Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lessons learned: Your first idea is not always your best

Lately, I've been thinking about my design process--the way I work from concept to final product--and how my time in design school strengthened my work and voice. For me, design school was a formal playground where I was encouraged to think differently and where I was rewarded for it. I really went for it! I've addressed if design school is a good fit for you (read about it here), but today I wanted to start a new series on the blog where I discuss lessons I've learned or am learning in the creative process.

photo by Trisha Zemp 

Number one: Your first idea is not your (always) best idea.

Though I went to design school for interior design, I took a few classes in other design studies including a product design course. In this course we worked with an art-focused city in Italy that had been disrupted by an earthquake years ago and still hasn't recovered. We created products that would go in their museum store. The products needed to be inspired by the history of the city. We started out getting to know the city and drawing things that inspired. Slowly we conceived of ideas of products and would discuss them in front of the small class.

Our teacher made sure we didn't jump the gun and immediately dive into a final product, but let our initial drawings take us to a place we hadn't initially expected. In this way, we were relying less on our pre-conceived expectations and more on the full design process, which relies on the progression of ideas. This design process started with an idea that was implemented on paper, then after several rounds committed to pen, then lead to ways those drawings could be formed into a product. Then, we discussed week after week which product was the best avenue for representing the drawings. Finally, we made mock-ups of the product and refined them each week.

I had designed a cutlery set and I remember coming to class with a mock up and finessing it each week to get it just right, making sure that I was thinking of every way in which I was representing the city and implementing good and thoughtful design that was unencumbered by unnecessary details.

At the time, it felt laborious to talk about all the ways our ideas could be realized, but now I see its value. When I first started out with the project, I had a project in mind, but as I dug into my brain and let the pen draw and the mock-ups take shape, I came up with something that I never would have thought of, but something that I knew truly came from me and something that was good. My initial idea was fine, but probably not the best I could do. I'm grateful for a teacher who encouraged me to dig deeper and explore the full design process and not take short cuts.

This leads me to one of the most important lessons I've learned: your first idea is not always your best idea. I notice this particularly when attempting to watch "design" shows on TV that focus on unrealistic challenges in a short amount of time. Oftentimes, the challengers hardly have enough time to implement the challenge so idea time is cut short and not thoroughly thought through. They end up taking the first idea they have and running with it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I find that if the idea is strong from the get go then everything else falls into place.

I suppose this lesson could also be called "The importance of idea conception." Lately, I've been noticing, most likely because of social media and the ability to see everyone's work, a lot of similarities in artist's work. I think it's inevitable and sometimes it's good to draw upon other ideas and build on it. But I also think that our face-paced world discourages us from taking our time in the thinking/ruminating/incubating stage of the design process. I think if we sat down and really dove into what our mind and heart is telling us, our work would take us to a place all our own.



Jessica said...

This is such a good reminder. I am the ultimate list-maker and sometimes do things just to get them checked off my list. That can be a detriment to creativity. I'm not going to stop making lists- just amend them a bit! I also love the comments you made about a fast-paced world taking away from creativity. It's something I think about often and am trying to figure out in my own life.

I'm going to love this series! Thank you!

Kristin Fleming said...

Usually I go through 7 to 10 ideas before I select the three I like. Then I take those three and push them further. Sometimes I can't do that with clients because of the project. When that happens I usually loss sleep or I don't eat (which I know is terrible). It's interesting that other creatives are having troubles as well. Also I have noticed as well that everyone's work is starting to look the same.

Ramona said...

I totally agree with what you are saying. We need to give our ideas time and space to grow into what they are supposed to be. Sometimes when I plan events I have an initial idea but once I start working on it it develops and the end result is often something completely different. Creativity needs time.

Elaina said...

Love these kind of posts, B! I couldn't agree more. One of my teachers' favourite sayings at the architecture academy is "kill your darlings", which is really the same idea. And yes, so true that everything is starting to look alike! We all need to slow down and start looking inwards a bit more.

Camilla Jørvad said...

Well said Brittany! I am often saddened about this very thing in my job as a wedding photographer. And am even more sad when I find myself doing it sometimes, when you are flooded with impressions and images from artists/photographers you admire I often find myself (not intentionally) starting to think of those images when I should be creating my own. Being creative is not something you are, it's something you do and continue to do :)

The House That Lars Built said...

@camilla, yes! I think it's totally ok to draw on inspiration--necessary even--but with the idea that you're infusing it into your own aesthetic.

Jacqueline said...

This is such a good reminder for me! I went through the exact same thing in design school - we hated it when our teacher pushed us to explore and refine our ideas and not rely on initial preconceived ideas, and in the end we realise that the process (however long) is worth it!

I totally agree too that the fast-paced speed of working we are all forced to do in this age of internet is or will have a negative impact on the design industry when designers are forced to skip the beautiful process of refining ideas. I think we should all step back and bring back this creative process. :)

Traveling Mama said...

Thank you so much for writing this. Sometimes I really wonder what would happen if the blog world didn't have us all moving so quickly… where might we go and what might we really achieve?

Spencer Goldade said...

It's extremely important in creative fields to hash out as many ideas as possible. In fact, most smart employers that I've worked with or know of won't hire unless you're able to document your ability to do just that! It shows that you really are creative- that you have more than just one good idea to offer.

Many times, some of the sketches I've made for one project can often inform or enhance another. You'll also learn valuable things by challenging yourself to keep doing better and pushing your boundaries.

I'll never forget one of our first projects in design school that attempted to teach us this value: we were each given a word and had to come up with one HUNDRED unique, completely different ideas for our word. Surprisingly, the last few ideas out of everyone's hundred were usually the best, not the most drawn out and worst.

Sarah said...

I have also found that design is an organic thing. It grows on its own. If it isn't going to work, it won't develop. I see things all the time that spark my creativity. Fabrics call for a certain design. To go against what the medium calls for would be counterproductive. You can't speed the process up.