Source of All Creativity… or maybe just mine

Recently I heard an NPR story covering the new headquarter buildings of Google & Apple.  What struck me about both of these incredible buildings is how each of these companies thoughtfully went about creating an environment that would foster creativity.  From the materials to the layout, each building was designed in an effort to create a space that fostered creativity.  And both buildings are pretty inspiring places of employment [hey Google/Apple… #callme].

Creativity is essential to the web design field that I am aspiring to become a part of.  But as the tasks multiply in my preparation, I have found my own creativity to be somewhat elusive.  It doesn’t like having to show up so regularly.  Apparently it’s not just my abs that need a workout… I’ve got to add some pushups for my creativity as well.  So, for the past few days I have been cataloguing when I have had past eureka moments… you  know, when you are like “Whoa!  Did I just come up with that idea?  I L-O-V-E it!”  It’s not that I think there is some kind of formula that I can use to produce there ‘aha’ moments… but I do think that in my experience the best creative moments have been the result of a some common ingredients that mixed together, incubated, and after some stewing – voila!  The coveted Creativity made it’s appearance.

So what’s the recipe for my ‘creativity’?  Here’s what I’ve identified so far:

1.  A healthy dose of research.  Essential.  No matter what the project, I have always found doing a little (or a lot) homework goes a long way.  Whenever we bought our first house, I had the goal of flipping it.  It was a rat hole when we started (and I do mean that literally).  Rooms were claustrophobic. Layout was horrible.  There was wallpaper on the ceiling in the kitchen.  ON THE CEILING!  Now the closest  I had ever come to doing a remodel was watching HGTV.  I had no technical skills and had never redesigned an entire home.  I did a ton of research, not just on the technical skills but also on what was trending in kitchens/baths/etc.  The result was awesome.  I researched the hell out of kitchen/home design and looked for big picture ideas that I could translate into my own projects.  I looked up opposing viewpoints to broaden my own horizons.  All that went into my mental stew and I reaped some great rewards. This is definitely a practice worth keeping.

Kitchen Remodel

2.  Draw. Draw. Draw.  Really and truly there is something different about engaging my brain with a pencil in my hand.  I can feel my blood pressure go down.  In fact, I cannot remember a time when I was drawing and felt anxious… I just get a peaceful, super focused kind of vibe.  Feeling the pigment rubbing onto actual paper does something to me that nothing on a computer screen comes close to.  Even if what I am drawing ends up being crap, it’s really the process itself that alters me.  It’s like yoga for my creative axons.  Besides, after one drawing is complete I turn the page and start again.  And again.  And… well, you get the idea.

3.  Intro Mother Nature.  I find that most eureka moments for me have involved some time in the sun.  It’s amazingly calming and rejuvenating sitting under a tree.  I love trees.  My dream home has gigantic trees that touch the sky.  Inside the living room.

4.  Gotta Unplug.  When I focus too much on a problem it’s like that feeling you get when you look at something like this for too long.  You can get no where fast doing that.  So go for a break, eat a taco, watch an episode of Parks And Rec, whatever.  Giving my brain some space tends to unknot something inside.  Things start to flow in a good a way.

5.  Music.  Every time.  And, if possible, a little dancing.  Seriously.  Rocking out right now as I am typing this up.

6.  Feedback.  This really helps to zero in and refocus on the target.  Sometimes I get too tangled up in all the research, deadlines, expectations… I can get lost in the trees and don’t see the forrest.  Even with this post I showed my first draft to the best editor I know: my wife.  Realized that half of what I had written was just rubbish and my new direction was sharper & more encouraged.  Thanks wifey.

Now that I have these identified, I am going to create an infographic poster to hang in my cloffice.  And from there?  I hope to bring many more creatively inspired posts to the reading pleasure of the internets.

A Beginner/Beginner, Part Deux

I am now a web design celebrity.

Okay, so that’s not true at all but I did have a great experience at the conference I attended this past weekend and really learned some valuable/good-to-live-your-life-by kind of lessons.

People Want You to Succeed.  I was told this years ago by a friend of mine and while I would say that 98% of the time it’s been true, it’s the 2% that I tend to remember.  I am reminded that to let only the 2% of your experiences which are negative guide 100% of your decisions is just dumb.  Ask for help/collaboration/opinions… whatever.  They may say no, but so what? Just keep asking.

Meeting Cool People In Person Is Awesome.  Seriously.  Everyone attending has their own story, specializations, experiences… and they have come to lean something just like you.  And you can get to know someone in a completely different way when the conversation isn’t limited to on-line interactions.  You can talk about cars, food, or the troubles of keeping your bald head perfectly smooth.

(Good) Conferences Inspire.  And in this field, inspiration goes a long, long way.  It also goes a long way for a thirty-something who is changing careers.  Seeing & hearing stories of inspiration/creativity/innovation is like gasoline for your motivation.  I heard some A-M-A-Z-I-N-G presentations that made my head explode with ideas.  I was inspired by the life of DaVinci, given a crash course in mobile design principles, and was even told the future .  And that was just Day 1.

