Creative action | reaction 1.18.08

How to work? How do I work? How do you work?

A conversation in exploring creative development with ModeStudios Robert Bonniol.

How is it that sometimes the first idea is the most compelling, as a designer in process? What happens in the beginnings of creative exploration and inspiration?

I think that at this moment, something rather amazing happens, in terms of cognition. And I’m guessing that this is where Malcolm Gladwell are exploring things, creative intuition, thinking about things at the moment of opening the box of inspirations.

The cogs, whirring, ignite and fire up fast, fresh and immediately cling to the challenge. And what comes of this opening energization to the challenge is the best stuff –because the memory, the thinking, the assessment, the circulation around the problem at hand, at mind — all the tools are fast, sharpened, first lit and the fire is bright. That spark and flint crackling makes a good metaphor.

In the beginning, I think that it’s possible to see more, explore more, sense more, in that opening modeling — rather than what happens when we’ve had the passage of letting everything settle in. By then, are we gnawing at the challenge? Is the challenge gnawing at us. I believe that this later phasing, when you’ve been working around a problem for a long time, it’s a different kind of thinking. And there might be some good things there. But it’s a different kind of review.

For me, when a problem, a design challenge is presented, I walk around it in my mind, assessing where it might be, where it might live and what paths might I take to think about how to solve it. I do that. Visualize walking around it, almost dimensionally. Spatially. And I can see things differently. It’s like when you crest at the top of a hill, the opening visage is surprisingly expansive. And I believe that the beginning intuitive space is like that. You get there, and it’s wide open. There’s something about the opening of anything, that’s fresh. It’s something about the reflective character of how that works. The idea is freshly realized. So are you. The vital, in play.

Can you trust intuition, as a designer, a creative maker of things?

I trust my intuitive sense entirely. That doesn’t mean that I’m always right. Rather, that it’s, the intuitive answer,  always right. And it surely doesn’t mean that clients are always saying — wow, that first idea of yours is really the best. But I believe that intuition and sensing things are aligned. That intuition is all about sensing. And that sensing is fundamental to human experience. What happens is how aligned are you to your sensing — leading to an intuitive answer. You walk along to an encounter, you meet someone, and you sense where they might be — your impressions are holistic, they’re all gathering content and revelation. Discovery streams. Answers flow. Insights rebound.

What about development, exploring the idea, what is the process? What about, as Robert Bonniol calls it, USEFUL design?

Use full. I like how you’ve aligned that idea. Use full, interesting and beautiful. I think that I do, and I’m sure everyone does, circulate in creative absorption, all the time. As a designer, a creative, you’re all ways on.

And what that’s about feeding the constant hunger of curiosity. You’re always hungry; so you’re looking for themes that are about answers. What I mean is that I find myself exploring some thread that I’m looking for answers to that will somehow inform how I think about design. The thread, the human pattern of exploration, strings you there.

So maybe you are thinking about how a story might be told in the context of sound and space, without imagery. And you keep walking around that. Some part of your mind is ratcheting that space, working that problem. Then a grouping of answers appear. And you roll onwards. What’s next? What’s the new thread? In looking back, however, to being a creative for 30+ years, working as a designer, what I’ve found is that I’m still working on things that, in variation on theme, are still in play. Now. It’s not stopped.

How do you work with the opening gut reactions of instinct in creative flashes — how are they recorded: journals, storyboards, galleys, reference?

Seems like it’s all of these things. I am a scrapper. Not a scraper. A scrapper. Gathering scrap — mind full referential stuff. I gather little bits of things and put them together. They are thematic. Things like texture, light, pathways, darkness — then back to light. The human form. The form, moving. The shadow. The cast of light on the texture. Light revealing.

So I shoot and gather imagery that aligns with that exploratory and I keep going back to it, over and over.  And I’ll build that into journals, or into digital strings. I’m thinking that the outline for the photos, now, is about 16,000 imagery galleries. And it’s not completely organized, but there’s some form there.

When I design — I work in that context of story boarding or gallery sequences, like a framing or procession. Being a book designer, then web, the presentation sequencing — I tend to see things like that. And that spread of thinking works well to the notion of retail and built space progressions and process — finding the way. Or wayfinding, as we environmental designers call it.  How do you get there, and how do you get out of there? Gallery, storyboard, sequencing, journals — it all works.

Now I find myself (there’s a line — find my self) taking the imagery that I shoot, the drawings that I do — and bringing that in to the work — there’s an interesting new alignment for me, between the creative explorations that I’m doing in my space of the personal and the work of the professional. You are here, you are there. You make your way. The lines intertwine. There’s a new weaving in those discoveries.

What about exhausting the idea? What’s enough?

I think that you can get tired of a problem. If you work it too long, then you might get exhausted with the exploration and expression. Some people live in that space of working a problem to death. I don’t thrive there. My attention span is too short. I can focus, but I’d rather drill into find the idea and less to the continued meandering. And that’s okay, too. Some people live in the space of noodling ideas. Not sure that I know when they know to stop. But I think about it, what’s enough? When are you done? Really — never.

tsg | nyc