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Illustrations showing 3 different approaches to land use in parks. Created with Spatializ3d.
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I have given a lot of thought over the years about how to work as a designer. Designers are expected to design at least eight hours a day, every day of the week. It’s a lot. It’s a challenge to keep up our creativity for 40 hours of design demand a week. While I managed a staff of creative people, I developed my ideas about what helped people continue to be creative day in and day out. These five rules to design by draw from the wisdom of others, as well as my experience creating every day. There are many more rules but these are five that never vary.
It is extremely important that designers can create original imagery. Needing to rely on others for all of our imagery needs makes our work too dependent on others or upon stock. Long gone are the days when an art director could doodle on a napkin and hand it off to a “wrist” to create. Today, designers are hands-on. Pick your medium—drawing, photography, collage, code, illustration, type, motion, video, pattern, etc. —and develop it to a level of proficiency that you can sometimes incorporate it into your work. Of course, you won’t learn them all (as tempting as that may be). You will collaborate with lots of other creators and together you’ll develop the work. But I firmly believe that the best designers are more than just assemblers of creative assets. Having a vision for a design and being able to develop it with your own original imagery will ensure your work meets your expectations and makes your work unique.
When you need to design every day you can’t wait for the muse. How do you put on your thinking cap? How do you get your creative juices flowing so you can have something great to show for the upcoming design review? I recommend everyone consciously develop a way to signal your brain that it’s time to think. I want you to develop a ritual. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be consistent and you should do it every time you start working on a creative project. My creative ritual looks something like:
It is important that you do what works for you. Everyone’s process is different. You want to follow the same ritual enough times so it signals your brain to kick from the left into right side thinking. And you need to consciously recognize what works for you and choose to consistently follow it. Otherwise, you can flounder around and the temptation to see what others are doing will be too great to resist. You want to come up with your own approach first. Then you can check out what everyone else is doing.
When creating anything more is better—more ideas, more sketches, more concepts, more samples, more interactions—make more. If a project calls for two designs, I like to come up with six. Always develop more—make variations on each design, look for options, and develop different points of view.
I am still inspired by a study I read long ago, about kids learning to throw pottery. One set of kids was told to spend their class time on one pot, making it as perfect as possible. The other set was asked to make as many pots as possible in the class time. Of course, the kids who made as many as possible during the class time improved more and ended up with more perfect pots that those who spent all day trying to perfect one pot.
I like to get the expected, corny, obvious ideas out as quickly as possible. Holding things inside because they are stupid stops the flow; get it on paper. When you think you don’t have any more ideas, take a 5-minute break and then go back to it and make some more. I try not to judge any of my ideas while in the creation phase. Make it first; evaluate it afterward.
My first boss taught me this. It is critically important that designers get out of our bubbles. If we are going to solve problems for other people, we need to understand other people. Get out of the office. Travel. Read. Volunteer. We need newness— new input, new visuals, new interactions, new friends, new vistas. Otherwise, we regurgitate the same perspective over and over again.
I remember when I came back to work after my first trip to Italy and designed a new typeface treatment for the masthead of a poster I was designing. My boss at the time said to me, “You would never have designed this if you hadn’t gone away. This is why it is so important to get out of here once in a while.” She was so right.
This is the first rule from Sister Corita Kent’s Rules for the Immaculate Heart College Art Department, which were popularized by John Cage. These hung above my desk at my first favorite job. If you don’t know them stop reading this and go here.
We each need to find the place and space that works for our creative process and when we find it, we need to stay long enough to grow. This is especially true for young designers. Where you work and who you work early on with will help form your approach to working as a designer. When you trust (not necessarily like) the people you work for, you will learn from them and gain confidence. If you do not trust the people you work for, get out.
This post is also available on Medium.
Most creative people I know have always made things. Making something — art, music, dinner — fulfills a deeply innate need inside of us. Instagram is full of “I made this!” photos of afghans, snowmen, babies and other things we are proud to have made. By the time we turn that creative urge into a career, we suddenly realize that making things for a living isn’t always as fulfilling as it once was. Now making things involves other people. And it involves money. People and money can botch up any creative project, so we need to look at the real motivation for our creations so we can be clear about why we are making what we make.
Many of you are familiar with the old trope to clients: “Do you want it good, fast or cheap? Pick two.” While often realistic, it’s a crappy choice for clients. Clients always want all three and they don’t want to start a project having to sacrifice. And it’s a crappy question for us to ask our clients because it puts the buyer in the driver seat. As creators, we have so many ways to make things, solve problems and see possibilities that these parameters derail us from our creative process. Choosing between good, fast and cheap skews our work away from our motivations and puts us in the awkward position of fitting what we do into a model that has little to do with why we do what we do.
Instead, I focus on the project as a whole. When I learn about where a client is coming from and what they have to work with, including their time and money considerations, I can start to craft a vision of how I’d like to work with them. Then I use my own criteria for projects and clients to envision what and how to create.
I can’t remember who came up with these criteria originally, but they have stuck with me for years. (If you know who originally came up with this please let me know! Thank you.)
Basically, there are three reasons to take on a project.
Every project we do, every job we take on, everything we make for others brings a potential for money, fame or joy. The extent to which a project brings each and the degree to which I need each helps me create my approach to all work.
Work that brings money may be more profitable or the client may be quicker to pay. It may mean recurring business or include residual payments. It brings us financial security, growth and benefits. Financial security gives us the means to do more.
