My favourite design books
If i had a pound for every sodden little drivel pool of listy, advicey, how-to articles on creativity i come across every day, i’d have 5 or 6 pounds a day, roughly. Which i could then make a fist around and use as ballast as i punched each article in its cliched, cheap, stupid face.
There’s a proliferation of these tepid listicles across the web, like a nasty, oozy virus, (google Forbes creativity for example. Fast Company seems founded on them. Funnily enough, Creative Review hardly ever, if at all, does them) that purport to offer a quick, simple magic spell that will fulfil all of your creative needs not only for your business but for your emotions too. 3, or 5, or 7, or 200 ways to make you a great big beautiful dreamer whose brain is wired directly into all culture across the world and spits out necessary and elegant things day in, day out. They’re mostly written by and for marketers in one form or another. And there’s an implication that you too can be creative if you just follow these 12 easy steps . . .
Cliched, assumed, presumed, rote, ignorant, pretentious, naive, gullible . . . 8 Things Your Pitiful Drone Sounds Like To Me.
These things are rarely, if ever, couched as light, simple fun (which is at best what most of them are)-if they were, it would be less teeth-grinding to endure the credulity in which they seem to be held; often unquestioned, rarely seemingly researched, hardly anything to do with the actual acts of conceiving, making and distributing things. In one recent piece—just the latest i’ve come across, no special choice— it’s like reading someone explaining how they’ve just learnt to add up. In single figures. Low single figures. Talking about how creativity is “risky” (if you’re making something there’s no ‘risk’ because you’re examining all the possible outcomes all the time and adjusting accordingly.), how “unconventional” creativity is (it’s one of the most conventional endeavours; both in terms of practicality—timing, budget, ability—as well as its context, i.e. what is this for? are there precedents? does it sit in a tradition? what does that tradition tell me that is useful now? if it’s a commercial project for a firm with longevity, the likelihood is that they’ve been through something similar in their history–what can be used from that experience? etc), the notion that business degrees somehow have a more solid standing than creative education—that the MBA is somehow more of a ‘fact’ than an MA (your astrology might not be my astrology but it’s still astrology. except you can see my astrology as both an object and in action—people emotionally respond to it), how ‘systems’ destroy creativity (bullishit—not being creative destroys creativity), that creativity isn’t subversive but about rediscovering some state of grace (it’s almost entirely subversive—to do with setting the transgressive spirit loose, not discovering our “inner child”. Wait a minute. Subversive and conventional? What? i didn’t say it was simple. It’s complex, tricky, rich and takes time. It holds contradictions simultaneously in balance as a matter of course, without necessarily rationalising them), notions that companies, corporations, are oriented towards outcomes and therefore creativity scares them (implying that what? creativity is outcomeless? what?): the opposite is the case—companies are freaked by outcomes because they’re fixed points; they make a statement, they stand for something; an outcome says “this is this”—we have a point of view, not “we are everything to everyone all the time”.
Lastly (from that one example), notions that creativity is “experiment” and “discovery”: “a true artist does not experiment or search—they find.”Andrei Tarkovsky.
And, by the way—hobbies are not creative. They might be therapy. At best. Which is great, just not creative. Like a car isn’t a sandwich.
I tend to be more trusting of thoughts on the subject by people who make things (and the occasional very very very good critic/philosopher.) Thinking from experience, not observation (or assumption); writing about creative things from the perspective of having the experience of writing about creative things creatively is not experience of doing actual creative work. Often, there’s an inarticulate sense to the essay towards explicating and understanding the experience of creativity—it’s like trying to describe pain, or feeling—but equally often there’s an elegant truth in the sometimes utterly practical, almost dry way in which authors, film makers, painters, musicians and so on describe their creativity. While the things i described above i’d suggest are so basic and obvious they’re damaging (it’s risky! it’s unconventional! it doesn’t need any structure! its childish! its experimental! sounds like a recipe for an appalling comedy), they way creators often describe their own approach can be so basic its breathtaking. Think, make, share, repeat.
There’s a talk by John Cleese on creativity which just ought to be seen by everyone. (There’s an article on Fast Company called “4 Lessons in Creativity from John Cleese”. Superb.) He talks about the necessity of boundaries of space and boundaries of time in a direct, profound way that begs questions, is open, encourages deeper investigation . . . he also talks about value, credit and control—and not in a cosy lets-all -hang-out way —you may not be very creative, and therefore “may not value creativity even if they can recognise it . . . if people in charge are very egotistical then they want to take credit for everything that happens and they want to feel they are in control of everything that happens which means . . . they will discourage creativity in other people.” Which is the crux; like anything, not everyone can do it. Unlike anything, everyone thinks they can. The credence given to the listicles emboldens this, ignorantly.
There’s an essay by Ettore Sottsass which ends with this “. . . just feel what it’s like to do things by trying to do them, trying to find out whether everyone can do things, other things, with their hands or machines — or whatever — etcetera etcetera. Can it be tried? My friends say it can.”