Creative Over-Thinking

Peyton Crump, Former Design Director

Article Category: #Design & Content

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A few of Andy Rutledge's words from The Design View Show, Episode 2, although aimed at answering the question of formal vs. self-taught web design education, reminded me of an important topic web designers need to remember: that constraint – not creativity – should be the overriding drive behind our designs. As Andy shares, when designers think creativity – not problem-solving – is the prime measure of success, they enter a competition of artistry and decoration. I would add that true originality is often a high expectation of the creative-crazed designer, too. If it's creative, looks nice, and feels super unique, then it's assumed to be a successful design. Such an assumption lays a comfortable foundation for designers to “trust their intuition” (advice often given from one designer to another) and fall in love with something they created – even though it doesn’t work. Too often, we designers create a logo, marketing idea, tag line, web design, or UX technique that we believe is innovative, when, quite frankly, it's just not. I call it creative over-thinking; when our desire to be inventive usurps our rational instincts. The end product is forced, and we might even feel some catharsis because of it. Sharpening our internal radars to recognize when we're headed down this frustrating path is among the best ways to balance the art with the design purposes. Techniques to stay oriented Instead of "trusting your intuition," I say "trust the intuition of others." Be proactive about seeking feedback from outside sources knowing they usually don't get it (often for good reason) but they’ll be honest in their reactions. The truth can hurt, yes, but most of the time we’re designing for them – not other web designers. If you find yourself explaining your design decision in paragraphs rather than a simple sentence, then it’s time to re-evaluate. Portfolio pieces can look great but don't communicate clearly or connect effectively. The more you explain concepts, the deeper you’ll dig. Effective design decisions will explain themselves. Regularly along the way, re-orient yourself to the intended users and audience, and don't waiver from this focus. Generally, “creative flare” isn't at the top of their list of design needs. It doesn’t hurt, of course, but the best designs are credible, usable, easily digestable, correctly targeted, and clear. Often, it’s the simplest designs that achieve all these characteristics fluidly. Quick takes to prevent over-thinking
  • Know your core: are you an artist or a designer? Identify your leanings.
  • Know that naturally creative people aren't necessarily naturally design-oriented people and vice versa.
  • Remember that art and design often clash. Save examples of the two working well together.
  • Balance your desire for creativity with a desire for constraint and simplicity.
  • Stop forcing ideas. It's a great waste of time and energy and results in frustration.
  • Seek out and accept feedback frequently from non-designers.
  • Make achieving the client’s goals a priority over achieving your own personal aesthetic.
  • Remember your users and audience and prioritize your design to meet their needs.
  • If you're compromising originality at work, seek fulfillment with intensely unique and creative side projects.
Bigger picture Yes, this post in some ways falls into the age-old categories of art vs. design, creativity vs. constraint, form vs. function, original vs. ordinary. However, I'm more and more convinced that the best designers are those that understand the balance of all of these things. Here are a few links if you're interested in any further reading:

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