My Secret Creative Formula


Things start to come together as we move onto Stage 3 of My Personal Creative Process - The Creation Phase. This is where all the research and brainstorming culminate in the creation of designs and ideas that up until now, have been loose concepts and sketches.

Creative inspiration can strike at any moment. It could take 10 minutes or 10 hours. It is compellingly elusive and why those who can come up with a creative solution to a brief more consistently and faster than others are so revered.

The techniques and methods I have already outlined will help reduce creative time and increase the likelihood of you coming up with something great, but if it takes time that’s Ok. Don’t force it, relax, stick to the strategies and enjoy yourself.

This is the fun part!


Striking Gold

Does coming up with an idea after only 10 minutes make it any less valuable that one that took 10 hours? No. The thing to remember is that creation time isn’t an indicator of a great idea. Sometimes we get lucky and it comes quickly, but more often than not you have to really dig away to get something good.

When I first started out, it would take me days to settle on a good idea, but now I have refined my process so it is much more streamlined and efficient. This is down to a combination of experience and strategy and remembering to judge an idea on it’s merit, not it’s creation time.


Don’t settle

 Part of my work on the identity for  Seven Garcons  Barbershop.

Part of my work on the identity for Seven Garcons Barbershop.

However if you are fortunate to get lucky and your first idea ends up being the one you go with, you should still keep pushing yourself.

I find that the initial concepts are more conventional and instinctive and although they can work, but by continuing to explore other ideas not only do I create something more meaningful, but I give myself the peace of mind that I have explored plenty of alternatives. 

It needs to be tested against other concepts to be credible, but if it truly is the best design, then it will still be the best no matter when it was created. 

This is always a learning process and the experience gained from the additional time spent designing, will make you better and faster for the next project you work on. This is not time wasted as you are honing your technique.

An athlete can set a world record on their first attempt, it doesn't make this achievement any more or less amazing. But that new record needs to be tested to confirm that it is the best, as only then does it attain the respect and credibility that it deserves. 


Managing time


You should have an approximate amount of time time set aside to focus on this phase. For example this might be 25% of your overall time set aside for the whole project. Here is an approximate breakdown for me.

Example work schedule:

  • 15% Research
  • 25% Brainstorming
  • 25% Creation
  • 20% Refining/Execution stage.
  • 15% Buffer

You will need to have a cut off point and stick to it otherwise this will start to effect the other areas such as the Elimination and Refining phases. Over the years I would frequently do too much time brainstorming and creating, in search of the ‘perfect’ solution, but that wouldn’t leave enough time for me to execute it properly, thus underselling the idea. 

My old work schedule:

  • 5% Research
  • 65% Brainstorming
  • 20% Creation
  • 10% Refining/Execution stage.
  • 0% Buffer

My concepts were also limited as I didn’t understand just how important research and time buffers were. This meant I was often overworked, juggling too many projects and unable to properly deliver on achieving the client goals, as I didn’t know enough about them or their business. 

Set deadlines within the overall process to keep you on track and once it passes, move on.

Don’t look back wondering ‘what if’, just keep pushing forward and make the most of what you do have. Being able to decide how long to focus on any one area will be different for each project but your ability to structure it correctly will improve over time as your experience grows.

My friend was once auditioning for a job as a TV chef where he had 1 hour to make his chosen dish. As he loved Italian food, he decided to cook a authentic pasta dish. But instead of using dried pasta, he wanted to make it himself from scratch, as he felt it would set him apart from his competition.

In the end it took him nearly 45 mins just to make the pasta. That’s 45 out of a possible 60 mins! This left him 15 mins to prepare the sauce, make sure the pasta was cooked ‘al dente’ and then serve everything to the judges. You can probably guess what happened.

He ran out of time and although the meal would’ve been beautiful, if he had another 10-15 mins, it didn’t matter. Sadly the job went to someone else because his time management and decision making let him down.


Being original

I’ve expanded on this in one of my previous articles as it is always are concern for anyone who is creative. For me, the best way of determining that if you are producing something original, is to use your moral compass and employ a few specific techniques.

Firstly you have to accept that nothing is truly original as it’s very difficult not to be influenced by other people and designs, but by copying a design, not only are you stealing from the original creator, but you aren’t learning anything.

One technique that I use to deliberately avoid this from happening is to spend an entire day consuming research and stimulus without doing any design work. Then the following day I will put it all away and I’ll create something based on what seeped into my subconscious overnight, without referring back to the research.

Use your moral compass, be honest with yourself about the originality of your work and try your best to create something that is original and works for the client.

However if you have created something original, that turns out to be very similar to something currently in use, then you may have to set it aside and create something new as the continual comment of “Oh, it’s just like ……” will drive you and the client crazy.


Testing a design

Does it solve the client's problems and / or help them achieve their goals?

Too many designers tend to forget who is paying them and what for. If you are going to create something that looks great but doesn’t solve the clients problems, you are putting your own needs ahead of those of the client.

This is a huge mistake as it will only lead to unhappy clients and therefore, no testimonials, no further referrals and no new business.

Every design you create has to incorporate both the clients goals and their needs. If it doesn’t deliver on these premises, then don’t pursue it any further. To push an ideas that you know doesn't have the clients best interests at heart is a complete waste of time and effort. 

Every design I create has to pass this criteria if it is to make it to Part 4 of my Creative Process - The Elimination Phase


Final Selection

One of the biggest failings I used to make was to get stuck on an idea or design and then work on it then and there. This meant that I stopped creating new ones and ending up overworking too few alternatives as always running out of time.

It took me a while to see where I was going wrong, but since then I have changed how I work and have become so much more productive.

Now I create a design, only roughly, just enough to capture the essence of it so that I will recognise it when I come back to it later. I then set it aside by highlighting it or putting it on a separate page and I forgetting it. I then move on to a new design and will come back to it at the end.

The good thing is that by doing this I usually have a sizeable selection of designs to choose from, but most importantly, I will come back to these designs with some form of fresh perspective. Often that first design that I fell in love with doesn’t look quite so hot now, especially when compared to the designs that came after it.

I will then take the final 3-10 designs through to the Elimination Phase where I get very brutal as I try to whittle them down to 1 winner.


To sum up

By keeping a structure to your creation process, you can be productive as well as creative. Within this, try to maintain your credibility by striving to produce original work that is designed with the client in mind.

Thad Cox5 Comments