Go pick up a paintbrush – or a pencil or a camera. Do anything with your hands that isn't typing or clicking. The computer's limits on dexterity are also limits of creativity, and for people whose eyes have long glazed over, switching up the tools of the trade is not only a pleasant change of scenery but is crucial to improving the quality of design work. Here's how, and why, to step out of a routine and into something new.
Why Go Analog?
Taking on creative challenges outside of an office environment reinforces the idea that we are ever-expanding our skill-sets and worldly knowledge. An openness to learning new things (whether that is how to code or how to take great photographs) makes you an easier colleague to work with; shared interests help people understand one another's perspectives. Doing just one activity off of the computer will help you grow, and balance, your role as a designer or as a business. It will also inspire in unexpected ways – and this is perhaps the most rewarding achievement.
Personal Benefits – Become a better designer
Avoid the limitations of a job title
“Ignore all job titles, including your own job title of course, and that's most important, whether it's a job you're trying to get or a job you think you already have, the best thing to do is ignore all these labels people are trying to put upon you.”—Alyssa Walker via HumblePied
This is one of the best things about being a designer – the promise of stepping into many different shoes. We get to imagine how an artist might approach a problem, or a scientist, or a teenager, or a grandparent. With each new project we get to work in industries wildly different from our own. Trying something new can remove us from the rut we get stuck in by doing the same things day after day. It can also lead to more interesting work.
Fine-tune a forgotten skill
Many designers come from a fine arts background. Return to those roots and remember the value of getting muddy or paint all over your clothes. Play helps us combine different ideas, which Steven Johnson says in Where Good Ideas Come From is the key to helping us innovate; combining mediums and skill-sets is a similar endeavor. Also, returning to the origins of why you became passionate about this field in the first place can jolt you out of a creative block and reinvigorate your work.
Practice original thinking
Making exceptional work often requires a change in defining what we do. If you are a web designer, does that mean you have to sit behind a computer to design? The most creative problem solvers tend to carry their problems with them, meaning they have the Eureka moment that brings two disparate ideas together when they are in the shower or car or somewhere away from their desk, not busy “at work”. This idea is not a new one; many of history's famous artists seemed to dip in and out of other fields. Examples include writers who painted, like Kurt Vonnegut, Tennessee Williams, and Jorge Luis Borges, actors who sing, like Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis, Gwyneth Paltrow, or designers who write, like Michael Bierut, Frank Chimero, and Ellen Lupton.
As Vonnegut said, “I’m not an artist, you know, but I also recommend that people practice art, no matter how badly because it's known to make a soul grow.”
Business Benefits – Meet people and improve your business
Expand service offerings
“Some people tell young practitioners to avoid style so they can grow. The market says illustrators should have a style so clients can minimize risk and predict what they will get. Other people say no style is a style. How do we reconcile those differences? We don’t worry about it.”—Frank Chimero
While many people prefer specialization over diversification, others believe it doesn't hurt creativity to try new things. As Chimero says, don't worry about what other people think; do what works for you. If you choose to grow an expertise in an area outside your main interests, it might even sneak its way into your business offerings. For example, you may take a photography class then before long are taking professional product photos for a client's website. Stranger things have happened.
Source of discovery
New clients or jobs can come from anywhere – from someone you bump into at the grocery store to the uncle of someone you sat next to in class. Even if it is not obvious at first, trying new things and being open to new people could translate to unexpected business connections.
It may seem counterintuitive that stepping away from your day-to-day work will make you more productive, but it remains true. Often we chip away at a problem without taking time to look at what's been done. The self-reflection part of a creative process is a necessary aspect of criticism and ensures a project is on track toward established goals. Stepping away from a repetitive process allows you to critique your work from another perspective. This is refreshing, and allows you to redefine your goals and keep making progress.
Participating in activities outside of work will help motivate you in your design practice or business, or at least will reveal what you'd rather be doing. It is difficult to know what to want out of a career, especially for young designers, and these outside endeavors will help establish a personal direction.
Here are some ways to embrace the analog side of creativity, to help you find that direction.
- Take a class. Any class. What have you been wanting to learn?
- If there aren't classes offered where you are, create your own. Form a writers, readers, knitters, photography, film, drawing, or craft group with friends.
- Read outside your comfort zone. Choose the unfamiliar fiction or nonfiction novel, local author or someone from another culture, or read outside your genre. There's always a new poet, graphic artist, or playwright to discover.
- Play. Choose an animal or child as your play partner. They'll love it.
- Instead of drawing your thoughts, write them. Instead of writing your thoughts, draw them.
Whatever personal project you take on, try really hard to finish it. Reflecting on what you've accomplished will reinforce positive associations from your experience or help you learn from mistakes for next time. Remind yourself that anything is possible. This is absolutely the key to staying inspired at work.