During my career I have been fortunate to work with a lot of creative people, with each one using a different method to boost their creative flow. As I have always worked in retail and on a seasonal basis, the designers I have worked with have always worked to a deadline, which is good in some ways, but can often lead to designers block.
Taking inspiration from Tim Ferriss, I have looked back to what worked for them, and summarized them into five key points, which will help anyone struggling to create art, product or even copy.
1. Drink a lot of water - One of the best ways to boost creativity, is to give yourself a tight deadline, that removes the risk of procrastination. It is very easy to decide that right now is the perfect moment to delete all those people on instagram you no longer follow, or to check the BBC News website for the fifth time. A method that one designer I worked with used was to drink a two litre bottle of water, and then start designing, setting themselves the rule that they wont go to the toilet until they have come up with an idea. Although it might sound trivial, the aching feeling in their bladder led to extreme focus, they thought of nothing apart from the task in hand. I have seen a similar method with a designer setting a stop watch on their phone for 35 minutes, with the intention to have a solution by the time the alarm goes off. Procrastination is the biggest killer of creativity, and the water trick, or stop watch method can provide a clear mind and single objective.
2. Destroy something beautiful - There is nothing more daunting than a gleaming white piece of A4 paper staring back at you, or a blinking cursor on a fresh new Word document. When working with designers, they have had great success by screwing up the paper, flattening it, and then doodling, or writing down what they had for breakfast, sketching a nearby object, and then getting started. Being too precious, and feeling the need for perfection can lead to creative paralysis, as you feel the need to only apply your masterstrokes, rather getting the work underway. Often the best creative work is hidden within a page full of scribbles and streams of consciousness.
3. "Straw Man it" - A term I had not heard until recently. A "Straw Man" is an object that acts as a placeholder for the new object you wish to create. To sit down with a blank piece of paper with the intention to design a new watch is incredibly tough, but to be sat with a handful of existing watches, and examining whats good, whats bad, what can be improved, will start the creative flow. At one company I worked for, we started work on a high-end Office Chair by purchasing the cheapest one we could find (a garish £20 design), and then looking at every single design detail to come up with the opposite. If the wheels are this cheap plastic, what should our wheels be like? If the height adjustment makes a noise and was tough to use, what is the alternative for our design? By giving a framework and by asking yourself questions, it stimulates creativity, as it gives you something to push against and a series of problems you need to resolve.
4. Don't be precious - Just get ideas down on paper. I am a big fan of the Ernest Hemingway method of stopping mid-sentence, simply stopping when you are done for the day, so that when you start
I asked a friend who is a hairdresser how they knew when they were done, as its very easy to keep trimming, and he said "I put the scissors down, I step back, I take a look and decide". I think there is a lot to be said for this, putting the scissors down is an important part of the creative process, often the magic is on the paper but as you have spent all day working on it, you are unable to see the wood for the trees. Stepping back, going for a walk, making a cup of tea, giving yourself some distance from the work, can work wonders for revealing the golden nuggets that previously had been concealed.
A number of designers I have worked with store all of their old notebooks which they will flick through for future inspiration, as creatively can sometimes produce work that is good but not right for now. I have worked with designers who when briefed to design a new light, the sketches for its form and investigating the possible use of materials will inspire another product that is has not been requested but has opened the door to a new development in the future.
5. Go for a walk - A lot of designers I have worked with have said that their best concepts come while walking the dog, washing up or taking a shower. Being active can free up the mind to dwell and mull over the design you are working on. Day dreaming can allow you sub conscious to keep working on a project while you are pottering around and getting things done.
Paul Tanner - Freedom To Exist