Creative Jam: 7 Exercises to Enliven Your Office

Both jam and jelly are made from fruit mixed with sugar and pectin. The difference is that the source of fruit in jelly is juice and in jam it’s pulp. Individual recipes and flavors make each distinctive in appearance, texture and taste. At MasonBaronet, an integrated marketing communications firm in Dallas, creative director Paul Jerde spoons up Creative Jams to whet the staff ’s appetite for exploration.

Every month, for about the cost of a pizza and an hour of time, Jerde arranges what has become known around the office as a Creative Jam. These outings give the MasonBaronet team a chance to stretch their conceptual skills. There are two key goals to these meetings: build staff unity and gain new perceptions from creative exploration.

Jerde is quick to credit Willie Baronet for establishing the Jams as a favorite staple of the 15-year-old firm. MasonBaronet’s clients generally represent industry leaders in the health care, technology, legal and hospitality design sectors. Helping drive business and build brand awareness, the full-service firm offers integrated marketing communications, branding, account planning, research, advertising and interactive expertise.

“Creativity is at the heart and soul of our organization,” Jerde says. “It’s always been part of our culture. The clock’s ticking and we all feel the pressure to produce stuff and make decisions. We’re not just an assembly line for other people’s ideas. We want to give our staff a safe place to tap their energy, to experience that feeling of togetherness, to luxuriate in this creative pool. Rather than a budget and a deadline, it’s just me, you and the crayons.”

As a result, Jerde finds the Creative Jams have fostered greater camaraderie and better communication between the firm’s departments and staff. “When you’re working from personal experience you’re naturally excited and outspoken about your ideas,” he explains. “Being aware of these feelings as we present our work to one another makes it easier for us to manufacture that energy for clients.”

Jerde says that he’s constantly studying and reading about creative exercises and techniques. “Visual Literacy: A Conceptual Approach to Graphic Problem Solving” by Judith and Richard Wilde has been a recent source of inspiration for Creative Jams, but Jerde finds new themes almost everywhere.

Creative Jams offers a relatively easy recipe for any creative team to follow: Choose a task or destination; establish a medium for participants to visualize or document their individual perceptions of the experience; then reunite all participants to share their perceptions with one another.

“Usually, the Jams last 60 minutes including lunch,” Jerde says. Some of MasonBaronet’s sessions require 40 minutes for traveling and eating, leaving just 20 minutes for the creative exercise. Others take 10 minutes for lunch and allow 50 minutes for discovery.

“One of our Jams came at a time when we were all really busy and having a hard time escaping the grind of the day,” he recalls. “Still, we took a moment to gather together. Each of us was handed a balloon and a label. We wrote what was blocking our creativity on the label, stuck it to the balloon and released it. It was two seconds, but it was really potent.”

For Jams that result in more tangible creative out- comes (such as sketches, ink stamps, etc.), Jerde encourages that the creatives put more emphasis on the conceptual value of the idea than on its production or finished value. “The work has a grassroots feel to it,” he says. “It’s not supposed to be premeditated or finessed. It’s about letting go. We’re trying to capture that creative lightning, so the work isn’t polished, it’s pretty raw.”

PUTTING A STAMP ON IT

“Raw material” literally provided the ingredients for the most recent Creative Jam. Jerde brought raw sweet potatoes to the office, but they weren’t for lunch. Prompted by a home craft project with his son, Jerde invited each participant to grab a potato and knife. Everyone was asked to carve a personal mark into the tuber. They then transferred it onto paper using black acrylic paint.

Raising a few eyebrows, art director Sarah Treanor carefully carved a geometric silhouette of a rat’s face into her potato as her personal stamp. “I like exploring the forced connections between objects,” she says, noting that she has a pet rat but also appreciates how the stamp’s long nose can resemble an X-Acto knife or a marker tip. “The presentation and interpretation add more layers to the whole experience.”

