Lets be daring and a bit more creative with what we do on the web

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This blog post covers a talk at the Open & Creative night on Monday 24 October 2011. By request there’s no video of this talk.

‘Femi (@designjuju), Creative and Tech Strategist/Consultant.

‘Femi used to work at the BBC as a development manager. ‘Femi started out as a “Web Master” and has worn many hats in the web field.

Creativity, Ideas worth Generating, defining it

Sir Ken Robinson’s idea of creativity in a nut shell is:  “The process of having original ideas that have value”. The dictionary definition “originality of thought”, being “facetious”. The point is, why are we trying to define it?

One of the reasons to define creativity, to define something gives it value. When attempting to be creative, if your idea doesn’t give value it can’t be judged. In today’s web world being creative usaully means providing ‘Added value’ for or to something as well as to or for someone.

There are four universally agreed processes for being creative:

  1. Clarify – how many times have you had a client ask you to make something sexy? Often they ask: ”Can you make it look like Apple?”; “I want those reflection things”; “Can you just be creative?”; “I want it the same but different”; “traditional but modern”; “Can you make it ‘pop’?”. We need to clarify the brief.
  2. Ideate – she hates the word because it sounds pompous but it has a use. It’s about conceiving ideas something most of us do whilst brainstorming.
  3. Develop – This is where an idea is grown/expanded
  4. Implement – This is the one people usually leave off because it is the natural conclusion of the others, to implement is to put into effect. In our case, build/prototype  e.t.c.

Theories!!

Once you have the agreed methods, then look at how you do it. She won’t go all the theories/systems our there but there quite a few out there which can be adapted: such as De Bono’s ‘thinking hats’, the Standford Research Institute’s NABC system can make things pretty straight forward. But the one she likes at the moment is WhatIf!’s  ‘4Rs’:

Revolution

This is really provocative, people really like to do this but it also scares them. “If the client brief says X, we’re going to tear it down!” If its straight, we make it circular. We begin to question the actualy essence of the thing.

She gets a brief from the back of the room (Glyn Wintle) “How do you clean up Government data?”

EXAMPLE:
Lets say we want to design a site for the future. We know the basics about websites, they’re all on a rectagular screen. But what if the screen didn’t exist or what if it was circular? It’s still the web. When we look at the web, we always think about devices. Our devices at present are iPads, screens, phones, screenreaders (heckle from the back: “SEGA Dreamcast!”), Microsoft Surface. But what if your web was on a visor? Or going further, what if it’s not a flat screen, maybe it’s not on a device? What are we doing that’s projected at the moment? Currently projectors are used to create 3D visuals. The first thing to do is to think big, that’s when we’re revolutionising the web.

Jason Grant puts forward a situation, a conversation he had. ‘Femi thinks he’s doing the right thing. She likes to work by pushing the boundaries with her colleagues. Example, they did this in Star Trek, the PADD was looking to the future, it was born out of ‘revolution’ but has influenced the now.

When ‘Femi was younger she watched the Hanna Barbera cartoons, through that she was promised a future of flying cars, hover boards, silver foil dresses and other futuristic things. Our creative imagination leads to a place where we can iinnovate, we haven’t got the flying cars yet, but we do have small aircrafts which can be driven for short distances, we also have cars are capable of even faster speeds than before.. How different was this creative thinking than that which created the iPad?

Is it revolution or evolution? Jason Grant challenges from the audience. ‘Femi won’t get into that argument because she doesn’t necessarily disagree. She’s interested in tearing things apart in order to build them back up in new and exciting ways. You’re trying to generate volumes of ideas and get your brain working. We all think we’re very creative, but we restrict ourselves. Everything actually exists in the gray not in the black & white. To use a musical expression: ‘The key is to find the groove and ride it’.

Re-expression

Describing the problem in a different way. She want’s to design a website for 2050, what would it be like? From the audience “Rounded corners?”, “Comic Sans?”.

‘Femi laughs, instead of saying “I’m trying to design a website for 2050”, try to re-express the problem. Change the question around “In 2050, we think the world is going to look like X, how can we put that in sync with what everyone else is doing?”

She shows an image of a house that’s shaped like a plane. It’s designed for the owner to feel like they’re travelling, even though they no-longer can. If we’re looking at the web in 2050, we don’t know what it will look like, but there are companies like BMW who are looking at the interfaces of the future, head-up displays, in-built GPS. Sharing ideas helps innovation, for example the idea for roll-on deodorant came from its inventor looking at a ball-point pen.

Rendom Links

She asks people to shout out words: “Wibble”, “Badger” come back. When you think of these words what else do you think of?

Badger
Smelly – What if the web had a sense of smell?
Attack small children – What if the web could attack? But what does this mean? What if the web could reach out and touch you? What if it responded to gestures
Hairy – What if the web had texture?

Someone shouts out a crazy idea, but it leads to new thoughts. How can we put this in a package? How can we relate this to the web? What if the web was sensory? We can come up with new thoughts from crazy ideas.

Resistance

One of the things we find very hard is to let go of our preconceived notions. That’s called resistance. Nobody’s going to quote you on the crazy ideas you came up with. We need to cut down our resistance, it comes down to fear. Fear that others (our managers?) will critique out ideas. As a child we had lots of imagination. You’d get into a box and make it into something else, a car, a boat something else. Heckle from the audience “That’s thinking inside the box isn’t it?” (smile).

The Tool

She says: we always carry our digital devices with us. When people ask for creative tools, many responses are usually : ‘ Always carry your ipad, always have a pen and pad, a camera, use mind mapping e.t.c.’ The most important tool you have is your mind. You need to open this up and start a revolution in web design. So far we’ve had rounded corners(!!). Why don’t we have circular navigation? Seriously why not? Heckle from the audience “it’s the defacto standard” and “It’s usually top and left, but only because of resizing the viewport”.

Please look at a website called HitLantis. It has a beautiful circular navigation.

It’s not just that, it’s convention, agreement. Things won’t stop being a defacto standard, until you make something else. Defacto standard is something that we make it, we can change it. Things are never black or white, they’re shades of gray, there are no right or wrong answers.

However, the biggest thing you can do for yourself as a creative is give yourself a constraint. One could be time “I only have 20 mins to work on this”. Even if you had the most hostile environment for web development, you’d still get your sites online. What if every single browser obeyed the DOM? We wouldn’t need hacks, would we be coming up with sites that look the same? What if we disobeyed every single rule? There’s a beauty in constraints and a beauty in no constraints.

Comment from the audience “The iPhone changed things because it was significantly better”. ‘Femi asks, but significantly better for whom?

She finished on a quote from Einstein  “Imagination is better than knowledge.”

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