Reading, applying and writing.
I started by reading other designers’ thoughts and approaches to the design process. Then I moved to testing what I learned. A shout out to Stint for giving me the autonomy and space to experiment and ship - the biggest perk of a fast-growing start-up is the sheer time spent solving problems and the freedom to use whichever processes to best solve those problems. I experimented with different design thinking frameworks and began developing a sense of the pros, cons, and limitations of all frameworks when they meet the messiness of life.
Writing also sculpts my design thinking. First, as a way of recording what I’m learning and developing my own takes. Second, as a practice - because all forms of creativity/disciplines of making seem to follow a similar design process arc. What I mean by that is whether I’m drawing, painting or dancing, there’s always ideation, experimentation, feedback and iteration.
This will be a long one.
There’s a cliche about creatives that goes, “creatives are miserable when they’re creating and more miserable when they’re not creating”. If you’re like me, and lots of others I know, you can’t help but make. Creativity is a daily part of your life and if there are any issues in the process then a chunk of your life becomes quite painful. Therein lay the motivation for refining and experimenting with my creative process - the desire to make it more enjoyable.
The defining part is mostly pattern matching through absorption - I started by looking at artists’ sketchbooks when I was teaching myself to draw. From there I’d look for books and blogs on their routines, rituals and habits; their philosophy and relationship to their tools. By exposing myself to a variety of processes, I started to understand there was no one right way. So much of the creative game seems to be coming to terms with the way you naturally are rather than the way you want to be.
By seeing the processes of others you’ll see your blindspots and more importantly your strengths and natural leanings. You’ll realise you can work during the day, night or afternoon, in messy scribbles or precise bullet journals. Whatever energises you is right. And as Neil Gaiman said, for 5 years you might be a night creative then one day you wake up and you’re a morning creative.
Few resources that shifted my understanding of the creative process:
Writing is a kind of magic. You can write words, put them on the internet and find friendships, work and incredible experiences as a result. You can come back to those words, months or years later and find a snapshot of who you were, one you can riff against today. It’s a way of marking progress - the questions you struggled with a month ago? Now not even a memory.
I also write because I think more clearly when I do. You might find the same. If you’re the type of person who enjoys words, you’ll get a lot from writing. But since writing is mostly a means of recording and sharing your experience you could also make videos, record voice notes, mind-maps, fill sketchbooks or make moodboards. The real magic is having an artifact, a record of your thoughts and attempts that you can come back to and share.
Don’t spend more than 20 minutes being stuck on a problem without asking for help. Tap into the knowledge of the designers around you, those on your team and those outside of it - everyone is a button click away nowadays and the design community is friendly.
The more you make, reflect and iterate, the faster you grow. The fear of making bad work held me back for a long time. Make bad work, get feedback and 🚀🚀
Both in the literal sense i.e. smallest device size, and in the more metaphorical sense i.e. what’s the smallest version of this that I could be working on?
In life in general or in design? I’ve touched on a few of them:
Finally, remembering to be gentle with myself when I forget to do all the stuff on this list 😅
Constraints are creative enablers. Creative practices become easier and more enjoyable when constraints are introduced. It’s the reason projects like 100 Days of X, Ship30 or Twitter are popular and brilliant at getting people to produce work - they introduce two constraints, one on size/quality and the other on time.
The first writing I shared on the internet was an 100 days of writing project; to make myself get over the fear of sharing my work. The constraints were 100 words, and well, 100 days. The smallness of the project kept me coming back every day.
Limiting yourself to working with 3 colours, 2 fonts or using 3 moves to create a choreography can set your brain on fire, in the best way. It gives it an interesting puzzle and lets it do what brains do best.
Creativity is mostly taming chaos (aka endlessness of a blank canvas). Constraints, and checklists, help you do so.
I could’ve saved a lot of time, and frustration, by using checklists earlier in my projects. That last minute panic, “wait, is there an empty state here? What about an error state?” Miss me with that please 🙃
The last big project I worked on was an onboarding redesign. Component states, multiple journeys, multiple screen sizes and device types, on top of designing and iterating. Checklists helped me maintain my sanity - there’s a lot to keep track of and leaving it to memory doesn’t work for me. I make checklists for most of my projects and use the checklists on this site wherever possible.
I’m slightly sad I don’t have a fun project-gone-wrong story to share! At the same time, here’s to hoping the future doesn’t provide me with one.
I love the flows checklists. I’d use the list most relevant to the type of project I was going to be working on. States are tricky!
Bonus: Typography. Good typography makes and breaks digital interfaces.