Your brightest and clearest insights are always your very first impressions. They happen in-between moments of sensual, visual perception where information is delivered from your senses to your brain and remains unfiltered. Milliseconds later it’s already too late: your big, clumsy and party-pooping melancholic reasoning has put an end to the fun and divided your former beautifully pure perception into boring concepts, abstractions, ideas and problems. That’s life, sorry… Not! We found a wonderful and easy way to get rid of this convention: Don’t think! Throw your intellectual socialisation over board, let the unfiltered flow of information circulate freely, untreated and unrated in your mind. Shoot, feel, perceive and shoot, have fun, shoot whatever catches your eye, whatever attracts you, astounds you, excites you, seduces you.
If anyone is curious why I’ve been posting strange little renditions of letters of the alphabet (and you’re probably not, but I’m going to share anyway), it’s an ongoing creative exercise that I’ve set for myself. I’m trying to do at least a couple of riffs on one letter of the alphabet each day, with the caveat that none of them take more than a few minutes to create. I’m also trying not to edit them for what I like or think is necessarily good. I find that sitting down and making something without any preconception of what it is going to be is beneficial for my creative process. It loosens me up, it allows me to make stuff that I would never have “thought” of and had no idea was in my head.
I have a bit (ahem) of a tendency to overthink everything I do, which can be kind of creatively stifling. I often censor ideas before even starting them, and don’t embark on something unless I think it’s a really good idea. The problem, of course, is that it’s important to try things that don’t work, and great ideas often emerge from mistakes or wrong turns. So this alphabet exercise is the first of my attempts to set aside time every day to just let something happen without thinking about it and see what happens. I’m hoping that this creative meditation, brain dump, call-it-what-you-will, will help me to free up my work and my creative process in general.
(This approach to working was introduced to me by Frank Young at SVA, with whom I took my first graphic design class. The lessons I learned from him include such wisdom as “don’t let yourself be guided by your taste” and “once you’ve done everything you can think of, do some more”.)
I’m also adding to the challenge by making myself publish all of these exercises here. In addition to overthinking things, I’m tend to be very attached to having other people think I’m smart/talented, and I would usually never share anything that I don’t think is at least kind of good. But I’m putting these out there, good or bad, because I’m trying to loosen up and hey, crap is part of the process too, right?
A lot of these thoughts about creativity have been expressed with far more eloquence here: Making the Clackity Noise
To look at it from another angle, though, I suspect what I’m really against is what that term “graphic design” has come to represent, i.e. synonymous with business cards, logos, identities and advertising, and, again simply put, those are things I’m just not interested in. To me that idea of “graphic design” is as far removed from my interests as being a milkman or a lawyer. In fact, I’d rather be a milkman.
Jakob Nielsen has done some usability testing on the iPad — the first person to publish results of any kind of formal user testing with the device, as far as I know. His results are interesting, but his conclusions are typically Nielsen-ish in their conservatism.
In short, he found that iPad apps are confusing for users right now because it is a new platform. Every app designer is trying different approaches in an attempt to take advantage of the device’s form factor, app model, and gesture support. Since everyone is being inventive and creating new ways of interacting with content, there is no consistency yet and therefore, users don’t know what to do.
Nielsen’s response: Stop being so creative and experimental! Make it look and work just like the web! Make buttons look buttony and 3-D so users know where to tap! One of my favorite quotes from his conclusions was:
“Abandon the hope of value-add through weirdness.”
But Jakob, don’t you get it? It’s the “weirdness” and the experimentation that lead to innovation. We need the weirdness. This is a necessary stage in the evolution of interaction design when a new platform comes along. The same thing happened in the early days of the web (and again in the early days of web 2.0). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I want users to be confused. But this stage will pass. Here’s what’s going to happen: We’ll have a period of turbulence where every app works differently and designers are trying every bizarre interaction model under the sun because…well, because now we CAN. Doing anything less would be like getting a pack of 64 Crayolas and only drawing in black and white. After a while, things will settle down, we’ll start to see what works best and those models will propagate and become standardized while others fall by the wayside. We will be unable to remember that we ever did anything other than “tap three times in a semicircular swoop” to get a contextual menu.
What comes out at the other end of this experimentation phase will be better and cooler and yes — more USABLE — than what we have on the web now. So telling designers to just settle down and stop being so creative is, in my humble opinion, just backwards thinking.
Here’s the full article for your perusal:
James Sturm decided to spend four months offline. Here is his reasoning for attempting this web fast:
And here is his experience so far: