Category Archives: creativity

Fight the Flatline

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, by Edwin A. Abbott

You may be wondering what Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions has to do with design, and why the heck I posted it here (two posts back).

I read it for an intro Philosophy course when I was in college. Although it was written over a hundred years ago, the themes remain timely. The main concept that has stayed with me all these years is that there are many perspectives in the world and possibilities for other dimensions. (Part II of the story.) It will do you well to keep an open mind — in life and in design. The metaphorical characters of Point, Line, Shape are incidental. Ha! I just saw there’s even an animated movie of it!

If you’ve never seen it, check out Powers of Ten, a nine-minute film made by The Office of Charles and Ray Eames. Another interesting take on perspectives.

I had a professor who said as a designer, we need to know about many different things. You may be designing for varied organizations, on a multitude of different subject matter. So, learn to learn. Learn to uncover the essence of a thing/business/service so that you can communicate that essence in a compelling way. I think it was Bob Gill who said (during a lecture for the ADCMW in DC) that if you have only one hour to design for a laundromat, spend 45 minutes in the laundromat and 15 minutes designing.

So, shake up your routine; get out of your comfort zone; be interested in… everything!


Getting There

On September 8, we discussed process in some detail. For this class, since you are responsible for creating the content as well as the design, you will have two sets of concurrent and overlapping processes that should work together to communicate your concept and your message.

The writing and content creation process consists of:

  • topic ideas; decision
  • research
  • creative brief
  • more research
  • outline
  • manuscript
  • concept-based copywriting
  • proofread and edit
  • copy edit
  • layout edit, since you can

The design process may go something like this:

  • brainstorm concept; decision/s
  • visual thinking
  • sketch options
  • select; make choices
  • design look and feel
  • analyze
  • plan and map the whole piece
  • full design and layout comps
  • analyze, revise, repeat as necessary
  • prototype, produce
  • disseminate (turn it in!)

Hone your process. It can help you out when you don’t know what to do. If you keep drawing a blank, feed your brain some more. More research = more ideas.

Back to the Basics

From a practical standpoint, revisiting the elements and principles of design can also offer inspiration when faced with an empty piece of paper.

Refresh your understanding of point, line, plane, shape, form. In fact, you might even enjoy a story created around these characters. Flatland by Edwin Abbott is available as a free download because it is in the public domain.

Taking the element discussion further, consider color, value, texture, and of course, image and type.

The principles of design describe the effects and relationships that are created by the elements interacting with each other. You should be able to evaluate and discuss your designs using these terms.

  • balance
  • contrast
  • tension
  • harmony
  • variety
  • proportion
  • direction
  • movement
  • rhythm
  • emphasis
  • unity
  • repetition

If you need a more formal refresher, take a look at Ellen Lupton’s book and companion website, Graphic Design: The New Basics.

And read about the Gestalt Principles of Perception starting here. A very good writeup by Andy Rutledge.

Creativity On Demand

In class on Wednesday, September 1, we talked about creativity. All professional fields can benefit from creativity. And especially in the design disciplines, you will need to be able to create on demand. Bosses and clients don’t want to hear that you’re not inspired today. You’ll be getting paid to create stuff, so as a designer it’s up to you to find your own inspiration, constantly.

Knowing which brain hemisphere is your dominant side can help encourage you to exercise the weaker one. We all have full brains but we’re wired a bit differently. If you missed it, take the brain test here.

General inspiration and creativity-enhancing exercises can be found in books. Check out, especially Creative Sparks and Caffeine for the Creative Mind.

Creativity Books

Creativity Books

We also watched a TED talk on creativity by Elizabeth Gilbert. TED offers many inspiring and educational talks in 20 minute presentations. Check out their full offering.

Ideas First

Congratulations to all the winners of the ADCMW’s Real Show! It’s pretty awesome that 6 students from Mason got pieces in the show.

I know you will all join me in thanking Doug Fuller for taking the time to spend all day with us yesterday, first for his presentation and then for the guest critique. In case you didn’t write down some of the names he mentioned in his talk regarding conceptual design, they were:

  • Bob Gill
  • Lanny Sommese
  • Michael Vanderbyl
  • Turner Duckworth
  • Pentagram
  • Daniel Eatock
  • Sandstrom Design
  • Fuszion

Look ’em up!

As his examples showed, design with or from a concept is more memorable and interesting, which will ultimately be more valuable for your client. Remember Eric Stewart’s set of business cards!

Creativity Recap

I think we accomplished just about everything we set out to in Monday’s class. I’ve got the Box working again, so be sure to download the file entitled AVT498_CreativityProcessElementsPrinciples.pdf, as it has links and explanations.

If you did the brain test, you became a little more self-aware. The left half of the brain is: logical, sequential, rational, analytical, objective, looks at parts. And the right half of the brain is random, intuitive, holistic, synthesizing, subjective, looks at whole. Knowing which side is more naturally dominant can help us to purposefully exercise the other half and use more of our full brains. (My theory is that most designers are fairly balanced.)

Another interesting brain teaser is the rotating silhouette figure. Is she going clockwise or counterclockwise? Although this has apparently been debunked as a method for determining brain hemisphere dominance. One thing’s for sure; of all the links, pages, lists, and diagrams about brain hemisphere functioning, most of them are ugly as sin. The people smart enough to know about the science of it are not always adept at applying visual thinking skills. (Here’s where we come in!)

With regard to your brochure topics, and tackling or addressing a problem that affects a society, get inspired by the creative work done on behalf of these issues/orgs:

Do you have other good examples? List them in the comments.

As a designer, if your job is to come up with ideas and designs, you will not have the luxury of excuses like, “oh, I’m not feeling it today.” Someone is paying you to be a designer, so you will need to figure out strategies for calling up your creative, on demand. Today we reviewed the design elements and principles, which can always help kickstart you out of the stuck bucket. We talked about having a process/methodology, because for most people creativity does not come out of nowhere. And I mentioned some books that address improving creativity. Here they are, plus a few more.

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talks to check out:

Addendum to the Syllabus, Creativity, and Samples

I forgot to add the Permissions paragraph to your syllabus, so there is a new page 5. It’s in the Box and I’ll be bringing a copy to class for each of you. I also incorporated the agreement text that you need to sign, so you can cut off that half to return to me.

We’re going to talk about creativity today (it’s after midnight, so it’s technically “today”). And the creative process—how you can harness it on demand, which you will need to do with alacrity and regularity as a professional designer. Bosses and clients don’t care if you’re “not feeling it” because that’s what you’ll be getting paid for. (We’ll talk more about nurturing creativity on the 9th, with some exercises from a couple of books.)

We’ll be taking a left brain/right brain quiz, because it helps to understand your strengths and weaknesses, so you can exercise the weaker half. The quiz is here. If you are interested in more on the brain and creativity, check out these TED talks by Jill Bolte and Elizabeth Gilbert.

Creativity will segue to concept and we’ll look at previous semesters’ work and professional examples of design, graciously supplied by the community.

Don’t forget to bring your homework in.