Tips & Ideas

The creative experience may involve soaring heights, meandering journeys, dead ends and a myriad of surprises along the way. There’s no road map in or out. Transitions sometimes happen for reasons beyond control or explanation. It’s good to gain insight ahead of any journey. Here’s a few ideas to digest over a favorite beverage; seated but not while driving (tip #1).

  • 1.0 True or False: More is creative.

    False. More is more. More is overload. More is data upon data upon data until the viewer’s eyes glaze over. More bombardments. More may hide indecision. More adds baggage. If one visual theme (red triangles for example) is good than nine visual themes must be simply incredible…unless they all occur in the same area while demanding equal attention.

  • 2.0 True or False: Less is boring.

    Quite the opposite. Less allows a viewer to focus and to manage a visual journey throughout a composition. Having less stuff than one’s impulse would dictate is more about creating a means for viewer relevance and accessibility. Less is about providing the viewer elbow room in the fight for viewer involvement.

  • 3.0 True or False: If variety is interesting, then more variety is more interesting.

    False, big time! Variety in a composition creates interest, but too much variety may create confusion or overload, primarily if multiple visual themes compete in one area and at the same time. Confusion may impede effective communication even on a subliminal level. Confusion takes up a lot of time and viewer energy. However, don’t muddle confusion with its glorious cousin-once-removed…ambiguity. (See below)

  • 4.0 Big tip: Ambiguities are enticing.

    Ambiguity is a riddle on a never-ending verge of solution. Confusion offers comparatively little mystery or allure. Ambiguity, however, touches both logic and dreaming, following us like a shadow that’s just out of reach. What’s missing and why is that interesting? What’s happening “offstage” in the theater of imagination? Click on the yellow cycling poster to the right.

  • 5.0 Big tip: Repeat and vary, repeat and vary, repeat and vary.

    If you repeat a shape somewhere in a composition, unity is a likely result. Too much repetition may eventually create a sense of tedium. Varying one of those qualities (such as extending a color range by adding adjacent colors or a variety of tints and shades; or changing the size or texture of a repeated object) can create variety (and rhythm) and produce a more dynamic playing field for the viewer.

  • 6.0 Big tip: Stop.

    According to painter, designer and educator Lee J. Wexler, a good artist should know when to stop. Of course creatives who are on assignment have additional motivations such as deadlines. But keep in mind that stop may not be intended as an imposed command, but is many cases your only sensible option. It’s simply a part of the creative process. A break should be taken. Walk away. Return with fresher eyes.

    Stop should be considered a temporary state of mind until there’s nothing more to add or remove or the door is about to close. Not knowing “what to do next” may indicate the work is resolved, but it could also indicate that another move needs to be made. When becomes the wild card.

    Pablo Picasso took years to complete many of his most famous paintings while other works were begun and completed in a matter of seconds. Picasso once stated that when a work of art is said to be finished, he considers it to be dead. “Art is never finished, only abandoned”. Exiting a creative groove, despite the glorious rush that came about as a result of that groove, seems to usher in a sense that this particular party’s drawing to a close. At least for now, that is.

  • 7.0 Big tip: Alignment creates direction.

    Alignment arguably comes right after falling in terms of the easiest means for creating the appearance of direction. Some creatives who may have shied away from using alignment in the past may either (1) be leery about alignment’s cause and effect; (2) have seldom employed it before as a design principle; or (3) feel that alignment is a sellout of intuitive spiritedness.

    No matter if you choose to use alignment or not, direction is still a big deal. It’s ubiquitous. Just look at this line of type and how it reads effectively from left to right on an imaginary horizontal axis. Look at the left edge this paragraph and notice how it aligns with the one above it and the one below it; etc. Bottom line, direction contributes to navigation. Having an sense about how to travel any design or artwork, tends to gain relevance.

    Too easy? Find a profile image of a Mercedes sedan and see if you can imagine it’s side view with none of the sight lines directing the viewer from the hood toward the car’s rear. The profile’s lines would likely become more complicated, right? This use of alignment creates direction while fostering an implied sense of movement.

  • 8.0 Big tip: Unity and chaos need one another.

    Symbiosis 101. It’s kind of like opposites attracting except both extremes need to have an affect on one another in order to validate their connection to each other. Of course, there’s always that rare, special someone who tends to embrace steadiness and anarchy with equal fervor. Now just back away slowly…slowly…

    Read chaos as randomness and it might be easier to spot chaos in the everyday. You would be hard pressed to find an acclaimed item of design or work of art in which these opposites are not present to some degree.

