Creative habits for the designerly

Being a so-called creative, imaginative designer involves a significant degree of hard work (that “99% perspiration”, as Edison famously said) with many iterations and setbacks, as part of a connective & regenerative process. An essential part of that process is developing a personalized set of “creative habits”. Such activities increase the probability for inspiration and invention of something remarkable in your work — or at the very least, sustain your drive, especially during those moments of self-doubt or anxiety— to continually explore, creating your way forward.

So, what are my personal creative habits? Hmm. Here’s a quick survey of what gets me motivated :-)

* Always keep a sketchbook with a pen: I assume this is almost cliché for any designer, but this is vital for me. I literally do not leave home without this pairing. Sketching is how I process various information, and seizing those spare moments “waiting” while sketching is invaluable, given my busy schedule. (I prefer the Muji mini-sized sketchbooks that fit perfectly into a jeans’ back-pocket, and the Muji black rollerball pen.)

* Browse & read diverse magazines: I’m a total magazine fiend and love to spend time reading articles or perusing photos and illustrations found in The Economist, Vanity Fair, Esquire, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, WIRED, Metropolis, etc. Such contents are a wonderful source of raw intellectual material (ideas, themes, concepts, or just memorable phrases) while photos/illustrations are valued for their stylistic qualities (tones, colors, textures, layouts, etc.). To seek out those “radical adjacencies” that Steven Johnson mentioned in his book “Where Good Ideas Come From”, I prefer articles on economics, society, foreign policy, pop culture, literary or film criticism, keeping me diversely stimulated.

* Indulging in webby serendipity: Every morning I peruse social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook) to see what’s new, fun, trending, and flag it for later follow-up or pass along to folks in my network. I also quickly scan specific sites like The Verge, Quartz, Daily Beast, Ars Technica, The Vox, etc. Some days are better than others… If there’s nothing that morning, no biggie. (The trick to this is really time-boxing it, else you get sucked in and start meandering, actively searching for something inspiring, which is not altogether very useful.)

* Seeking constant physical stimuli: My desk is deliberately cluttered with toys, souvenirs, mementos, just stuff to pick up and play with while bored or thinking through some complex problems. Not sure if there’s a scientifically proven basis for this, but I find the physical interactivity stimulates my cognitive and creative energies in some useful ways.

* Taking long walks outside: Yes, it’s healthy to take a stretch and walk in the fresh air. But also, after reading some pretty heavy material, or sketching for a long time, I need to take a long walk to process what I just internalized, to help me make sense of it at that subconscious level, and start sparking up the neural intersections, vectors of inspiration, via outdoor observations, and the kinesthetics of “walking”. You may start to visualize in your mind’s eye some transient, deeper connections… Trust me on this!

* Sipping a good drink: Now, I’m not talking “Mad Men” style — you’ll just pass out that way! And of course, it’s not for everyone. But for me, I find that when I sip a good drink or two (bourbon, single malt, etc.) I enter a nicely relaxed state that fosters… well, some interesting ideas to flow forth! Maybe it’s the melting away all the loaded up cognitive inhibitions of the day, but imbibing on occasion certainly helps me pursue and express novel ideas— or simply form connections among existing ideas— just a little more… fluidly ;-)

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