Every creative person loves to be asked, “What’s your process?” It gives us a chance to pontificate, and every creative person loves to pontificate. For one thing, we get to use common nouns like they were proper nouns and capitalize every one of them: “We begin our Process with a search for Inspiration, facilitated by exhaustive Design Research.” (How can you tell that we’re using capital letters when we’re speaking? It’s easy. We sound even more pretentious than usual.)
The people who ask about process generally fall into two categories: potential clients and creatives (often students). Potential clients are, presumably, trying to gauge risk. What they really want to know is, do you have a systematic approach to your work? Less generously, what they want to know is, are you just making it up as you go along, on my dime? Generally speaking, when we talk to clients about process, we like to keep the answers as high level as possible, to add weight of dignity to our answers. We discuss Project Phases, mix in terminology like UI/UX and Design Exploration, and stay away from specifics. We may even capitalize unnecessarily.
Creatives, on the other hand, focus on process as it relates to technique. What kind of pencil do you use? What kind of surface? Do you use a graphics tablet? When do you use Adobe Animate and when do you use Tumult Hype? These are worthwhile questions – knowing the proper tools can save hours of frustration – although there is a limited utility in the answers. (The fact of the matter is that using the “right” pencil, for instance, won’t instantly make you a better draughtsman.) Still, it is a pleasure to answer direct questions with concrete answers. (For the record: a Caran D’Ache Fixpencil with an HB lead; Canson drawing pads; Yes, a Cintiq; For animation that will be outputted to video, and for web-only animation.)
So when we talk about process, why do we give students more direct answers than we give clients? We do it for the sake of obfuscation. Because in truth, the answer to the client’s question is in part, yes, we are making it up as we go along, on your dime, and thank you. The urge to avoid that answer – an answer that every client already instinctively knows, because clients are not fools – leads us to avoid the concrete, which I believe is ultimately disrespectful.
So as an experiment, over the next several blog entries we’re going to try to explain “Process” like a normal human being would discuss “process.” We’ll walk through varying steps and try to give real examples. We’ll try to illuminate with plain language what has been hidden through jargon. Our hope is that in demystifying the creative process, we’ll do something genuinely creative.