Three OFFSET Sheffield speakers discuss the messiness of the creative process, and we recap on Glug’s best year yet with a focus on nine creative cities
Design is often not a clean, cut-and-dried process. True creativity emerges from conflict, experimentation and, crucially, making mistakes.
Three speakers in particular explored the topic from different angles during the two-day OFFSET conference in Sheffield, and we caught up with them afterwards to explore their thoughts further.
“Making a mess is essential,” insists Moving Brands creative director Darren Bowles. “If we try and modularise and package creativity, it will be lesser for it.
“As much as I love a Vitrafurnished, colour-coded library environment, I want a messy space at its heart,” he adds. “Creativity is a messy process with a beautiful result. And if we don’t allow for mistakes and playful pursuits, we get something banal and obvious.”
Irish illustrator Steve Simpson agrees: “The creative process has become cleaner and faster as the hands-on craft has been superseded by apps,” he observes. “It’s easy to make design without leaving the computer these days.
“That leads to a lot of sameness in the work when everyone uses the same methods,” he points out. “Sometimes the quickest way isn’t always the best. Getting messy with paint and materials gives you more time to consider the design, leading to more original ideas.”
Pentagram partner Luke Powell also advocates breaking away from the computer and experiencing the world, warts and all: “It’s easy to get lost in the echo chamber of current design aesthetics,” he says. “Pay closer attention to the world: paint marks on walls, dilapidated signs, junk shop tat, anything.
“Starting points like these open you to ideas that haven’t been explored, that must be tested and experimented with, and that gets messy,” he adds. “It’s less tethered. It allows space for ideas to roam,
leading to more varied, creative and ultimately suitable solutions.”
Bowles also enjoys exploring uncharted territory: “If creativity isn’t given boundless opportunities, the results are dictated by fixed restrictions – money, content, technology, and even audience – rather than a playful and surprising celebration of them,” he argues. “Most of what we do as creatives is playful hiding of the seams, disguising restrictions to provide clarity, engagement and joy.”
One of the inevitable sideeffects of this approach is that mistakes will happen – and you should embrace them. “They can be beneficial to the final design – ‘happy mistakes’ can take you in alternative directions and lead to original ideas,” believes Simpson.
“I do all my prep work in my sketchbook with a pencil,” he adds. “I can work fast and discard ideas without investing a huge amount of time in a weak solution. If you start directly on the computer it can be several hours before you can see if a direction is working.”
For Powell, the value of making mistakes transcends the creative process for a project, and becomes about the process of learning, and evolving, in general. “The second you become a know-it-all and refuse to allow yourself to make mistakes, you’ve stopped progressing – at that moment you’re in stasis,” he declares.
“We have all been self congratulatory when a certain piece of work is appreciated by our peers, and have gone on to replicate that look or style in other projects,” Powell continues. “The secret is to not get caught in that loop. While we desire the repeated praise, the reality is that we get bored of the repetition and so will other people if we don’t move on and make our ideas appropriate to the next brief.”
It’s sound advice, and echoed by Bowles. “I agree with the adage: ‘If you don’t make mistakes, you don’t learn’,” he concludes. “It’s typical of most creatives, but many errors we’ve made over the years have lead to something interesting. Maybe it’s not learning from the mistakes that is the issue, but that we should allow ourselves make more of them.
“A mistake one day could be an opportunity the next.”
from left: The legendary Ben Bos; panel on the Squarespace stage discussing Sheffield as a creative city; Irish illustrator Steve Simpson; The Creativity Hub.