Creativity

Dan Lynch (bio) is the Creative Director of Rock, Pixel, Scissors. People say that Dan’s pretty darn creative.

But what is creativity? It comes from the unexpected. Here’s a meandering riff on Dan’s creative process:

Sometimes people lay out their project goals, and when they’re done telling Dan what they want, they ask, “So Dan, what are your creative ideas?” Usually Dan smiles and says, “I don’t have any.” And then he goes home.

“This is our designer? Did we hire a slacker?”

And then Dan takes a nap, and later thinks about what was said. He wonders if what the client wants is what they actually need. And it starts to bug him. Then Dan might draw a couple of quick sketches that have nothing to do with what the client thinks they need—something better, or different. Maybe even slightly crazy.

Dan might put the sketches in his back pocket and read The New York Times for a while, and pour a saucer of milk for the kitties. And then he’ll pull out his little sketches and erase portions, realizing the client was right about one requirement, but absolutely wrong about the other.

This process usually happens at Dan’s home office, while playing either Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon, or Steven Reich’s Music For Eighteen Musicians, while walking at 1.7 miles per hour on his homemade treadmill desk. Oddly, it always seems like the cats are never around during these creative periods—like they know better than to purr around.

The next day Dan mocks-up some design variations that are partly inspired by his half-baked pocket sketches. At the next meeting, Dan shows up in good humor, and maybe a bit disheveled from pulling an all-nighter. He proclaims, “Hi everyone! I have some great ideas for you. I think you will be surprised!”

Then Dan unveils the design mockups. People might be amazed and happy. Or confused. Some are intrigued. Sometimes, a few are a bit perturbed. Maybe even angry! Usually, it’s a mix of all that. It just depends.

But Dan knows that the real creativity comes from all of those reactions to the first design sketches. This is when he listens hard, because the client is reacting to a risky, novel approach to their project. Those first mockups are a bit of a Rorschach test—they’re questions more than they’re necessarily answers. Dan listens hard at this presentation—because people will react to the design, and now say riskier, more gut-level things than they did at the first meeting. Their unbridled reactions are the clay that’s required for a great sculpture. Thereon out, expectations are fully expressed, and more realistic. On both sides.

Sometimes Dan thinks he’s not a designer, but a therapist. Because quite often at first, there’s a lot of talk, worry, hope, and need that’s expressed as design goals. It’s as though clients are on the couch, and Dan’s taking notes like Freud. His job is to help them dream, and overcome worry. Once they dream, and have some fun, things go quite nicely. All sorts of ideas come out of nowhere, from everyone. Dan gets to flip the question back: “So folks, what are your creative ideas?” It cuts both ways. And in the end, everyone gets more than what they expected.

That’s Dan’s creative process.

Either that, or creativity is the little green velvet bird that occasionally chirps and pecks inside of Dan’s head.

 

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