Up up, down down, B A, B A, select, start.
If only creativity were that easy! Unfortunately, even the very best around have to work hard for the ideas they develop. With that said, there are some techniques, or “cheat codes” (disguised as really hard work!), I’ve stumbled onto that may help to take your ideas to the next level. Here they are:
1. Keep it simple
When it comes to design, there’s a tendency to think that it’s all about making it (whatever it is) beautiful. Generally, this is what we artists get consumed with. We want our video to look gorgeous. We want our design to be stunning. We want our audience to be wowed by the sheer beauty of what we’ve created.
The problem with this sort of thinking is that it not only entirely misses the point of what good design is, but it also leads to over-designing.
My advice? Stop trying to make your design pretty and start making your design work. Choose your fonts out of a deep conviction for the message of the piece you’re designing. Birth your camera shots and effects out of desire to better tell the story, not to just make it cool.
Have you bothered to research the event you’re promoting? Can you verbally articulate why anyone in your community should go to this event? Those are good questions to start with.
Here’s why this matters: when your focus is set on making it prettier, you’ll always wind up over-designing.
“What filter can I add?”
“What effect can we use?”
“What new fonts are out there?”
Your mindset should never be on what more you could add, rather on what can be taken away. I love this quote by Dieter Rams, the famous industrial designer who did work for Braun and Apple.
“Good design is as little design as is possible.”
Busy designs are easy. It isn’t hard to throw every filter Photoshop has on your project. But by contrast, designing something simple that communicates with real feeling and real emotion is hard.
So don’t be enamored with special effects. Stop being impressed by how pretty or cool something is and start appreciating whether or not it works. Ask yourself if you’re feeling what the artist wanted you to feel before judging whether or not their work is a success. After all, it’s possible for something to be beautiful and yet completely fail to deliver its message.
2. Evaluate… A lot.
I’m convinced that the reason many people get their feelings hurt when they get critiqued is that they’re almost never critiqued. Most people just aren’t used to having their ideas ruthlessly evaluated. So when they finally do experience a little critique, they have no idea how to handle it and they sulk and pout.
One way to help your team get over their bruised egos is to critique them so often that they get used to it. In our world, we’re constantly evaluating and critiquing. So when someone says, “I hate that idea,” it doesn’t ruffle any feathers.
Back when movies were primarily shot on actual film, movie directors employed an evaluation process known as “dailies.” Usually, at the end of each day, that day’s footage was developed, synced to sound, and printed on film for viewing by the director and some members of the film crew. This process allowed them to evaluate what they had shot the day before and make any course corrections for that day. It also meant everything was being critiqued so often that no one had a chance to get too attached to his or her ideas. That’s the kind of people I want to work with—people whose loyalties are to the best idea, not just their idea.
Pixar—although they don’t print their movies to actual film—still employs the “dailies” technique. It’s a way for the film’s director to stay connected to the nitty-gritty work of the project. And that’s the essence of a good evaluation process—it keeps your creative hands on the project’s steering wheel.
3. Be prepared.
So often the best ideas come when you aren’t trying to be creative. You might be watching TV or taking a shower or listening to a favorite song and inspiration will strike. The question is, are you even aware that it’s striking and if so, how are you capturing that inspiration?
Here’s what that looks like for me.
First off, I try to filter everything I see, hear, and experience through the filter of “How can I use this?” When I hear a song or take in a movie or go to a concert, I’m constantly asking myself, “Is this useful?” I study songs, environments, designs, films… constantly looking for things I can apply to our services and events. Remember, so much of the creative process is simply learning to consistently ask the question, “What if?”
Secondly, if inspiration was to strike, are you ready for it? Do you have a method or a system for capturing those ideas?
It seems simple, but it’s huge. If we want God to entrust us with great ideas we have to be ready to capture them when He gives them to us. Personally, I use an iPad and a Moleskine for keeping track of all the ideas that rattle around in my head. But whatever you use, don’t forget that you’re responsible for what God has placed in our hands. So carry a capture device wherever you go because you never know when creativity may strike.
4. Take your time.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make in creative planning is assuming your first good idea is good enough.
Think about it. Every bad church video you’ve ever seen started as a good idea to someone. Somebody, somewhere, thought singing that song or making that video was a good idea. The problem is that what often sounds like a good idea in a brainstorming meeting turns out to be a bad idea in execution—at which point it’s too late to make changes.
I’ve learned over the years to let even my best ideas sit for a while. Often when I allow myself time to review my ideas over and over again, I find glaring problems with my initial concept that must be adjusted to avoid a mediocre result.
Here’s how it works for us. When we arrive at what we think is a solid concept, unless it’s something really basic or something we’ve done before, we wait. We let it sit overnight at a bare minimum. On a really big project, like Easter or Christmas, we’ll have several (and by several I mean tons) of meetings over a period of days, reviewing and evaluating the concept in microscopic detail—like it was the first time any of us have ever heard it.
Here’s why. The amount of time you spend on the details will have a great impact on the success or failure of your project. Mies Van Der Rohe, a German architect, famously said, “God is in the details.” And he was right. Your mind just isn’t equipped to see every nuance of a creative project all at once. So you have to force yourself to focus on them to find success consistently.
Remember this. If you’re regularly going with your first good idea, you’re either God or you aren’t doing very good work. It just isn’t that easy for anyone.