“Making it” or “making” in the creative world.
“Life is about the journey. Not the outcome.” A somewhat cliché but also true statement that can be applied to both life and the work we do as creatives. “Creativity is about the journey. Not the outcome.” But in a world that tells us to produce MORE, and produce faster, the journey is taking a backseat to endless production in order to stay relevant. It is estimated that 90% of the world’s data was generated in the last two years alone and I can’t help but wonder… Is the speed of our industry forcing us to let go of the process and focus solely on the road to least resistance? Are we losing the joy of making in order to “make it”?
For the last 12 years, I’ve been working as a commercial designer. I’ve held many titles. I’ve designed websites, made videos, and crafted digital user-experiences. I’ve worked in advertising, design, and consultancy. And I’ve been working really hard. As a former semi-professional swimmer, “giving it my all” is ingrained in my bones, and the industries of advertising, design, and consultancies have been purposefully designed to take advantage of the Type-A drives of people like me — all in pursuit of defining “next big thing.”
Our industries are in a constant state of change. As creatives, we learn about the latest platforms, technologies, and tools only to find them obsolete before we get to fully understand their potential. In the creative field, It’s not enough to be thoughtful, intentional, and insightful; we also have to be innovative, efficient, and relentless. We’re to take risks, but we’re also measured by acronyms: ROI, KPIs, and ROAS. Our world is moving so fast that we can’t possibly keep up without breaking down.
Creative industries are not about creativity anymore. And they’re turning so many professionals’ inspiration and spark into resignation and burnout.
The chase for progress. It’s never-ending.
It is hard not to get blinded by our world of endless production. If you want to stay relevant, you have to keep producing. “If you stop improving, you stop being good.” This is something my swim coaches told me, and despite creativity’s promise of exploration and “go with the flow’, I’ve felt the same pressure as I did in athletics.
When it comes to posting and promoting the things we make, our industries and the algorithm tell us it’s never enough. We don’t need to make ONE video. We need to make one video (or more) every day. The creative work becomes more like a checklist rather than a journey of discovery.
Even though some people believe that AI is a threat to designers’ jobs, it also provides an attractive offering — at least in the context of pursuing greater productivity. It can help us optimize. We can design graphics, websites, and blog posts faster. One-click art creation. It can help us avoid the natural struggle of moving through the often painful ideation process on the journey to creative solutions.
But, what happens to us — artists, writers, and designers — when we lose the process? When work becomes all about the output? Is that where learning stops? Is that where the joy is diminished? Yes, AI can tell us what a book is about or even write a book for us. We don’t have to take the time to read or write. But what about the benefits of reading or writing? What about the things we learn along the way, or the joy we experience when reading or writing? AI can make beautiful illustrations… but as designers, we’re left without the happy accidents and the learning as we go.
In a way, Midjourney takes away the journey.
Making IT without focusing on making it.
This morning, I was journaling, as I try to do every day. It’s a routine similar to the famous Morning Pages from the book The Artist’s Way by author Julia Cameron. I just write whatever comes out, without a goal in mind. It’s incredibly freeing in so many ways, yet I often find myself stopping and thinking, “what if someone reads this?” “What if what I am writing does not make sense?” Cameron would tell me that that is exactly the point of Morning Pages. Morning Pages do not have to make sense. The benefit is in the doing. When we write for ourselves, we write differently. When we know that no one is watching us. When there’s no one waiting to evaluate or judge our work. When we’re not creating for an audience, the words flow differently. When we’re not focusing on what to post or what will resonate, we free ourselves and we open ourselves up to creativity. The process becomes the focus. Not the output.
I’m a firm believer that as designers, our work should center other people’s needs, and help solve other people’s problems. It’s not about “my taste” as a designer, but rather how my creations solve problems for other people, or how the design brings out the uniqueness of the brand I’m designing for. Design is an act of service. And while I still believe that this is what design is all about, I am also starting to see how the act of moving through the creative process is of service to me, too. I learn on the way and discover new, unexpected (=creative) solutions by being in the work. I get lost. I find myself (again), and I grow. And in the end, I found solutions that we couldn’t have known from the start.
At the end of the Barbie Movie (I already mentioned AI, so why not fit another 2023 buzz word into this post) Barbie says: “I want to do the imagining. I don’t want to BE the idea.”
And maybe that is it.
Both as a human and as a designer, I want to be part of the imagining. I want to enjoy (and struggle with) the journey, not just get credit for the outcome.