The above quote is by American painter and photographer Chuck Close. I came across it while I was, ironically enough, bashing around the internet looking for inspiration for design related blog topics. I had looked at all my regular sources, Creative Review, and MyFonts, and Getty, and a few others. I had Googled “graphic design inspiration” and ran away from the sheer enormity of 476,000,000 results, deciding I would just find something else to do instead.
I worked happily on other things for a couple of hours, then I went back online and encountered the Close quote. I was intrigued by how the message aligned with my own thinking about how design and marketing and advertising actually get made, so I researched and found the full quote.
“If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you.”
Ah. Yes. Of course. Go back to my process. My process rarely involves sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike. Mostly because I am a working designer/creative director whose job it is to create/have good ideas, on demand. That doesn’t mean that I can just “twirl something up” because I’m magic. It means that over time, and with practice, I’ve arrived at a process that makes it easier to make (or have insights into) things. That, and I’ve mastered the tools of my trade.
Now, my creative process has several steps, but, it’s basically this:
- Define the problem.
- Think about the problem.
- Work more until you’ve got something worth showing to other people.
There are lots of places in this process where I am open to, as Close says, things occurring to me. Even at the beginning, while I am defining the problem, it is likely that the simple act of distilling the intention of a project down to the simple question “What problem am I trying to solve” will result in an interesting way of looking at it.
Perhaps surprisingly “Think about the problem” is not the place where most of my ideas happen. That stage is mostly about organizing the details and researching. Who is the audience, what do they think right now, what do we want them to think, where is the best place to reach them, what’s the plan, etc., etc.
But it’s there, right there, just between Start and Work that is the key moment. “Starting” for me generally means establishing the copy direction and format. And then, something usually occurs to me. An idea, an approach, an insight of some kind that can give copywriters and designers a place to begin. But it is always based on the effort and thinking and planning that has gone before, rarely on an out-of-the-blue flash of inspiration. At least not the kind of inspiration implied by the phrase “out-of-the-blue”.
Then it’s time to work. To build and refine and rethink and adjust and interpret. To take a collection of brand elements and messages to a place where it becomes something that will have value to the audience and can induce them to take an action.
Which is how those of us who get paid to have creative ideas all day, every day, actually manage to survive. By working through it and digging out insights that others may have missed, while waiting for something to occur to us.