  • 9.0 Big tip: Empty space has shape and rhythm...until you take it away.

    The natural world is made up of objects. It is also occupied by space. The natural world is filled with organically occurring algorithms both in the shape and the pacing of things. Studying the nature of objects should also include the space between these objects. One conclusion many come to is that areas of negative space can be just as interesting as the objects they surround. Terminating that interest is easy to do especially if the artist cannot see what’s been affected. The only time when space is “wasted” is when someone doesn’t know what to do with it. (Refer to the Positive-Negative sections of Design Principles Explained.)

  • 10.0 Big tip: Public enemy number four: too many____________.

    Opinions. Outstanding commitments. Margaritas. The list goes on. Discretion is generally a worthwhile strategy to employ.
    ■ Focal points (or primary visual entry point). One focal point makes visual navigation easier for the casual viewer. It provides a visual entry point. “Start here”. Multiple focal points typically confuses the casual viewer.
    ■ Fonts: There’s well over 100,000 to choose from in the world of type. Avoid the temptation to use most of them all at once. In fact, go to the opposite end and discretely work your way back. Why not find a type family with a wide variety of weights such as Univers, Rockwell or Garamond for example? Combine opposite font weights for maximum pop. Later on, combine opposite type styles such as sans serif and serif or slab serif.
    ■ Directions: Imagine a road map with no clear, obvious set of pathways such as London. Now imagine a neurological layout of the human brain. Try navigating either. Send in the experts, right? In terms of composition, too many dominant directions leads to confusion. Electing to allow for one dominant direction (or one primary sense of movement in many cases)–and one or more subordinate (read: minor) directions or movements–helps the casual viewer to identify and follow implied visual navigation channels. Dominant and subordinate qualities, especially in terms of direction, can help create a balanced state.

  • 11.0 Big tip: Public enemy #3: Not revisiting your past.

    One hundred-seventeen sketches later, you hit the wall. “Am I out of ideas? Is that all I’ve got?” Rejoice…all is not lost! Your 117 scribbles and explorations are truly a series of experiments. Most importantly, you’ve also created an inventory. Go back to idea number one and then the next 12. Do you see these earlier ideas any differently after 104 additional attempts? Is there any chance that idea #62 could share any influence on idea #7 or vise-versa? Um-hmm…

  • 12.0 Big tip: Public enemy #2: Waiting for the Bus of Inspiration to show up.

    The creative process involves work. Lots of it. Eventually, disciple becomes a part of the process. One famous designer’s creative process started with a stack of white paper; one idea per sheet, one after another. Suddenly, nothing comes to mind and the designer’s feeling snagged. Her fail-safe method of moving forward: “It was a bad sheet of paper! Damned sheet!!” She’d then take the “faulty” sheet, place it on top of her accumulated sketches and then proceed onto a brand new sheet. Bottom line: keep going even if only for the sake of producing. Your talent will eventually catch up.

    The creative process is a process directed towards producing something of value that’s also an extension of yourself. Go beyond your normal expectations. Then yes, take a break. Refresh! Wander about. Take time. But above all else, the creative process is not a passive vacuum. Just go!

  • 13.0 Big tip: Public enemy #1: Hoping your software can give birth.

    Technology can dazzle. It can transport your everyday sensibilities into multiple dimensions. It cannot replace what inspires you. It certainly cannot give birth to a concept the same way you can. Ideas evolve out of various inspirations and random noodling using whatever means and media that fit one’s approach.

    Typical rookie error: designs born solely through digital means generally look like it. Can you identify the difference between a $300 logotype and a $5,000 logotype? A lot more human involvement is the answer. Sketch, sketch, sketch, select a “hero” and draw it up, redraw, compare to the soul of the original sketch, refine, refine, scan, digitally trace, refine, refine. Tools are merely tools and not a creative seed or muse. You are the ultimate creative parent.

  • 14.0 Big tip: Turn it upside down.

    Disorient the normal view of what you’ve been working on. You’ll likely start to see relationships in more objective tones. Any prejudgments will be thrown under a new light. Rhythm and balance (and where their absences occur) will become more apparent. This technique also helps in assessing the evenness of letter spacing.