Picturing Creativity

Every writer’s, every art director’s, every creative director’s process is personal and quite challenging to explain to someone else, particularly when it isn’t anything one ever expected to do.  What follows is a Q&A with the authors—W. Glenn Griffin and Deborah Morrison—about their quest to capture the creative process in their research for the HOW book “The Creative Process Illustrated.”

Click here to pre-order your copy of “The Creative Process Illustrated.”

How did the idea for “The Creative Process Illustrated” come about?

W. Glenn Griffin: For my doctoral dissertation, I conducted a study examining how advertising students developed their own creative process and how teaching influenced it. Based on those findings, Deborah and I started thinking about how the creative process looked at the professional level and started thinking of ways we might capture it.

The challenge, of course, would be to find a method that creative pros would find fascinating rather than dry and academic. Asking them to visualize (draw) their creative process turned out to be both a fun and methodologically sound way of doing it. There’s lots of existing research that uses visualization of thinking as “data.” When drawings started coming in, we were amazed by what we saw and knew that there was a book in it.

Deborah Morrison: I like to think of that moment when Glenn and I were looking at student work that just blew us away. “Wouldn’t you like to crawl into their brains and see what lives there?” I asked. Glenn agreed. Then, I wanted to get beer after a long day. But Glenn took that idea and crafted an amazing platform for research, interaction with talented professionals, and this book. He is amazing.

Which process map surprised you the most?

Griffin: We are often asked if we have a favorite, but honestly, I think it’s tough to pick one. I love the elegant simplicity of Jim Mountjoy’s (LKM) statement about creative briefs. Andy Azula’s (The Martin Agency) drawing is so gorgeous and filled with animation and humor. And Silver Cuellar’s (Firehouse) faceprint on the page is wonderfully weird. But for me, the most surprising process canvas we received was from Kate Lummus (Publicis Modem), who tore apart the paper and taped it all back together in order to make her statement—so cool.

Morrison: We were excited as each one came in, like receiving a new gift in the mail and thinking each time “this is the best.” I have to say, I was awestruck when I saw Kevin Roddy’s (BBH). It was so beautiful and simple while it captured the complexity of working through a problem. I also thoughts Rachel Howald’s (McCann) showed us how a writer works. Simon Mainwaring’s is one of my favorite teaching tools at this point because it describes the iterative process and the sheer poetry of being creative.

How did creatives react when you asked them to illustrate their thought process?


Griffin:
We dive deeper into this question in the book, but most of the folks we asked to do this initially expressed a lot of excitement and interest in the project, but many never completed it. Some got busy and forgot about it, others started and restarted but never found the right solution. There was a lot of intimidation and fear, oddly enough. Lots of people told us how hard the project was for them. A few confessed that they wanted to do something amazing with their drawing and were worried about how it would compare with others. So, I think that most of the creatives who sent back a drawing to us would (and did) say that the experience was both fun and a little scary.

Morrison: I agree with the idea that some people found this to be the ultimate assignment. One guy told us in a cranky voice that it wasn’t something he could articulate. But most— even those who procrastinated or were twitchy about what to offer—were interested in the notion that this was something they might like to see themselves, both the personal report and what others created.

What was the most challenging part of collaborating with one another?


Griffin:
Deborah and I are absolutely kindred spirits when it comes to our passion for the work that we do and the subject matter we explore. Unfortunately, I’m maniacally orderly and fussy and a big worrier. Deborah is always blissfully certain that everything will work out just fine. At various points during any project, our differences can drive one another nuts. But, you know what? I think that the longer we work together, the more we learn from and understand each other. But I don’t think there’s any better co-author out there to complement me.

Morrison: It’s interesting to find your yin/yang match. Glenn is focused, detailed, and the type of designer who brings such life to an idea. I learn so much from him about that process of going one more time to fix and finesse. I tend to push us to not sweat the small stuff and love what happens. In the end, I think both our approaches are needed to pull a project through. It says much that we’re discussing the next book idea and how to make it sing.

Did your research on creativity match up with your findings from the process maps?

Griffin:
I think that the work you see in the book aligns with the broad strokes of existing theory. We already knew that creativity incorporates a variety of characteristics and unfolds in some identifiable stages. We’ve always understood that individuals negotiate their own ways for being creatively productive. But the wonderful detail in these drawings and the new categories of exploration that they present for us—we couldn’t have imagined any of that.

Morrison:
It fits our educated intuitive sense of how things work. It also underscored our belief that creative professionals understand their tools well, that they can find an answer to any problem and do so uniquely. We also found great connections to theory: as example, Chris Adams showed us that quantity produces quality. Ian Cohen understands that incubation is an important process.

What type of benefit do you hope a reader gets from this book?

Griffin:
First, I hope that everyone who reads this book will derive a real appreciation for the humanity behind great advertising work. So many thoughtful, intelligent and kind people make ads and too few people know that about our industry. Second, I hope that anyone who’s searching for inspiration or needs a push to be more creative (no matter what work that they do) will find it in our book.

Morrison:
I know students of the craft–be they in school or working—will have “a-ha” moments as they see how these folks process. I’ve seen this happen already in the classroom or in presentations we’ve made. There is something comforting (I do that too! who knew?) and aspirational (that’s why everything she works on is so smart…) on each page. The book also makes the mystery of creativity much more accessible and does so in a beautiful way. I love what we’ve built here.

Catch an excerpt from “The Creative Process Illustrated” in the July 2010 issue of HOW.


W. Glenn Griffin teaches courses in creativity and portfolio development and leads the Method Creative program at  Southern Methodist University’s Temerlin Advertising Institute in Dallas. Deborah Morrison teaches conceptual thinking and brand development and is the Chambers Distinguished Professor of Advertising at the University of Oregon School or Journalism and Communication in Eugene, OR.


 

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