Be creative and throw away the instructions.

A lesson from a four-year-old.

Leo Fosdal
Mar 6, 2019 · 3 min read

As designers, we usually follow certain rules to achieve a composition that is pleasing on the eye and fits with what people expect. We hone the use of whitespace, deliberate over kerning and make colour palettes that we have learned go well together. Some of this we have been taught, some comes from years of experience. But what if occasionally we just forgot the rules?

My four-year-old son and some Lego made me look at creativity again!

I’d been reading an article by Chris Do, Chief Strategist and CEO of Blind and the Founder of The Futur. In his article (Can Creativity Be Taught?) he comes to the conclusion that creativity can’t be taught. He believes that education sets so many rules that eventually we are rigid in our thinking, we struggle to let creativity flow. Here’s a quick excerpt:

As with each class I taught, after multiple in-class assignments, lectures and critiques, my students struggled mightily to find meaningful, conceptual connections on their own. Without my guidance and prompting, they failed repeatedly. Why was that? How is it that this group of designers and illustrators do not get it? Often times, their explanation was, “I didn’t know we could do that. Isn’t that against the rules?” To which, I responded, “What rules? Who told you couldn’t do put those two things together?”

The answer — they were victims of a rigid education system designed to stamp out divergent thinking. They mastered the rules they were taught. The better they got at learning the rules, the more they were rewarded, the less creative they became. They lost their ability to imagine.

Here comes the Lego

It was my four-year-old son’s birthday and we were sat down with a gift, a Lego set which made a specific model. We eagerly (yes me too!) opened the box and emptied all of the pieces onto the table. Before I could grab the instructions, my son was picking up pieces and putting them together.

I laid out the instructions and said to my son, “Okay now we have to do it this way.” “Look this piece must go here.” “No, that doesn’t go there. You need to put that here.” But my excited son was building what he thought was great. Happily he made up names for parts that even I liked the sound of!

“You can put this spuggle here Daddy.”

“Can you put the grindator on the front?”

I sat back and it just hit me. I wasn’t right, none of us were. But it was fantastic! We didn’t follow the rules. We had made something unique, something that fired my son’s imagination, something creative.

So I’ve taken this lesson back into the studio. It’s okay to throw out the rules once in a while, even if it’s only to test the other side. Because if you don’t let go and experiment, you might just miss that opportunity to be truly creative.

Oh, and it’s fun too!


Rules help, they make designs look good. We know that, but just test them once in a while with the thought ‘What if I could just do what I want?’.

Buck the trend, the people that started that trend did.

Think like a child, their minds are untainted by the rules.

It’s okay to question everything.

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