Design in a Vacuum

Here is a shout-out to all of those in the design field who work solo—the freelancers, one-person design shops, one guy (or gal) in-house art departments, and own-your-own-design-firm start-ups that continue to do great work all alone. Why do I single them out? Because, in my opinion (and based on my experience), few things are more difficult than creating fun, edgy, innovative design ideas when there is no one else handy to bounce those ideas around with. Design in a vacuum, indeed.

Yet many of you do this every day, or know others who do. It is hard work and largely unrecognized. So… YAY YOU!

That being said, let’s talk about the creative process in general. I have been reading a lot in the design magazines this year about “the way design used to be.” We’ve been known to write such articles, too, since most of Second Wind’s staff also grew up in this business when computers were something in a sci-fi movie, and much of our work day was spent at a drawing table, doodling concepts on a Bienfang® layout tablet with our weapon of choice, a Flair® felt-tip pen. (Black was a favorite, but blue would do.)

During this time, I had the great good fortune to work with a trio of fun creative guys who liked nothing better than to sit down around a table and brainstorm at dizzying speed. Three quarters of the ideas would be jokes, sarcastic quips, or simply wildly off-base concepts (and all the more hilarious for being so). But from those sessions we created a lot of terrific, on-target work.

What is it about collaborative creative thinking that is so darn much fun—and works so well? Many top-notch designers work solo and achieve remarkable results. But for most of us, that is less rewarding than a project evolving through team creative effort. Is it the meshing of an intriguing mix of personalities? Is it the casual, throwaway jokes that start a new train of thought? Or is it simply that a problem, viewed through the eyes of another designer, assumes a new shape and often reveals a previously overlooked solution?

Team-Think Brings Perspective

Many of us work in isolation to some degree, due to the nature of creative work. There are days when we scarcely leave our cubicles from 8:00 until 5:30. We treasure the moments of interaction with co-workers and visitors, who contribute much of the fresh input to our workdays. And, of course, the online design community adds value to each day, offering some interaction with other creative thinkers as we push forward with the work.

But the human connection is a vital part of the design process: the ability to see facial expressions, make eye contact, and read body language that greatly enhances the creative process. I would bet that someone, somewhere has done a study on this and arrived at some scientific reason why it works. Agencies and design firms should encourage creatives and their collaborators to meet often, share ideas and spin concepts.

With thanks to the several Second Wind members who contributed their ideas for enhancing team creative efforts, here are suggestions for keeping the creative juices flowing at your agency:

  • Do something non-design related (is anything really non-design related?) as a group outside the office. Take in a new movie, go to a concert, hit the new exhibit at the local museum, or just do a barbecue or picnic in someone’s back yard with silly games, charades, or do-it-yourself Pictionary™. When employees relate to one another on a non-work level, the broadened relationships can enhance interaction and collaboration in the office.
  • Assign the same project to several creatives and ask each person for a half-dozen good ideas. Then meet to share and discuss all ideas. This encourages the shy to participate, and prevents one or two dominant personalities from doing all the talking. It also reminds the alpha designers that other people have good ideas, too!
  • Do lunch once a month, either in the office or at a local watering hole with tables large enough for everyone to sit easily together. Take everyone, not just your creative department. Make other departmental staff mix with creatives. Give everyone a chance to talk. Eat and brainstorm at the same time. You’ll generate more ideas than you can handle.


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