I’ve always loved making stuff. As a kid, I wasn’t satisfied with just experiencing the things I enjoyed, I wanted to make my own. I turned my bedroom into Splash Mountain after falling in love with the ride at Disney World, and created my own cardboard CCTV cameras to keep villains out when James Bond became my hero. Creativity was my way of engaging with the things I loved and was a constantly joyful and self-absorbed process. That’s the way it usually is when you’re a kid. Creativity is a natural, uncompromising thing without a hint of agenda.
Part of being in a professional environment, though, is getting to grips with that transition from pure, egocentric creativity to structured, brief-orientated output. The things we produce aren’t just a response to inspiration, they’re client deliverables that come with deadlines, budgets and expectations. That’s a lot of responsibility; we’re expected to find inspiration on the clock and harness that into a product that fits our clients and converts into measurable profit. Without the safety net of inspiration, the possibility of becoming detached from what you’re producing becomes a real danger.
It’s a danger because emotional attachment is vital to design. It lets us communicate with sincerity and connect with people in brave and engaging ways. Without that compulsion that we felt as kids, our practice becomes stagnant, irrelevant and hollow, as we draw on the skills we already have and the solutions we’ve already explored.
So, how can we nurture that joy for creativity that’s so central to our industry? For me, a big part of it takes place outside of the studio, where a lack of accountability means a lot of freedom. The freedom to make mistakes, for example, and create in a directionless and selfish way.
One of those ways is music. I played the piano as a kid but never to any remarkable level. Being a firm amateur, though, was one of the things that inspired me to start a band with my partner Jo. We set ourselves the challenge of writing an electro-pop album, complete with custom artwork and fully-realised band personas. Don’t get me wrong, the tracks are at best pretentious noise and at worst disgracefully incompetent, but that was the excitement. We wanted to make something that was just for us. Something messy and unwanted and playful.
I think that’s a huge part of creativity: the joy of playfulness and the excitement of finding new ways to communicate. It’s something that illustrator Keri Smith champions in her book Destroy This Journal, which urges readers to make mistakes and glorify in the outcomes. You’re instructed to stamp on, stain, bury and dig up the pages of the book in an effort to remove the expectations of a finished product and admonish the fear of doing something wrong. It takes you back to that childish state of creativity where making a mess and being brave are at the heart of what you produce. You’re fully engaged in the creative process.
That’s the real point I want to make. Without passion, courage and interest in what we’re doing, we lose relevance and so will our work. I’d urge every creative professional to find the joy in creativity. Join a band, write a play, start a revolution, make mistakes and love what you do. Your experiences will be richer, your work will be braver, and your solutions will come quicker.
Ps. We’re playing our first live show this summer and fully intend to enjoy every achingly, off-key minute of it.