with Andy's hearty recommendation of DIF magazine. I decided to buy the yearly subscription for $10 and boy what a great deal! DIF is an excellent magazine.

Jason's article is superb, both for its timing and ideas. Having been in the Shadow of the Valley of Creativity last May, I could immediately relate to Jason's thinking. Here's an excerpt from the opening paragraph:

I’ve only been out of school and working in the industry for a few years now, but I can already feel it. The feeling like my hands are getting tied. Like I am coming up with the same old ideas or dipping into my overused bag of tricks too often. I am left racking my brain for new directions and feeling like the design world will surely leave me behind to make way for today’s new design youth. You might laugh because it’s only been a few years, but this is where it begins.

That was pretty much how I felt in early 2004, feeling in need of a boost of creativity. I didn't doubt my skills as much as I knew I needed to kick-start my creative juices again — often easier said than done.

Lately I've been experiencing a serious creative renaissance, which I can now actually trace back to that very post on May 27th. It was the admission, not only to myself and my wife or friends, but to my weblog and its readers, which set me on this forward path.

I now see clearly that the very first step toward my coming to grips with this situation was admitting where I was. Once the cat was "out of the bag", so to speak, real changes could take place — like the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings I've seen portrayed on TV.

"Hi my name is Mike, and I'm a designer."

Since that May, I've taken several steps toward change. I've intentionally taken the time to sketch regularly, both for work projects and just for fun. I've furiously pursued XHTML & CSS design, becoming more fluent in those two languages in the process.

I've also found myself contemplating design much more often, seeking out good design like well-brewed espresso. Reviewing logos on trucks, in magazines and on websites. I even find myself trying to decipher why designs do or don't work. Design really has become a passion again, and I'm loving it.

There's been another change in these past months, my weight loss of 30 pounds on the South Beach diet. While not directly design related, this physical change has generated much more energy for pursuit of work and play. Feeling good has provided a positive burst, impacting all other parts of my life. Even more though, losing weight has provided proof to myself that I really could change, if I admitted where I was, believed it and did something about it. It was difficult at first, but wow, is it worth it now!

So, if you're finding yourself in a funk at the start of this new year, maybe the first step is to admit to yourself and maybe your family and friends, where you're at. Once you can realistically point out your position on the map, it's much easier to find the way home.


Business Diary Concept: 4 Month Update

Back in late August, I made a decision to keep a business diary for myself. Today, Evelyn Mitchell from left a comment here, asking how things have been going with it. The timing was perfect, because that topic was actually on my mind! :-)

I love my business diary. I used it daily (well, most days) and find it indispensable for capturing tidbits, thoughts, URLs and so forth. Since the original article was posted, I've moved to a plain text document which lives in BBEdit rather than RTF. I found rich-texty goodness not compelling enough after using the diary for a month. It seemed formatting diary entries was more fiddle than feature, so I moved to plain text.

Another reason for the plain-text-via-BBEdit direction, was to eliminate another running app. I use BBEdit for website development all day long, so it seemed crazy to run TexEdit just to keep a diary. BBEdit 8 happened to add a multi-document window option around this same time, which allows me to leave the diary running without having additional doc windows open, cluttering the screen.

Related to the plain text move, I now sync that document over to the Palm Tungsten E via Documents To Go. Wordsmith for the Mac can't handle anything but RTF, so the switch was required. But what I'm finding is, I never really look at the diary on my Palm. I mean, it's very nice to have it there as a backup, or if I'm visiting a client — its just that so far I've not used the diary on the TE in that way.

As for regularity, I don't post notes in the document every day, though I try to. Sometimes my workday is very busy, so I might add comments from a prior day I'd missed, while entering tidbits about the current day. I don't want to feel compelled to add something each day, useful or not. I'd prefer that my work diary serve me, rather than the other way around.

Client specific notes do go in the diary, and then are transferred over to DayLite, a great new OS X app we're using at MakaluMedia. I've also found that comments in the diary are regularly re-used as emails to colleagues or clients. So, the diary acts as a scratch pad area in some sense.

URLs continue to be recorded in the diary, though lately I've been really diggin' storing links at the free online social bookmarking service called This service lets you capture web page links in your own database, add descriptions and category tags. The service includes bookmarks for your browser which let you post to in a pop-up window or the same browser window — these really are a key to making useful and fast.

Even cooler, links are shared with others via web, RSS or within the system. I suggest you check it out yourself to see how it might work for you. My only beef with — my bookmarks are on someone else's server. If they close up or the server poops out, I'm stuck. So, I still copy key URLs in my work diary and keep them in Safari.

If you're considering a new year's resolution to keep your thoughts, ideas, URLs and other text tidbits, i suggest you consider a work diary. The key is finding an approach that works for your needs, whether a paper planner, Moleskine notebook, plain text, or DayNotez on a Palm device. Remember: a work diary is there for you and not you for it.

Go forth, and journal! :-)


Good Reads: The Hughtrain & How To Be Creative

Last weekend, quite by accident, I came across, the weblog of Hugh MacLeod. While browsing there, The HughtrainI stumbled on one of his posts entitled The Hughtrain, Hugh's own variation on the Cluetrain Manifesto (another incredible document well worth reading, if you haven't yet).

Next thing I know, an hour has passed while I read The Hughtrain, complete with laughing at his prose and cartoons, drawn on the backs of business cards. Hughtrain is fresh, unpretentious and challenging, particularly to the brain of this graphic and web designer. (Note for the younguns: Hughtrain contains some pretty strong language at times)

This evening, I stumbled across yet another thought provoking piece by Hugh at Change This, a website filled with manifestos from all sorts of leading edge people. I'd been to Change This a few months ago, but never noticed Hugh's How to Be Creative manifesto.

Once again, many minutes later, I found myself laughing at and appreciating Hugh's thoughts and proverbs. The guy really has a way with words and images. The How to Be Creative piece is an amalgam of 26 secrets Hugh has discovered in his years working as a creative guy, such as:

"I draw on the back of wee biz cards. Whatever.

Thereʼs no correlation between creativity and equipment ownership. None. Zilch. Nada.

Actually, as the artist gets more into his thing, and as he gets more successful, his number of tools tends to go down. He knows what works for him. Expending mental energy on stuff wastes time. Heʼs a man on a mission. Heʼs got a deadline. Heʼs got some rich client breathing down his neck. The last thing he wants is to spend 3 weeks learning how to use a router drill if he doesnʼt need to.

A fancy tool just gives the second-rater one more pillar to hide behind. Which is why there are so many hack writers with state-of-the-art laptops."

I love this approach, because it puts the focus on the person — the artist and not the tools. The right tool is of course part of the deal, but secondary to the artist. My father once put it this way:

"Mike, it's the photographer and not the camera which makes great images. If you give a great photographer a box camera and a bad photographer top of the line gear, the great photographer will still create the better and more artistic photo every single time."

I'll leave you with another insightful tidbit from How To Be Creative:

"The sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than the actual content ever will.

How your own sovereignty inspires other people to find their own sovereignty, their own sense of freedom and possibility, will change the world far more than the the workʼs objective merits ever will.

Your idea doesnʼt have to be big. It just has to be yours alone. The more the idea is yours alone, the more freedom you have to do something really amazing.

The more amazing, the more people will click with your idea. The more people click with your idea, the more it will change the world.

Thatʼs what doodling on business cards taught me."

So, what are you waiting for? Go read The Hughtrain and How To Be Creative! :-)

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