Work that may bring fame builds our brand and brings recognition of our efforts. It brings in more business, rather than having to go out to find it. Fame enlarges our community and our world; it draws peers, colleagues and competitors to us. It builds self-confidence, gives us the courage to follow our instincts, and emboldens to do even more of our own work.
Work that brings joy makes us happy. It is fun! It reminds us of why we make things in the first place — because we enjoy the creative process. Work that brings joy usually involves something or someone we care about. It aligns with our values and makes a difference to the world, even if the difference is only to one person. It brings meaning to our lives and opens our hearts.
It is very empowering to consider these three criteria at the beginning of a project. (Much more so that dwelling on “pick two.” It helps to define scale, scope, effort and resources and it helps set our personal expectations. Of course, we nee to get the client’s agreement to our vision. But if we’ve truly listened to them and their vision and we can articulate how our approach will marry with theirs, the end result is likely to be true to our creative visions and fill their unique needs.
This article also appears on Medium.
Visualization creates understanding and facilitates clear communication. And it’s required in today’s overstimulating world of complex ideas, complicated structures, abstract strategies, massive data, and innovative ideas. Your brand needs to tell the truth—and data visualization leverages your data to build trust with your customers.
At Smart Hive, we start with your data; through data mining, analysis, and ideation, we discover meaning and develop clear stories that marry imagery, data, and strategic thinking, all to create powerful yet simple tools for communications.
Work with Smart Hive to:
If you have data, you have a story. Call us to help find that story and tell it in the most engaging way.
Today’s brands are publishers, and content strategy, design, and creation is the best way to tell your brand’s story to your customers, consumers, and colleagues.
We create new custom content designed to get attention and engage your audiences. Our background in branding, content strategy, storytelling, design thinking, and creative gives us a unique approach to telling your story.
Work with Smart Hive to:
Become a thought leader, publish relevant stories, and share your content online. Call us.
Your brand can’t afford to be dull, dated, or boring. Customers and consumers always want new approaches, creative surprise, and something that shines amidst the monotony of the marketplace. We create exciting, engaging creative solutions that are on brand—and that bring out the best of what you offer and why you are in business.
With Smart Hive, use creative to:
We know that aesthetic, stylistic choices can make or break your brand. Rely on us to create what’s engaging for your brand.
Your brand is online, and it’s searchable and shareable. We create digital experiences—websites, apps, social content, email, video/motion—that tell rich and engaging stories with data. Digital storytelling is one of the most exciting ways to build your brand today and we do it by starting with your data and determining how it can best support awareness and engagement for your brand.
With Smart Hive, used digital to:
The digital landscape is multichannel and multiscreen. We think your brand and your data has a place in all of it.
Data visualization and content creation are two of the hottest, most effective ways for organizations to better communicate their brands and build brand awareness. With them we help brands communicate complex ideas, abstract strategies, complicated structures and processes, or new products and services through relevant content that leverages creativity. But they require engaging communications.
With Smart Hive, use communication design to:
Communicate your brand with the best possible positioning, creative strategy, messaging and design.
Our focus on leveraging data visualization, content strategy, and design builds your brand in relevant social spaces so it communicates clearly and builds awareness. Nothing is more shareable, likable, or viral than the truth when it is presented in engaging, relevant, and interactive ways.
We can help you tell your data story:
Today’s data is social. Brands that are proactive and engage their customers with data build credibility and affinity.
Smart Hive partners with brands and organizations with complex communications, abstract strategies, lost brands and tricky content to create visualizations and creative content that are both interesting and beautiful.
We believe in the power of images. We believe in the value of visualization.
We know that data is complex; we believe that complexity brings opportunity to those willing to work through it. We relish that role.
We’ve seen the strength of brands. We’ve helped them tell their stories in rich and powerful ways to help them reach those that matter to them the most. Without such stories, brands get lost in the shuffle, relegated to the back of the bin or the middle of the pack. Visualization and content creation are two of the best ways we differentiate and position.
We work with:
Carla Januska is the founder and chief creative officer of Smart Hive. She is a creative strategist, director and designer focused on creating visualizations that communicate to and engage. She uses data visualization, information design, graphic design, UX, illustration and code to better tell the stories that brands and organizations ought to communicate. Visualization is the number one way we show our audiences who we are and what we do and Carla has over 20 years of experience bringing brands to life with visualization and design.
Carla is a firm believer in consistent, creative visualization of brands across multiple channels to demand attention and respect. Carla has been building strong brand touchpoints for brands a large as Post-it and GE and smaller, local brands such as Tubman and Lucia’s. Because she brings clarity and creativity to all of her clients’ marketing challenges, she provides solid solutions that meet the intangible yet critical needs of brand communication and marketing.
Carla supports businesses and organizations with complex brand and communications problems to solve and she seeks opportunities to leverage data and information through visualization to create new content, build brands and increase communication. Her background and interests include data visualization, information design, infographics/process mapping, ideation, creative strategy, creative leadership, design management, brand strategy, brand identity, brand communications, content creation, social media engagement, UX/UI design and creative code.
Every day we hear from people who care about the same things we care about: design and data, communications and content, creativity and code. If your projects need a team that is passionate about solving complex problems with visualization and content, contact us. We want to talk!
We are located in
Minneapolis, Minnesota U.S.
© 2016 Smarth Hive | Creative Minds