Shadow Puppets

What does the creative process look like?

I recently came across this infographic by Virus Comix posted on FastCompany that illustrates the “Magic and Madness of the Creative Process”. I can certainly relate to those winding roads: the doubt, the re-work, the split decisions…and the stress, for better or for worse. This, in combination with some reading from Nigel Cross’s “Design Thinking” the other day, got me thinking about the creative process in a slightly new way…at least visually.

In the book there’s a great quote from Cross’s profile of designer Kenneth Grange, co-founder of Pentagram, wherein Grange describes the role of the designer:

The designer’s job, he says, is ‘to produce the unexpected’. (p.70)

I have heard variants of this job description from other designers and agree with this statement in many ways, granted that the unexpected is addressing a need, helping a situation or circumstance, and delighting its user(s). This unexpectedness, I find, is also present within the design process.

Many designers (Cross included) describe the creative process as ambiguous, unclear, unpredictable and difficult to map out. So much time is spent searching for the “right” problems to address and then creating ways to meaningfully address them. And while one can expect the design process to be extremely foggy — even translucent and almost opaque at times — you grab your tools, methods, knowledge and experience and you begin to feel your way through the process.  You may be unsure of what you’re searching for in the first place, but you do end up reaching your final destination. In essence, you’ve created something through the shadows: It may be unexpected, but it’s probably quite remarkable.

Taking what I’ve said here, the illustration above is my attempt to visualize the design process. Through this interpretation, I think that I have inadvertently simplified a process I consider to be truly complex. The visual is more articulate than any words I can offer, so I hope you find some meaning in it.

I’m curious about visual analogies (I’m thinking infographics/illustrations less frameworks/flow charts) for the design process and invite you to share any you might have.

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