This is the first part in a series of three articles exploring my experiences with design process and how I continue to develop my practice by consciously making process visible.
The mention of “process” at any point during my four years at the Glasgow School of Art elicited groans and much eye rolling from the body of students. As a bunch of self-proclaimed unique, talented, free and independent students, what could forcing us to fit a structure do but confine our vast creative output, quash our emerging skills and subvert our talent?
We knew best, and what we knew was that the concept of a“creative process” was the antithesis of creativity.
The wonderful Jeni Lennox, resident (self-proclaimed) dirty capitalist, a designer and tutor with great skill, experience and patience spent a day of our first year introducing us to the Design Council’s Double Diamond, an experience I now look back on and realise must have been akin to taking a heard of young, wild ponies and introducing them to the concept of the saddle. Not breaking them in, just indicating that somewhere, somewhen there would be real work to do.
Sitting in the agency for which I’m now lucky enough to work; in studio of 40 fantastic and diverse designers from all disciplines, I’m looking back and charting a journey from that point of hubris, through despair, attachment, reliance, development and now improvisation which has brought me to the position from which I can reflect.
We live in a world where the ability to do “design-thinking” and to have a “creative process” is sold in books, where everyone can become a designer in a two week bootcamp [they think], and where people expect that spending a small fortune on post-it notes, sharpies and covering one office wall in whiteboard paint will transform their business, empower their staff and create a culture of such strong creative value that they’ll be bought out by Google within the year.
Here’s the deal though. I believe that being a designer, that is reacting in a designerly manner, isn’t about following an ABC of creativity. It isn’t about using certain methods in a certain order. It is about having a tacit understanding of the way you work and using your skills and tools (another word that isn’t a dirty one) to build on every instance which offers the opportunity for creative growth.
In doing that you inherently follow a process, but it’s something which is embodied by you as a person, or group of people, not as something which is imposed by outside agency. You approach something in the way you’ve approached an equivalent task before, or you do it in a different way because it can be improved upon; you react to it with learned experience. And if you take the time to consider why and how you work, and the impact that has, then you’re beginning to identify and understand your process.
One reason why process is so rejected stems from it being intensely personal thing; it’s a finely tailored suit and not only does wearing one belonging to someone else feel uncomfortable, it’s not going to be in your style and it’s very unlikely to actually fit. If any of this is true of your process then, as with a suit, other people will notice. When you start to look at an existing process or other people’s ideas as a template or suggestion rather than rules which must be obeyed, you can begin to riff off it, break it, stretch it, bend it, crush it, crack it, fold it, and make it in to something which works for you.
An existing process… it’s a place to start, nothing more.
To understand why a process is valuable, and an enabler not disabler of creative output you need to realise you’re not being asked to bow to a dogma, you’re being handed a starting point for your own expression. Your own process is a guide which helps you map out what’s going right. It’s a safety net to aid you through the dodgy times, and an observer which grows and develops during the good ones.