The fruits of people’s creative processes are everywhere you look, compelling you to feel things and fostering connections between you and the brands that have managed to capture your attention with their art. But for all the ubiquity of good creative work, there is seldom much thought given to the blood, sweat and tears that go into bringing those creative visions to life.
That’s because the work you see is the finished product, and it comes with zero asterisks or addendums to give you the 4-1-1 on how it came to be. In that sense, you can think of polished creative as the tip of a very large—and probably chaotic—iceberg, lurking undetected below the surface.
I say large and chaotic because the creative process is rarely smooth and linear. If you’ve ever worked a job that depends on your creative prowess, you understand this. You know this process involves a delicate balance of brainstorming, procrastinating, panicking and producing.
And copious amounts of caffeine, of course.
But for all the stress and sleep deprivation the seemingly vague and elusive creative process can bring, there are some general constructive guidelines that everyone can adhere to.
Jumping into the Abyss
The creative process begins only after your research is complete, your targets have been identified and your advertising strategy is in place. Whether you’re writing a script, designing a logo, producing a website or developing a digital ad campaign, you will need to engage your creative spidey senses.
Defining the process of creative problem solving isn’t as easy as it sounds because it’s different for everyone. Some people are disciplined and methodical, while others’ approach may be interpreted as haphazard. But regardless of one’s methodology, there are some basic concepts that hold true across the board.
Let’s start with Graham Wallas, a social psychologist and co-founder of the London School of Economics. Wallas was one of the first people to write about the creative process in his book, The Art of Thought (1926), in which he proposed a model consisting of 4 steps: Preparation; incubation; illumination; and verification. Wallas’ model is a good one because it truly reflects the basis for building quality creative work.
Here’s how we interpret Wallas’ model:
This is the mental gathering of information or discovery period; digesting the contents of the creative brief, reflecting on discussions, reviewing competitive analyses, putting directional thoughts together, outside stimuli absorption, readying oneself for the creative task ahead and brainstorming away. Here is where you put pictures up on walls, and notes in books. Scribble. Jot. Muse. Ponder.
This is a period of detachment from the immediate challenge at hand; deliberately allowing a distraction to take the mind off the problem so that solutions can begin to creep in. Wallas believed that detachment from the creative objective stimulates thought—and he was right. Moving oneself away from a creative problem in a completely different direction creates a vacuum in which ideas for the objective can begin to come forward in your mind. So take your hands off the keyboard and step away from the computer.
This is about idea generation; the magical instances in which aha! moments start to happen. The ideas are flowing freely. Disparate bits of creative thought are gelling as concepts are being thrown about and put up on walls. You are blue sky thinking at this point; anything goes, so don’t hold back. Throw in the kitchen sink, if you must. Something will come of this. Put up your bad ideas and replace them with better ones, and then with great ones as they come to you. Aha! Shiny new concepts have emerged! You are feeling satisfied! So many great ideas are piling up that the client wont be able to choose just one!
This is the application phase. The reality check, if you will. It’s where the rubber meets the road; where the tough questions are asked. Are the ideas on strategy? Do they fit the brand? Will the executions meet the objectives? Are they doable within the time and budget constraints? Creative people often don’t enjoy this aspect of the creative process because this is where idea refinement and idea elimination takes place. This is where ideas come to die. And no one likes to see their ideas axed. The best you can do is hope that your favorite ideas will live to see the light of day.
These four pillars of creative problem solving aren’t the end-all be-all, but they do lend some welcome structure to the pandemonium happening inside your head as you embark on any creative pursuit. At the end of the day, the only tried and true constant that will be essential to your creative process is caffeine. Trust me, you do not want to leave that one out of the equation.
And hey, if all else fails, we at Magneto would be happy to help. We live, breathe and eat the creative process, so you can count on us to do it right.
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