Friday 20 March 2009

Developing a more informed creative process

Creativity is a very personal quality and naturally differs in each of us. The creative talent of the individuals working within retail organisations can help to drive them [the organisations] creatively forward and indeed forward creatively. There are of course many ways we can adopt creative processes that may include Brainstorming exercises, Lateral thinking, random word association, journey techniques etc. and each retailer will no doubt have adopted its own working methods. This may also include the perhaps unhealthier and far less creative approach of the ‘silo’ method, i.e. working in isolation of anyone and anything else.
We may all feel that other retailers and especially design teams are more creative than us, but perhaps this is a good indication of the differing approaches to being creative and how this may or may not be encouraged or supported within our own commercial organisations? I do believe we all have the capability to be creative whether this is nurture or nature of course there are an awful lot of theories ‘out there’ debating this. What influences creativity is something that I am particularly interested in and how creative processes can be developed that will inform the future of design, therefore providing a ‘better’ creative output whether on the High Street, in store, or within the out of town mega-monolithic contemporary retail emporiums perpetually under construction.
Perhaps the first stage that needs to be addressed is to identify where the problems are. This needs to be clear otherwise the strategy will be confusing. Secondly, investigation of initial ideas and concepts needs to take place perhaps through brainstorming and including all of the Design team.
One of the techniques that I use is a journey technique. On a recent trip to Rome with my students I issued some of them with a disposable camera. They had to resist the temptation of taking photographs of each other and focus more on abstract images found on their journey. I initially took them from Termini station (the main station in Rome) walking them to the Coliseum. Leaving them at the Coliseum they handed over all of their maps and I asked them to begin to navigate their way through the city back to the hotel situated near to Termini station following signs and anything that they remembered that was of significance on their walk from the main station. I also gave the group a list of words which included energy, flexible, focus, texture, signage, graphics, metamorphosis, space, identity etc. to keep in their minds while they recorded their images.
The quality of the images were by no means not perfect, however this was not important, the ideas and what they were recording was far more pertinent and potent. The below illustrates just two of the groups’ journeys recorded in no more than thirty exposures, some had less.

The third stage is idea and concept development. How can this be done? Essentially what the students had produced were a series of what I call cognitive maps, however they were acquiring knowledge without realising what they were doing or why they were doing it. From a Design perspective what this exercise did achieve was the creation of a visual diary that encouraged the students to look at the vast resources around and available to them and encouraging them to investigate primary resources rather than relying on Internet search engines or other secondary resources such as magazines that they were later able to draw on as inspiration for future projects and therefore designing far more informed solutions to Design problems.
The work environment of course needs to be considerate of the importance of this process. An uninspiring, aggressive environment can only illustrate its effects with lower productivity (whether creative or not) both physically and mentally. Improved creative output within the Design departments with the adoption of creative processes will benefit whole teams but do need to be adopted and used frequently to ensure that they are at the forefront of our minds when a problem needs to be solved. Retailers ultimately of course will have to decide whether they employ naturally creative employees or look to develop existing employees and utilising the creative processes available to them. Finally, I do sincerely believe that encouraging and supporting environments which have more people with more ideas who are able to express these is surely integral to greater innovation within Design, and an energetic and far more successful retailer with satisfied customers?
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