The Creative Process: A Sprinkle of Magic Dust

The following article was written back in 2011 as a guest post for Design Kompany, a studio I met through Processed Identity, and one that shares my love for exploring the creative process. I was reminded of the post when I discovered a quote from it appears in the recently released book The Four Lenses of Innovation: A Power Tool for Creative Thinking by Rowan Gibson.

“The creative process is chaos wrapped around structure and held together by a sprinkle of magic dust.”

You can find out more about Rowan’s book here.

Design Kompany recently rebooted their site and the original post no longer appears, so I am sharing it here.

The Process of Imagination, Analysis and Action

The creative process involves tangible actions juxtaposed with the intangible mystery of creativity. It often suffers under a linear approach and blossoms when you dare to ask “why don’t we try . . .” It’s what makes something more than just an idea. It offers a result via the marriage of imagination, analysis, and action.

For twenty-five years, I have been involved in logo design. For the last year, I have also run Processed Identity that showcases the creative processes of other logo designers—sixteen to date. My intentions with the site were to understand better the creative process, improve my own and increase awareness about the value it provides.

After all this time, I have learned that the creative process does not look like this: The creative process never looks like this. In fact, the creative process of logo design truly is impossible to diagram, although many of us try to put our clients more at ease with it. It can’t really be put into distinct phases although many of us also try to do this in hopes that potential clients will feel more comfortable investing their time and money. In truth, I have found that the creative process requires a leap of faith from everyone involved. Its elusive nature manages to move a project forward, backward and sideways simultaneously. The creative process is chaos wrapped around structure and held together by a sprinkle of magic dust.

The studies on Processed Identity show that while all designers approach projects in a unique way, the creative process—the time spent reading, writing, having conversations, organizing, editing, prioritizing, mind mapping, creating mood boards, sketching—is essential to developing a deep understanding of a client’s needs. It’s what inspires and enables us to create something beyond the generic and adequate. In my experience as a logo designer, the creative process has proven to be my most valuable tool. It’s also crucial to a wide range of other disciplines including science, philosophy, architecture, art and writing.

We have all experienced occasions where it is evident the creative process has been minimized. It’s not difficult to recall poor user interfaces, cliché solutions, and ideas executed with seemingly little thought as to how the end user will engage with them. In contrast, by embracing and investing in the creative process, it’s possible to create moments of joy, satisfaction, and delight.

It is unfortunate that the creative process is constantly in need of protection from budget cuts, deadlines and non-believers. It seems to be the first corner cut. You need clay to make bricks*. It takes time, energy, dedication, and the willingness to build, knock down and build again (over and over).

I have learned that I best serve my customers by looking at the logo as merely a by-product of the creative process. I have also learned that protecting the creative process is essential and non-negotiable.

*Paraphrased from: “Data! Data! Data!” he cried impatiently, “I cannot make bricks without clay!”, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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