Many creatives dread the blank page.
And for good reason. The blank page is a reminder that you haven’t started. And that you have to start. Soon.
And starting is usually the hardest part.
In the first place, don’t start with a shiny white blank paper.
After receiving a creative brief, you don’t go straight to your computer and stare at a blank Illustrator file or Google doc on your screen.
What you do is research.
For most creative teams — designers and writers — research is always #1. Yes even after the client gives you pages and pages of material. You go look for your own sources and, information, in unexpected places.
People who start with research are people with a process.
And that is the cure for creative paralysis: Process.
The reason we feel paralyzed is we’re trying to leap into the future. We want to get to the solution, without going through the journey.
We ignore the journey, overwhelmed by our own expectations. Pressured by a deadline.
So here’s an example. Let’s say you are working on a project: a poster design for a concert featuring pieces by Tchaikovsky, Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Mozart, and a bunch of other classical composers. During the briefing, the client expressed that they want to attract more young people.
If you go straight to your computer, most likely you will come up with an idea and try to make it work. You create graphic text. Then you try different typefaces, maybe classical type because it’s classical. Then roman pillars, mixed in with modern type, modern colors, modern architecture. Two hours later, you feel that it’s interesting but looks boring and expected. And you just wasted two hours.
What if instead, you started listening to the music pieces. Then reading about the composers. Looking at wikipedia. Just reading, exploring the lives of these composers. Then you realize, how interesting their hairstyles were back then. A little similar to Princess Leia’s hair. Mozart and Bach were wearing wigs. So graphic, and so recognizable, so iconic. So you start sketching ideas. Then you develop them further. You create graphics out of just their hair. No faces, just floating hair. Then mix in some strong colors. It’s eye-catching, almost irreverent, but striking, memorable. Intriguing. Bordering on controversial, knowing that old fogies will be at the theatre too. Then you get feedback from your colleagues, and then your creative director, who loves it because it’s so bold and unexpected.
That’s the difference between having a process and not having one. The creative process is tried and tested. Every studio has their own version of it, but it’s the same skeleton of steps.
Research, knowing the market, gathering info, asking questions
Analyzing the problem
Review and selection
Final artwork and production
Design is thinking. Figuring out solutions, not just waiting for ideas or inspiration.
What I love about having a process
- Process makes it easy to start. It also gives you the freedom to be goofy, to explore anything in the beginning stages. Relish it! This is also why in brainstorming you tend to joke around a lot, and think of funny, ridiculous ideas. (Until some micromanager scolds you for having fun).
- Process prevents mistakes. When you follow a process, like a checklist or feedback session, you (and your team) are able to catch mistakes before production.
- Process ensures quality. Part of having a process is checking and reviewing. You’d ask if the objectives were met, whether you looked at the problem from different angles, or if the solution you came up with is bold, new and unexpected, or if you are repeating yourself?
Be strict with process. Don’t skip any step. It could seriously cost thousands of dollars, especially in the final stages, if things are not thoroughly checked. If you skip research and exploration to save a few hours, it could cost you a brilliant idea.
So on your next project, don’t be pressured to create something great right away. Instead, love the process. love the journey. And your client will love the outcome.
(P.S. The poster example above is a true story. A project I did years ago for a Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra season poster.)