What is Your Creative Process?

October 27, 2010 | 3 Comments

Yesterday, I received a submission on my initial site questionnaire from a potential client. In the final comments space, she asked me, “What is my your creative process?” I don’t know if this was off-handed curiosity, or a make or break question that will define whether we work together. But I love the question, and it left me thinking about it enough to work out some thoughts here. There is nothing scientific or academic about what follows, and please don’t misinterpret this as something akin to

Four Steps To Genius!!!!

As I think about the different forms of creative work I do, each of them seems to move in and out of these stages. They might follow the order in which I’ve listed them in the early stages, but they aren’t steps — more like processes that spiral in and out of each other.

Consuming

When the iPad was introduced, I posted my concern that it was a device geared toward consuming rather creating. What I’ve come to see is that consumption and creation aren’t in direct opposition to each other. (They can be, of course, when we choose to stifle our creative urges by only consuming the creative work of others as a means of avoidance…but that’s another post.)

Inspiration often begins when I am engaged in the work of others, appreciating the nuances and insights of a writer, or the pixel perfect details of a designer. And wires cross. Words might inspire design. Design might inspire words. It’s a matter of paying attention to my own internal responses as I connect with someone else’s work.

When I’m working on a website, this comes through reading the client’s response to my questionnaire and follow-up questions. I also look through sites they like the look and feel of as well as designs on dribbble or other galleries. In shaping a teaching for our church, I always try to take in what others from diverse backgrounds have had to say about the topic or text.

Waiting

Ideas can’t be summoned on command, like a genie from a freshly rubbed lamp. They take a while. I’ve referred to this as incubating before, and I’ve heard other refer to it as marinating. It’s a matter of making space for ideas to form, often coming to light in idle moments in the car or laying in bed.

I have to be ready to grab those ideas when they form. Monday morning, I was working on something unrelated when inspiration arrived for a design comp I had been struggling with. Five minutes later, the concept was scratched out (my drawing skills are scratching at best) in a notebook, and I was able to mock it up in Photoshop that afternoon.

Fiddling

Ideas and inspiration may arrive, but results don’t start happening until I sit down and try to implement them. And that first implementation is usually awful…especially when it comes to design. I don’t think I’ve ever sent my first go at a design comp to a client. (Rarely can I send them the second or the third!) Things that worked out in my head don’t work out on screen. But it’s a start. And usually as I’m trying things out, some of the best results come out of accidents. I wish I could say some of my favorite work was born out of my talent and genius, but more often than not, it came from an oops.

Dialoguing

Our church community is small enough that my teaching take the form of a dialogue. I still research and study as if I were going to give a monologue styled sermon, but the content isn’t fully formed until we are all working through it together. I love seeing how others engage with the thoughts I’ve been sitting with. We are each better for it.

And there isn’t a single website I’ve created that I can fully call my own. Each is shaped by the response of the client to my initial design, or other designers I gather feedback from along the way. Even this site, which bears my name as both client and designer is not entirely my own as I received valuable feedback along the way.

There is one thing that each of these processes have in common — each requires a certain amount of intention. I don’t do it consciously, but I move into and throughout these processes in each creative endeavor. And the one thing I fear (for me and for you) about writing them here is that they might start to form into steps I do rather than a way that I be.

  • What a great topic, and so relevant to ministry. I firmly believe that pastors and priests are more akin to artists than business people.

    Here’s my creative process:
    research -> brainstorm -> procrastinate -> panic -> execute

    : )

  • Zach Phillips

    Hey John, are you still using Daily Deeds? (occurred to me with your “steps of doing vs. way of being” comment)

    My usage petered out. Any thoughts on best practices?

    • John Chandler

      Zach,
      It tends to come and go for me. I returned to it this fall when I needed to get back to some rhythms, but only for a week or two.