Walking the Creative Wall — focus on the outcome, not the deliverable

Before I start, I want to frame your expectation about the thoughts addressed below. They are based on my own experience and the resources I’ve been exposed to so far. Feel free to add comments below, I would like to know your feedback so that I can grow as a designer and contribute to my field of practice.

I have always been fascinated by the Arts and Crafts movement and how Arts and Design started as one and throughout history they’ve evolved and became their own thing. I’ve started my professional career in the fashion design industry and slowly moved to visual communication design and I found myself today in the world of service design. As part of my personal growth, I have always been intrigued by the power of design and its outcomes and as I have gotten more into art, design, business and strategy, I’ve built my own mindset about my own creative process.

With that being said, I’ve decided to share a couple of thoughts from my experience so far. This whole idea started as I became more aware of the responsibility to be a designer and how respectful I need to be about the craft and how to communicate my expertise to all the other communities of practice around me. I want to start by sharing a reference that has existed even before design thinking became “that thing that designers do and everyone else can do it”.

From my perspective, visual communication has played an intrinsic part in design history as this skillset has the ability to translate and illustrate data, ideas, insights in a way that can be internalized and understood more easily across different areas inside and outside organizations.

One of the ways that I’ve seen it working and apparently has gained a “new” momentum is an activity called to “walk the wall”. Designers have always used the wall (physical space) to help visualize the storytelling aspect of what they are trying to create (“mood boards” for example). Disney has used this technique many times for every movie made as it is part of the storyboarding process to help make decisions about the flow and how it all comes together in a holistic 360 view.

To add to that, during my master’s degree, I was lucky enough to come across an article from 2011 about a scientific study that exposed a point of view on how the wall is a reflection of a participatory design that supports collaboration and socialization (among other behaviors). In this article Fructher and Sijtsema state that

wall spaces allow accelerated problem solving and decision-making, exploration, evaluation and combination of data, information, models and knowledge.

Furthermore, the wall allows for immediate, direct manipulation of the content pinned up on the wall. This is an effective way to make their availability and activities visible.

- google images -

I want to bring this up because as a designer I’m always-self-reflecting on what I can do better and how can I leverage knowledge to facilitate people with collaborative techniques. I’ve used this activity for different purposes such as inviting others to go around the room as a way to exhibit what we achieved, I’ve used it to illustrate as a way to build collaborative culture inside organizations and, more recently, to invite people in to visualize how messy a design process is. I want to emphasize on this last part because it has come to my attention how much individuals get caught up on perfection or deliverables and don’t necessary stop and enjoy the process they are going through and accept how messy and unrefined it is.

It is not always easy to accept the messiness, I’ve seen it happening many times in many different ways but I’ve also found that once you go through it, you get used to it.

As Further and Sijtsema mentioned and I’ve seen it before too, the wall space is a reflection of your work, it allows teams and organizations to exchange knowledge, criticize the work in progress and encourages transparency and honesty about the work that is being accomplished together.

So, next time you find yourself caught up in a situation with your team or in your organization where, you are not sure how your work is supposed to look like (not necessarily visualize but content as well) or you are trying to find alignment on how things should be, try this activity!

To conclude, don’t feel like you have to make this wall space your prize, as you go through this wall activity, don’t waste your time on polishing a poster or a headline or worrying about the way it looks (visually). This is supposed to be your working space where you can visualize an end-to-end story and let others provide feedback, refine it and move on. Keep in mind that this is not a deliverable, this is a messy pathway to help you achieve your outcome.

Carol Massa

Written by

Designer at heart. Always looking for ways to improve my practice! Love crazy, complex organization challenges. Service Designer at @thisisharmonic

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