The Creative Process

Insight

Zeth Dean

Designer

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If you search “the creative process” on the internet, you’ll get hundreds and hundreds of different answers organized into nice videos or flow charts, but this overload of information can be overwhelming in itself. Thus, I wanted to introduce the creative process as I see it in hopes that, when coupled with a bit of real life examples as to what these steps look like in my life, that it could be a beacon of light to at least 1 person. I’ll do my best to describe the process I go through as I see it, and do my best to provide real examples of these processes. This process for me can be roughly broken down into the following steps:

Step 1: Encountering the Problem

Step 2: Looking at it in Depth

Step 3: Translating the problem 

Step 4: Going to Work 

Step 5: Stepping back & Fresh eyes

Step 6: Tweaking the Solution

Now I’ll run through these steps, hoping to shed some light on how I approach creative problems and projects.

Step 1: Encountering the Problem

For me, the start of the creative process is  what I like to call “encountering the problem”. What does this mean? Well, for an accurate answer to this, I’ll need to go into a bit of detail about how I view creativity and design. For me, I like to think of creative tasks as “problems” and the future product as the “solution”. In this way, when I get a new project or a project is handed off to me, this is “encountering the problem”. Usually this goes something like “Hey Zeth we have a new project for you, It's going to be a Webflow content management project for this company/organization”. Boom, that’s me initially encountering the problem. It may not seem like it’s a part of the creative process per say, but I assure you it's a very important part – it’s the spark to the creative process for me.

Step 2: Looking at the problem in Depth

After the initial encounter comes the more in-depth analysis of the problem at hand. Typically, this is when I put my glasses on and get a cup of coffee–this is when I really start to dig in. Most of the time this in-depth look at the problem comes in one of 2 flavors. Either I will look at some sort of a specs sheet for the desired project (typically from the client or maybe a coworker if it’s being handed off internally), or, if the project is new to DEV entirely, this typically comes in the form of an initial meeting with the client in which I ask a lot of questions (basically an interrogation) and begin to understand what they’re looking for by taking lots and lots of note. By this point, I have everything I need to start the project– I have looked at the problem in depth and have all the information I need to begin to craft a creative, thoughtful solution. BUT, I need to do one more thing.

Step 3: Translating the problem

Enter, Step 3 of my creative process. This step may be a little unique, but I have to do this every time I’m faced with a new project that poses its own unique creative problem. By “Translating the problem” This really just means looking at the info given to me about the project from the client or sometimes a coworker, and trying to put it in a format that I understand fully. Usually this means looking at the specs/notes on the project and trying to into an organized form. This typically takes the form of a user flow (so I can begin to map out the project) and detailed notes on my initial thoughts (so I can map my own thoughts/ideas onto the project). At this point, I have a thorough understanding of the project at both the overarching (step 1) and granular level (step 2), and I have translated the specifics of the project into something that makes perfect sense to me (step 3). I think that this is probably the most important part of my creative process because it allows me to stay very organized and stay within the scope of the project. Additionally, while all this work on the front end of the project may seem tedious, it is what helps me understand the problem at hand so I can begin to create a solution that actually solves the problem, not just solving the problem as only I see it, but how it actually exists.

Step 4: Going to work

This is the step you’ve been waiting for–the cool creative stuff. Clearly, without this, there can be no solution to a creative problem, but I actually think that this is the least important step in my creative design process. Why is it the least important? Well, for two reasons. 1: I love making cool stuff so it never really feels like work in the first place, and 2: without the aforementioned steps 1-3 laying the groundwork for a creative solution to the problem, I may not actually be solving the initial problem, but actually just making something cool. This is why steps 1-3 are SO important, and why step 4 is a little less important. Nonetheless, this step, for me, usually looks like a large block of time where I kind of just get lost in the creation of the initial product, making sure I stand by the original goal. Sometimes I start this step without a perfect sense of how I’m going to realize the vision I have for a design or product, and sometimes I start without a creative vision at all. What's most important for me is just getting into it and beginning to make something. Without diving in and getting into the design you may get stuck in the “well, this idea isn’t perfect” stage, which, I’ve found is a very dangerous place to be because you start to second guess yourself. To combat this, this is why I like to dive into projects regardless of how “perfect” my idea is. More concretely, this big block of time is typically spent on one portion of a project such as making the initial webflow designs or the initial branding for a client.

Step 5: Stepping back & Fresh eyes

Once I've created the initial solution to a creative problem in step 4, I have probably been looking at it for far too many hours in one sitting. If you’re anything like me, then when you look at your work for too long of a time, you begin to go a little crazy and miss obvious flaws or mess-ups. Thus, this is where step 5 plays such a crucial role for me. I always force myself to take a break and look at it with fresh eyes (typically the next day) to make any of the necessary changes or edits.

Step 6: Tweaking the Solution

This final step kind of goes hand-in-hand with step 5, but making tweaks to a design/product after looking at it with fresh eyes is something that is extremely important to my creative process. Usually I have to make a lot of changes, regardless of how perfect I thought my designs were the day before, and this just speaks to how important step 5 and 6 are to my creative process. Moreover, usually step 5 and 6 happen many times over before I present to a client.

Well, there you go! That’s the process I go through for just about every single project (creative problem) that I have taken on. This process is what works best for me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what will work best for you–different designers use different methods!

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