People Forgive Your Inner Nerd.  Imagine, you are at a hip bar for a conference networking event.  You know no one.  While striking up a conversation with a stranger you grab for a chip in a self assured manner.  And in the process knock over your glass.  Which was completely full.  Ice goes everywhere.  Is your professional life ruined?  Not at all.  Things keep on moving.  People forgive… maybe even consider you to be funny.  And that can leave a positive impression.  Just thinking back to all the nerd moments I had… I bet I left a lotta positive impressions.  Word.

If you would like to get a better sense of the conference to see if it’s something you might be interested check out the summary that LevelTen posted.

A Beginner Beginner

Tonight I’m working on my list of the hour:

This was one of the first web related conferences I had ever attended.  It was actually only a year ago.  I had all of about 10 youtube videos on web code under my belt and no actual experience.  I thought, “Hey, they have a ‘Beginner’ track.”  Yeah.  ‘Beginner’.  Apparently I wasn’t even a ‘Beginner’ yet.  I was like a pre-teen, or maybe even a toddler.  I seriously left the first session having only took in about 30% of the information… and that percentage progressively dropped with each session that followed.  It was like reliving my high school freshmen year.  I was surrounded by ‘seniors’ who were all talking in their lingo… laughing at their inside jokes… and there I sat… typing… slowly.  By the time the last session came I just sat in the hall licking my wounds.  I was pretty beat up.  There was so much I didn’t understand.

So here I am again, printing off my maps and schedules.  I am signed up for the ‘Beginner’ tracks for a second time and am hoping/expecting better results.  My attitude is positive.  I feel that I’ve come so far since the last time I was there, but I also know there is still so much more to learn.  So I am keeping my goals simple:

  1. Listen intently
  2. Cram my brain will everything I hear
  3. Be inspired
  4. Meet some awesome people

Looking forward to writing the update post…

Web Designer = Storyteller

Way back in the day when I worked for a little coffee shop called Starbucks I had a manager who shared some great insight.  Above the whir of coffee grinders & mildly emo music he shared this:

“We are not in the coffee business.  We are in the story business.  It’s the stories that people remember.  It’s the stories that win them over.”

In any sales situation I have been in (whether I was the seller or the buyer) those experiences that were the most enjoyable (and also resulted in a sale) were those that centered around a story that I connected with.  Right now I work part time and have some limited sales responsibilities.  Right now I’m one of the top sellers at our branch (even in the market).  Let me share that I HATE selling.  My goal for each person I am helping is to connect with them through a story.  I don’t connect with everybody, but I continue to share my stories of being benefited by the products we carry in hopes of making someone else’s life better.  Stories work better for me than statistics or catchy one liners.  I think it’s because I feel more genuine when I am sharing it.  I can be me and that frees me to speak from the heart.    I also think the nature of stories tend to reach us as people.  Stories grab our attention and our imagination.

Stories stick.  Stories convince.  Stories inspire.

I want to be an amazing story teller.

But, sadly, I must admit that I’m not.  If I’m truthful with myself, I must also admit that I’m not really a rockstar in any aspect of UX design right now.

Honestly, this whole process of starting a new career for myself has made me feel like I am back in junior high.  I am in the adolescent stage of the UX Designer journey.  I’m all awkward, longing to be cool but being all too aware of my pimples and clunky feet.  Right now my story telling style is very self conscious.  After writing several posts for this blog, I realize that I am still trying to find my own voice… trying to get comfortable in my own skin.  It’s a very awkward stage to want so badly to be(come) a voice in a particular field and yet feel there is still so much you do not know.

Lately I have been hearing a lot of buzz around story telling among the UX community.  From personal convictions to Pixar’s guidelines… so many people are talking about the importance of crafting a good story and using it well.  The benefit of trends is that often there is a lot of good advice floating around on the topic at hand.  One resource I am checking out now is a book called Storytelling for User Experience.  I’m intrigued to read how to use a story in the development of a good website.

In the meantime, here is my list of 3 Simple Rules of Story Telling:

  1. Be genuine.  Give of yourself.  What I love hearing are stories that are personal or at least have a personal aspect.  Avoid sounding like a book report.
  2. Stick to what you know.  While I’m still learning the nuts & bolts of UX I do have experiences that are unique and helpful (years of working in nonprofit, foster parent, adoptive parent, parent, digital marketing specialist,etc.).  I have accumulated experiences and life lessons that are truly unique to me and that others would find interesting.  I’ve got to focus on sharing those things that I do know and linking them to the subjects I’m still learning.
  3. Craft with purpose.  A lot of times I tell stories b/c I like them, but I forget the purpose behind them.  This results in stories that trail off or leave your audience confused.  Stick with your purpose for sharing throughout your story – be purposeful & thoughtful.  If you are sharing because you feel you are sharing something beautiful then work to show that beauty all the way to the end.  If you are sharing to change someone’s behavior make sure you make a strong case for them to change.  End well.

I believe most people want to change the world.  I also believe that we can, one story at a time.