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Creative Process: 5 Mistakes You Shouldn’t Make

These days it seems like everyone and their mum is insisting that they are a ‘creative’. Undeterred by eye-rolling accountants or laughing salesmen, we creatives need less than three beers to start telling people about the individual way in which our brains work. Fabulous of course.

We should consider ourselves lucky to live in the accepting times that we do. Just a few short decades ago the checklist for a true creative mind went something like this:

  • Be poor
  • Be extremely sad
  • Get high
  • Kill self (optional)

Now the struggle for art is all but fought. I’ve lost track of how many ‘posts’ ought to come before the word modern when someone flaunts an indistinguishable squiggle in our era. We are indeed lucky, but, with artistic acceptance comes artistic saturation. So, with this post I’d like to address some of the mistakes many graphic designers and even artists often make. Just maybe, we can cross the bridge between adding to the deluge and creating something new and genuine.

Without further delay and to be taken with a mandatory pinch of salt, let’s begin:

Mistake 1: Starting with Google

Yes, Google is the all-knowing, all-seeing oracle of our time sent to unburden our minds by allowing us to keep everything we know in our pockets. Nevertheless, there are some things Google can’t do, and one of them is create.

A maddening percentage of designers, when asked to design a logo for… let’s say houses, will duly open Google and search: “logo houses”.

If you’ve identified yourself at this point don’t fear, there’s hope for you yet.

Finding reference points that you respect is an important part of building something new. It helps to identify what you think of as failures, victories and interesting parallel ideas. However (and this is a big however) if you start with that phase of the process you’ll be doing your creative mind a disservice.

If your first port of call when designing house logos is to google house logos you’ve orientated yourself in a space of ideas that aren’t yours. Google’s first page of search results will define house logos for you forever, and you’ve robbed yourself of the critical questions you need to be asking, namely: What do I think a house logo is?; How would I communicate houses effectively/individually?

Start with your own ideas before you reference them.

I mean… If you want…

Mistake 2: Limiting yourself to one medium

You might have been expecting this one, this is where someone in high school pops into your brain screaming, “Pick up a pencil, get off those damn computers”.

Well, there is certainly water to that suggestion, but, in a world that demands versatility, adaption is key. So, let’s unpack the pencil protest, and apply it to multi-mediums in general. 

By now you might have realised that almost everything in the visual world can be broken down into triangles, circles and squares. If you start on your favourite piece of design software, you’ll have to begin exactly there. In fact, often your first step will literally be choosing between a triangle, a circle or a square. This simply won’t do. Machine symmetry is beautiful, and often extremely necessary, but what moving away from your computer will allow you to do is include natural movement, the influence of light and the chaotic addition that so often makes the difference.

If your pencil isn’t for you then do something else. Smash a TV, spill some paint, go on a meticulously thought-out killing spree to aggravate an aging detective with a drinking problem. Your medium is your own, but refreshing your ideas is a universally good idea. 

Mistake 3: Relying on effects

For the most part I think of myself as a calm person. Having said that, there are some things that do bother me, and one of the things that absolutely pisses my peanuts is a bad design with a high-tech finish.

Graced as we are to have tools at our disposal like Photoshop and Illustrator, with great advancement comes great laziness.

Run a gradient, overlay a texture, add a bevel and maybe even a drop shadow and all of a sudden your design is popping out at you, making you feel great. Please do not be fooled. Don’t get sucked into this kind of poo-polishing pedestrianism. Good designs stand away from the gimmicks, and when we talk specifically about logos, the less it takes to identify your logo, the more effective it is.

My suggestion is to do the opposite. Break your design down to its base elements. How does it look in greyscale? Does it translate with minimal effect?

There is absolutely a place for these kind of lens-flaring, fire-generating, scuffed, gleaming, moving, growing tricks that are offered up to us, but let’s exercise responsibility and observe the important base elements of design first.

The juice is worth the squeeze.

Mistake 4: Building on other’s work

Let’s confess, we’ve all done it at some point late at night, starved of creative energy. We’ve put some words into a text box and scrolled through available typefaces.

Shame to us all.

The fact of the matter is that designers shed blood, sweat and tears to develop those typefaces. Your copy standing in the grandiose vision of their font is great, but it simply isn’t enough. If your design relies solely on an incredible typeface you need to take your fee and donate it straight to the designer. Lord knows they need it. Judging by the desperate pleas for donations one need only wander the streets in the worst part of town to see throngs of downtrodden typeface designers dejectedly scratching letters into the walls of highway overpasses. 

In all seriousness, you need to take stock of your own value add as a designer. Shared resources like typefaces, brushes, templates and effects are fantastic, but be mindful of the line between utilisation of tools and passing someone else’s work off as your own.

Mistake 5: Losing self-confidence

I’ve scolded you enough, it’s time to end on a high note. You are a valuable, artistic, inspired member of our society.

Well, you could be. Although, according to the law of averages, you probably aren’t.

But that’s exactly why you need to stay motivated. Remember that art isn’t just subjective, it’s very subjective. Your ideas can and will be pulled apart, sometimes even mocked.

When monetising creativity, it’s incredibly important to keep that spark of ambition alive. It needs to live with you along with every decision you make. How you approach challenges, how you view the world and even what clients you choose should be built and defined by your reason for starting.

Things will change and things will develop but as a creative you need to believe in what you’re doing.

For me, it’s about beauty in a crazy world. For you it might be money for coke. Who knows? Just keep at it.

And finally, for those of you who disagree with all of the points I’ve made, ask yourselves this: If you’re so smart then why did you read a whole post on creative process in the first place?

Kidding and joshing like buddies,


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