rollercoaster lightbulb illustration

To say the creative process can be a bit up and down is a bit like saying the sea can be a bit wet. More accurately, it’s like a rollercoaster. Well, when I say rollercoaster, I mean a rollercoaster that regularly ignores theme park health and safety. One that often breaks the sound barrier. And one that will, just when you think you’ve got everything under control, leave the tracks entirely.

Every project is different

Having spent the better part of fifteen years as a graphic designer, it still amazes me to know that every project I start will be a completely different experience to any other. This is also the reason I love graphic design. There’s no room for boredom. There is, however, plenty of room for curiosity. And excitement. And frustration. And elation. And worry. And hangovers. And pens going missing. And pens being found. You get the picture.

I excelled at maths in school. Then again at A-Level. In the end I realised that I kept coming across problems with only one solution. And it was my job as a mathematician to find the solution as quickly as possible. I thought, hang on, is this it? Surely there are more Interesting Things I could be doing with my life? And there were. And after doing those Interesting Things* I decided to become a graphic designer. And this is where the fun really started.

Creative Thinking

Being a graphic designer inevitably involves creative thinking. It’s what Edward de Bono (no relation to U2), called lateral thinking. You imagine many solutions to one problem. Mr Bono compares this to digging holes. Each hole being an alternative solution. Some holes are easier to dig, some harder. The trick is being able to climb out of any hole to either carry on digging a previous one or to start a new one.

The effect of this method is that you end up with not one, but a number of suitable solutions. This enables your client to make an informed decision about which direction they want to go in next. It’s taken me years to hone this skill and even if I say so myself, I’m now pretty good at it. However, I still start every project with a little bit of nervousness.

The Blank Sheet of Paper

Every project starts with The Blank Sheet of Paper (if you’re particularly apprehensive, The Blank Sheet of Doom). We’re now stepping, with a little trepidation, into the rollercoaster cart. And yes, I said ‘we’re getting in’. You’re coming with me on this one. Mwa ha ha ha haaa!

Ready?

It’s an effort to get moving. We’ve been asked to design a logo. Our pencil hovers above the page. We put it down. We make ourselves a nice a cup of tea. Ok. Ready? We put the first mark on the page. And there it is. One sketch that may well not even make it to the cut. It looks ridiculous. Hmm. Let’s do another over here. What happens if we focus on a benefit? The initial letter of the name? How would a fish do this logo? Oh yes, fish don’t do logos. Something to do with pencils not working underwater. Not to mention a lack of fingers. Unless you count the Captain Birds Eye variety.

The Great Reveal

We whittle them down to three or four, develop them and put them into a presentation. We call the client and let them know we’re ready for The Great Reveal. Whilst waiting for them to show we realise the rollercoaster has reached the top of the slope and we’re peering at the impending downward drop. Oh yes, here we go.

The initial presentation is the first time that us and the client get an insight into each others minds. It’s scary stuff. They’re precious about their business and we’re precious about our designs. Of course we stay as objective as possible but there’s no getting away from the fact that we’re emotionally involved. We’re passionate about our concepts after all. So when the client starts picking them apart…

Hold on tight! Here we go! We’ve reached the first of many corkscrews. Round and round we go, wee! Then, hang on, I feel a bit sick. Then, ooo, this is great! Then, oh dear, I feel sick again. And, towards the end, again, wee!

There are times when the cart literally leaves the tracks. When we hear, “Oh no, I don’t like any of them! Whatever shall we do!”, followed by fainting and us whipping out our Graphic Designer’s Special Smelling Salts for Theatrically Swooning Clients.

Whatever happens, we must keep the faith. It will be fine. It will be better than fine, it will be great. Enjoy the ride. Even if we leave the tracks, we’ll get back on them again at some point.

The Results

Some creative projects are hard going, some are smooth sailing. But my experience tells me that the end result is always magical. It’s wonderful. And a lot of the time it’s the harder projects that deliver the best work.

So even if you get off at the end with legs of jelly and ashen faced, you will look at the piece of work you and the client have just created and you’ll say, “You know what, that was totally worth it, it’s awesome.”. Then someone new comes along and shoves you back into the cart. Here we go again!


*If you would like to find out what the Interesting Things were, buy me a beer and I may, or may not, tell you.