Here at Focus Lab, we pride ourselves in our processes. One thing that’s always been hard for me to grasp is building a process around creativity and exploration. Sure, you can schedule a concepting meeting, and create the structure for the meeting. But, when it comes to each individual's process for finding that specific word or imagery in their head is subjective at best. It depends heavily on multiple factors that I can’t even begin to pretend to be able to comprehend. That’s why trying to fit a standardized process for each person involved in concepting is futile. So take the words that follow with a grain of salt. They are simply a construct to fill with your creative prowess.
One talk that I keep coming back to is John Cleese’s ideas on how to be creative. If you have not seen it, I implore you to do so - it changed much of my thinking around the creative process and is the basis for the ideas to follow. Watch it below:
As for concepting, there are a number of different ways to approach this. We begin with an education round with the whole team, taking them through the project’s brand strategy and any other information about the client. After that, we like to give everyone a day to let that information soak in and simmer in the subconscious. We’ve found over the years that jumping directly into concepting after the information download is not enough time to formulate an abundance of ideas.
When we reconvene, we set the timer for roughly 8-10 minutes and everyone goes heads down, thinking about words or images associated with the project. Some past concepts or themes that have come up in these meetings range widely – from the printing press and ice cream sandwiches, to relativity and secret handshakes. After time is up, everyone shares their ideas and we document them on the whiteboard. Usually, a few new ideas are spawned as we talk through the rationale for our choices.
As the team thumbs through the list of concepts, we ultimately decide on 3-5 directions. These select words or images become the skeleton with which we will build the skin around. So now, we’ve got the strategy work and our concept directions to act as our guiding light in forging visuals. It gives us rationale for the things we create.
This is where I personally like to break the process a little bit. Instead of jumping into intentional exploration, I like to do a little free exploration to get all those initial ideas out of my brain. Some may be fruitful, others complete garbage.
Start making things. Anything. Play with a new medium, manipulate old processes, draw. Sadly, most of the things you create won’t make the final cut, but what you learn along the way is the most valuable takeaway. At this point it’s less about intentionality. I know that sounds odd, but hear me out. Those exploratory pixels — and there will be tons of them — some of them may inform an important piece of the brand later down the road. Without this step, you may not have explored a certain path due to restraints, and I always feel that’s a missed opportunity. Dedicate 1-3 hours to this so it doesn't take up the majority of your time on the project. After you’ve made an abundance of work, start to see what fits into the conceptual buckets you’ve designated for the client.
“Indeed he (Donald Mackinnon) described the most creative (when in this mood) as being childlike. For they were able to play with ideas… to explore them… not for any immediate practical purpose but just for enjoyment. Play for its own sake.”- John Cleese
Your next step is to become more intentional with exploration. This is where you do your heavy research within the conceptual buckets and build visuals around those ideas. This will give you strong rationale for the final step of defining your creative decisions. Let’s say your concept is “constellations”. Doing a bit of research could lead you to an interesting piece of Greek mythology that informs a certain visual piece of the brand.
In the final stage of defining, it’s important to articulate those to the client as opposed to showing work isolated on a blank PDF page. Build up to those visuals by telling the story that helped you arrive there. After all, when this new brand is unveiled to the world, it’s the storytelling that a customer will connect with.