Inside David Sherwin’s Creative Workshop

Designer David Sherwin, author of the popular Creative Workshop and the forthcoming Success by Design, was recently interviewed on Designers Review of Books. He talks about both projects in depth.

Creative Workshop by David Sherwin (HOW Books)Success by Design by David Sherwin (HOW Books)

Andy Polaine: What was the inspiration for writing Creative Workshop in the first place?

David Sherwin: The idea for the whole project started when I was trying to write a job description for a designer we needed to hire at my last job. I was looking at hiring sites, seeing what other agencies were listing as critical skills for a mid-level designer. These job descriptions were laundry lists of software tools, coding for various platforms, soft skills like presenting and leading teams… they went on for pages. I couldn’t believe people with all of those skills truly existed out the world, and if they did, why would they be working at these design firms?

So, to try and clear things up, I sent a survey to creative leaders and thinkers, asking them what they looked for in designers for their studios. And the qualities and skills they were seeking were rarely listed in the job descriptions: big-picture ideation, sketching ideas, communication and collaboration, and resilience and risk-taking. And all of these people I admired in the design community were saying students from design schools weren’t graduating with these core skills.

I was talking about this with my wife, Mary Paynter Sherwin, and we remembered a format that might teach designers these core skills quickly. One of our first roommates post-college was a graduate student in poetry. In the summer of 1999, he took a class called “Instant Thesis, or 80 Works in 7 Weeks,” which was being taught by the poet Peter Klappert. The class explored collage methods, blot-outs, concrete poetry, metric/fixed forms, linked verse, anaphora, dialogue, satire, visual shape, collaborative writing, fixed and loose rhyme schemes, musicality, tone, and dozens of other writing approaches and techniques. Each student was responsible for fulfilling in-class and take-home exercises, as well as coming up with their own exercises that could be shared with the class. Many students found the class to help them build a solid foundation in being a creative writer, most importantly in the areas of resilience and risk-taking. With a little research, we discovered that Peter’s class was adapted from a course taught at the Corcoran School of Art—one where students were only allowed two weeks for creating 80 artistic works!

No one had created a similar approach for teaching core skills in design. So it seemed like a big opportunity, and we dove into figuring out how to make it happen.

HOW Design Live 2012Sherwin will be speaking at HOW Design Live in less than 3 weeks. His session Becoming a Design Leader will explore what it takes to become a leader within your organization. Based on interviews with some of today’s top designers, he’ll share details on how to:


  • Communicate more actively, and with awareness of your team’s rational and emotional intelligence
  • Create spaces for individual and team creativity to flourish
  • Align teams with a vision, no matter who suggested it