The Process of Creativity

It has been just over a month since our team returned from the Museum Computer Network (MCN) conference in Minneapolis, so we’ve had some time to reflect on our experiences and what we learned. While many of the talks were insightful and informative to our web design process, one session in particular resonated with me and has affected my personal approach to my own work (and even pet projects) on a daily basis.

The presentation was by Chad Weinard and Jason Alderman and was titled State of the Art: Creative Technology and the Museum. Chad and Jason spoke about the need for creativity from both the point of view of the internal teams and audiences of museums. While the talk was largely from a technologist’s point of view, the core message always returned to how one individual can feed their own inner creativity and build a process for that creativity to grow.

This growth and development in creativity is exactly what we try to instill in each other here at Cuberis. A few of my favorite takeaways and helpful hints (along with some added input from the Cuberis team) are below.

The creative approach has to become a ritual.

Creativity is not something that can just be turned on when it’s needed. It has to be nurtured and fed routinely. Make sure you set aside time to look for inspiration in the world around you and seek it out daily. You never know exactly when or where you might experience that next a-ha moment, so always be ready to capture a photo with your camera/phone or jot down a couple sketches on a notepad.

Don’t focus on just one source.

When you are looking for inspiration, spend time in a breadth of channels across a variety of mediums. While you are initially building your inspiration process and its resources, it’s likely that your creativity will mainly be affected by a couple core influencers. However, the more wealth you draw from through a wide variety of sources, the less your work might seem to be an imitation of others. Your creativity will become more of your own through a wide set of inspirational channels and collective experiences. There can be a struggle with inspiration vs imitation. Check out this really interesting article on that topic from Jessica Hische on her blog.

For our team here at Cuberis, it’s daily rituals such as reading our favorite blogs, listening to podcasts, watching TED talks, making Pinterest boards and/or participating in open source communities like GitHub that keep us inspired and developing our creativity. Anything that sets us up to experience new ideas, think differently or challenge our current views helps our creative process. 

Some of our favorites include:
Instagram, Pinterest, TED Talks, This American Life, Radio Lab, Writer’s Almanac, Selected Shorts, The Moth, The Monti

Sites for design and development inspiration:
UI Movement, One Page Love, Awwwwwards, Colour Lovers, Dribbble, Behance, Codepen,

Create. Create. Create.

It’s not just about your projects at work, it’s about constantly ideating, both professionally and personally. Step outside of those client projects that have hard deadlines and very limited client-driven guidelines and start creating working prototypes through a variety of mediums.

In Chad and Jason’s panel discussion, the concept of a “Time Box” was introduced. This is a way to immerse yourself in an idea while setting a specific time frame/limit so as to not to completely lose yourself down a rabbit hole. This gives you the chance to take on several projects without the pressure of fleshing out each completely. The point is to test your ideas as proofs of concept and to then move on to something new. You can always come back to a project when inspiration strikes again, but it’s never required–it’s about constantly building.

Team members here at Cuberis often have a couple of pet projects they are working on outside the office. For us, it doesn’t even have to be design or development. It could easily be learning a new skill or a DIY project around the house…anything that gives us the chance to try something new and/or create.

Track what you do.

Keep a record of all things you build as a repository for your ideas. Put a folder together with physical items you pick up. Make a Pinterest board of all the digital designs you’ve created whether they were fully finished or not. Assemble a collection on CodePen with your development creations. Make sure there is a place where you can always revisit your ideas as you never know how they might inspire future projects or what they could evolve into over time.

Share with your peers and embrace the community.

Don’t be afraid to share with your friends, coworkers and others working in your industry. Pass along things you find inspiring or post things you’ve created yourself to start the discussion and open up a collaboration. If you don’t have a team around you, you can always use meet-up groups, conferences, lunch and learns or even social media to start a conversation.

One of my favorite suggestions to facilitate this type of collaboration was what Chad’s team coined BPI (Beer Pizza & Ideas) at Balboa Park Online Collaborative. The beer and pizza was simply a way to get team members all around the same table. The conversation was lightly structured and no idea was off the table. You’re encouraged to bring up an idea you have for any vertical and the group adds to it and and iterates upon it. BPI was scheduled at the same time every month so it could be expected and folks could come prepared.

Visit a Museum.

The last point from this panel was a little meta, but it stuck with me more than any other at the conference. Go and visit museums. Museums aren’t selling a product…they are selling their patrons a better version of themselves. Whether it be a more informed, a more inspired, or a more creative self, museums seek to empower and to ignite a positive change in their audiences. Take a look at many of their mission statements and you will see this idea reflected over and over again.

So go ahead and get out there, look for inspiration and create something. And if you don’t know where to start, go visit a museum or cultural center and see where it may lead you.

Have anything else to add that inspires you? Share it with us.