Unleash Your Creative Hound

  1. These 80 challenges will sharpen your creativity and design skills.
  2. Don’t even know how to go about being creative? That’s okay, W. Glenn Griffin and Deborah Morrison wrote a book about it.
  3. In-House design challenges got you down? Release creative inhibitions under Andy Epstein’s guiding hand.
  4. This collection has whole bunch of vehicles of creative exercises, including #1 on this list. Plus, it’s a price to die for.

UNCOVERING TYPE EVERYWHERE

Unexpected and unintended results cause Jerde to beam with delight. “I love the unknowingness of it all; the unusual inspiration and tangential exercises that break through our programmed delivery. Our experiences and perspectives are all so different. It’s so refreshing.”

For example, there was the Creative Jam where the staff took digital cameras with them at lunchtime during July’s Taste of Dallas, an annual weekend event of food, music and other activities in the city’s historic district. Each participant was instructed to record examples of found typography and then assemble the characters into affirmative messages about the neighborhood and the company.

“We saw all sorts of interesting typography in the environment: faded hand-painted signs on brick walled buildings, fresh vinyl letters on food booths, silk- screened messages on T-shirts,” Treanor recalls.

While an unexpected downpour put a damper on the quality of photos and, consequently, the end result, Treanor found a silver lining. “Like the weather, creativity is unpredictable. It comes and goes like happy accidents,” she says. “Often, we find inspiration out- side of our four walls. It’s very different than looking at your computer screen all day. The Jams remind us to take inspiration from our lives and culture, which makes each idea much richer in meaning.”

She continues, “One inspiration turns into an idea that turns into a real job. It’s very subtle, and some- times you’re not even aware you’re collecting and storing these experiences to draw from in the future. But I feel they’re vital to the creative process.”

Unleash Your Creative Hound

  1. These 80 challenges will sharpen your creativity and design skills.
  2. Don’t even know how to go about being creative? That’s okay, W. Glenn Griffin and Deborah Morrison wrote a book about it.
  3. In-House design challenges got you down? Release creative inhibitions under Andy Epstein’s guiding hand.
  4. This collection has whole bunch of vehicles of creative exercises, including #1 on this list. Plus, it’s a price to die for.

PIECING THE PICTURE TOGETHER

One of the first Jams that art director Jason Puckett experienced when he joined MasonBaronet took place at the Art Prostitute Gallery in Dallas during an exhibit of works inspired by the Dada movement—and it left quite an impression on him.

“We had lunch together then each of us walked the exhibit,” Puckett recalls. “Five of the works on the wall had a sheet of paper on the floor in a five-panel accordion fold. As we arrived at each work, we were given one minute to sketch something on the next available panel, as inspired by the piece. At the end of five minutes, we had five full sheets of five panels with each panel adding to the drawing before it, resulting in very strange looking creatures and scenes.”

He says that the bizarre images that the Jam produced were only part of the lesson. “As we held up each page, it was interesting to see the common cor- relations and the diversions. It helped each to under- stand the others’ point-of-view: ‘I see this, while you see that. I wouldn’t expect you to think that way. Now, I see it that way, too.’ It really helped us realize the power of the accordion fold and how the reveal of each.

BRINGING ART TO LIFE

Seeing your ideas through another’s eyes is a fundamental part of MasonBaronet’s Jams. Jerde took this a step further and asked his colleagues to see the strengths of their co-workers embodied by an existing work of art.

An afternoon outing to the Nasher Sculpture Center’s gardens helped structure the exercise. Jerde provided simple instructions. “Everyone drew a name of someone else and then they found a sculpture that they felt represented that person. Each person sketched the sculpture and talked a bit about the qualities of the person they had selected.”
“We learned that we have a lot of regard for each other. We raised each other up and saw ourselves in a new way,” Jerde says.

Unleash Your Creative Hound

  1. These 80 challenges will sharpen your creativity and design skills.
  2. Don’t even know how to go about being creative? That’s okay, W. Glenn Griffin and Deborah Morrison wrote a book about it.
  3. In-House design challenges got you down? Release creative inhibitions under Andy Epstein’s guiding hand.
  4. This collection has whole bunch of vehicles of creative exercises, including #1 on this list. Plus, it’s a price to die for.

