Many businesses that offer design products and services have a close relationship with creativity. This could include businesses that engage in graphic design, industrial and furniture design, architecture, web design, interior design and many others. The proliferation of these types of businesses has caused design to be crystalised into a process that can be managed, monitored and controlled.
The creative process, however, has seemingly infinite incarnations and can be very difficult to quantify. As many of these design businesses require creativity to thrive, the question needs to be asked, how do we relate these two closely related yet inherently different processes?
The Design Process
Starting with what is more definite. The design process has been defined many times in many different circumstances over many periods of time, but often shares similar characteristics. I have always liked the stages of the design process as follows(1):
- Establish criteria and objectives
- Testing and Evaluation
This is firstly because there is a good balance of definition and flexibility that allow this to be applied to many situations and secondly, because the stages here link well with other project and process management frameworks (this comment will be discussed in a later post).
The Creative Process
This is commonly considered a much looser process than design. Creativity is supposedly about freedom and expression. It is often considered as the act of taking established processes and turning them around.
So, let’s consider this process from a creative point of view and see where our conflicts and synergies are…
1. Establish criteria and objectives
Right off the bat is a tricky one. It is easy to say that you need an objective in doing anything, but often to achieve full creativity, you can’t have a single staionary goal in mind. Rather, perhaps it is best to view this in hindsight. A creative process may not need a goal, but what comes out of it can be applied to a situation with criteria or objectives.
A key ingredient of creativity. Synthesis is about aligning aspects of things to create something stronger. It is about taking various inputs to produce a more suitable output. This is a process that needs to be undertaken in technical design (consider an architect getting advice from a mechanical engineer, a town planner, a hydraulic engineer, etc). It is also a process that needs to be taken in creativity.
This is about taking apart and looking at the information/ideas we’ve got. We need to make sure it’s appropriate. I would say the key difference in Analysis between creativity and design is how much and when we analyse. In design there is a tendency to do then analyse, do then analyse, do then analyse, etc. In a creative process analysis is more organic and more concealed in the process itself. It is a part of every action that takes place.
Here is where everything is assembled. An essential part of creativity is creating something. If this was not the case, one would simply be having ideas, not being creative. Execution is important in both cases.
5. Testing and Evaluation
For the creative process, testing and evaluation needs to come very late. Typically testing occurs upon “completion”, which is often difficult to define in the creative process. This is perhaps where the creative process feeds into step 1: Establishing criteria and objectives. We can “test” the results of the creative process by establishing criteria to apply to it – we might produce something and not understand where it fits until determining what criteria it satisfies.
Trying to visualize this, the creative process (described in design process terms) may look something like this…
What can we learn from this? The creative process will not slot neatly into your design process. It has to happen in it, but also around it, above it, beside it, before it and even after it. What you create will eventually be part of your “Construction” you have in design.
With this in mind, however, we can see that Synthesis and Analysis are important to both the Design Process and the Creative Process in similar ways. This perhaps indicates that during your Design Process, the Synthesis and Analysis stages are the most receptive to creativity. It is perhaps these stages where there is breathing room, freedom and the right kind of thought processes that allow creativity.
1. Design Process as described by: Monalisa,et al. 2008, Managing Global Teams