I often talk about my gadgets and tools along with thoughts on creativity. The tool talk is very specific, the creativity is very abstract. I’m starting to see a gap in the middle where I should probably write about actually making visuals.
First up, three of my favorite sources of visual inspiration.
Jack Butcher: use constraints so you don’t need to make the same decision 1000 times
There are different reasons constraints are good for creativity. One is that a constrained set of tools means you don’t need to pick your tools out every day.
What if a barber, every single day, could pick from any set of blades and scissors and whatever other tool barbers might use… they’d eventually come in and narrow the set down and re-pick the same tools. But it’d take a little bit of thought. Because mayyyybe they want to try out some other tool. Or mayyyybe that one customer will come in today and I’ll need some other widget.
If you come in to make a visual without a design system and tools you’re familiar with, some of your energy will be spent on that.
If you come in, your tools are set and your guidelines remove many choices, then you can focus your energy on translating ideas to visuals.
Dan Roam: Ping pong from words to visuals to words to visuals
A technique Dan Roam recommends is taking a bunch of words you want to represent visually and then drawing them in nearly a straight translation. No big abstraction. Nothing clever. Just draw visual representations of the main words in the idea.
Then write a description of what you drew. Then draw words from that description. With each round of this there will be fewer words and visuals will be combined and simplified.
Repeat until satisfied.
Carl Richards: Get to where you can fire yourself
You want to fire yourself.
Not as the designer. But as the critic. In whatever ways possible, find someone else to give feedback on your work. For Carl, editors at The New York Times we’re happy to tell him something doesn’t work and pick from the options he provided.
For others, this is where online platforms become critical. The faster you start hitting publish on your work and sharing it with the world, the faster you’ll be collecting data to reflect on. Slowly, at first. But if you keep it up you’ll soon have an idea of what’s working and what’s not. You can predict if something works or not and then compare it to the data later. That helps you build your intuition.
And if you’re worried that’s too robotic, you can also try to compare the work you do completely for yourself and the work that may be pandering to the audience (or the algorithm).
If you’re doing it entirely for yourself, for creative expression, that’s fine too. But don’t get frustrated if you don’t have an audience.