FINDING SPIRIT IN THE SIMPSONS

While most of the Creative Jams draw participants exclusively from MasonBaronet’s production and creative services staff, others periodically join in. For example, when “The Simpsons Movie” was released, the promotional website featured an online tool that allowed visitors to customize a cartoon character to represent themselves. All of MasonBaronet’s 15 employees created a Simpsons avatar. These characters were then knit together as a staff portrait, which was posted on the wall alongside an actual group photo.
“It may seem frivolous, but the characters you create say a lot about you as an individual,” Treanor says. “Putting it all together helps us remember that we’re part of something bigger, while holding on to that individuality. At the end of the day, we all went and saw the movie together.”

Unleash Your Creative Hound

  1. These 80 challenges will sharpen your creativity and design skills.
  2. Don’t even know how to go about being creative? That’s okay, W. Glenn Griffin and Deborah Morrison wrote a book about it.
  3. In-House design challenges got you down? Release creative inhibitions under Andy Epstein’s guiding hand.
  4. This collection has whole bunch of vehicles of creative exercises, including #1 on this list. Plus, it’s a price to die for.

BRANDING A PHILOSOPHY

The unanimous front-runner for favorite Jam of the Year didn’t entail any field trips or special equipment. Jerde elaborates: “I asked each person to think of a personal philosophy or core value. Maybe it’s love or friendship or saving the best thing on your lunch tray until last. Then, take this and distill it into a single word. Next, take that one-word attribute and turn it into a consumer good that might change people’s beliefs if it showed up on the grocery shelf.”

Puckett recalls one participant who developed “Loyalty” branded aerosol—so it could be more easily spread around. Another staffer designed a “Freedom” brand F-logo with a “live free” slogan, which could be molded onto the tread of a shoe to leave its mark on impressionable surfaces.

“We do this same exercise in interpreting our clients’ brand values and communicating them through a package or a brochure,” Puckett continues. He explains that the Jams have reminded him that it’s often worth gathering objective feedback to ensure others interpret your vision the way you—and your client—intend. “Our creative recommendation may meet with the client’s approval, but it’s important that we also step back and make sure that others arrive at the same understanding.”

He adds, “In the Jams, we aren’t locked into any budget. We can be as outlandish as we want. But it reminds us to search for that same emotion in our client work when we do have a budget.”

Unleash Your Creative Hound

  1. These 80 challenges will sharpen your creativity and design skills.
  2. Don’t even know how to go about being creative? That’s okay, W. Glenn Griffin and Deborah Morrison wrote a book about it.
  3. In-House design challenges got you down? Release creative inhibitions under Andy Epstein’s guiding hand.
  4. This collection has whole bunch of vehicles of creative exercises, including #1 on this list. Plus, it’s a price to die for.

GETTING BACK TO NATURE

For diversion and discovery, Jerde presented a Creative Jam assignment to create an identity and ad for a fictitious flower shop. Jerde guided the group to a flower- filled courtyard and provided paper and a handful of colored pencils. “We were allowed to pick two colors,” Puckett says, recalling that he chose navy and tan. “In 20 minutes, we had to come up with a name for the flower shop and sketch an ad.”

Because the Creative Jams make staffers work through their concepts quickly and in tandem, Puckett says the Jams have allowed the creatives to note first- hand how others work and approach problems. “How do you start? Where do you go? Do you begin with a list or a sketch?” he says of the inquiries. “Seeing how they work through it and listening to their perspectives, we learn how to work with them better.”

“Nurturing creativity is fundamental to our success,” Jerde concludes. “It’s written in our employee handbook. This is why we’re here. This is how great things happen.”

 

Unleash Your Creative Hound

  1. These 80 challenges will sharpen your creativity and design skills.
  2. Don’t even know how to go about being creative?  That’s okay, W. Glenn Griffin and Deborah Morrison wrote a book about it.
  3. In-House design challenges got you down? Release creative inhibitions under Andy Epstein’s guiding hand.
  4. This collection has whole bunch of vehicles of creative exercises, including #1 on this list.  Plus, it’s a price to die for.

 

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