Before The Fall: Reflections

Well, this has been an interesting year. It’s funny how you can be someone at the start of something and months later be someone else. That might be the wrong way of putting it though. Perhaps you just become more of who you really are.

 

At the beginning of the year I summed up what creativity meant to me; largely going against what Sir Ken Robinson defines as creativity. For myself, creativity is still deserving of a broader definition and I stand by mine of “the ability to move an idea from your mind into the physical realm in any form.” The idea of limiting creative to original ideas as Sir Ken Robinson and so many others do is flawed on a fundamental level to me. For one thing, I don’t believe there is such thing as originality anymore. I believe people can put their voice, their signature into an idea, but that doesn’t change the inherent nature of the idea.

 

As the year went on I went on to learn, or perhaps re-learn ideas. Design Thinking was something that I was taught throughout my undergraduate career, but never knew the name. To me it’s the idea of stepping back from yourself and trying to see a problem from your targets point of view. It isn’t about the really cool idea you had a week ago. It’s about a problem you see that you believe you can help fix. I would almost go so far as to call it selfless design, unless of course the problem is your own.

 

One thing I am relatively proud of is my blog titles for the first half of the year. One of my classmates said it’s what made him excited to read my blog, to see what strange new words I would use. I feel it important to explain myself here, now. The first eight blog posts, besides the very first one, involve a color and another word. Either the color or the word relates to the content and hints at what the post will be about. For instance Piers of Gold is about the financial discussion we had on crowdfunding such as Kickstarter. Cerulean Crows was based on the ideas presented by Nadege Meriau on letting your art or creative work go, as in a bird flying away.

 

In the second term the titles were supposed to follow this pattern of hinting at the content of the posts. They would also include the added bonus of a countdown, or is it a count-up? This plan fell through and leaves me with a small feeling of regret. I always enjoy being able to create small puzzles for people in my writing, so when I didn’t have the time to think on the titles I felt my blog began to lack something. The titles counting up to midnight does have symbolic meaning though. Midnight is the end and the beginning of the day at the same time. Just as this is the beginning and end of the journey of learning for me.

 

I also, somewhat, think I peaked early in my posts. My second and third posts, a double post titled Obsidian Masks, for myself were the peak of creative blogging. Perhaps it was the fact that the symbolism in the #knowyourlemons campaigns everyone created allowed me to discuss a topic I am passionate about. Maybe it was the fact that It was the first posts where I used the topic to talk about personal projects. If you can gauge someone’s enthusiasm about something by how many words they type, especially when there is no word limit, the fact that I typed way more than I needed to, to discuss symbolism, says something.

 

It’s always interesting to take something you’ve known for a long time and apply it to new fields, which I think is what happened a lot in the first half of the year. I’m not positive I could say I learned anything new in the first half of the year, but I did learn new ways to look at them. For instance I knew what personas were, but I had never applied the idea of persona and characterization to a brand. I had never created a brand persona for anything before. It wasn’t any different or more difficult than making a persona for a story or in my head, but more specific intention had to be placed on certain aspects.

 

In the second half of the year I began to focus far more significantly on the business my team was designing. Each post followed the previous in a timeline of what we had done over the year. Some were much more involved, as some parts of the business I had more to do with than others. The one thing I knew I’d discuss is the idea of being a leader and being “pushed” into the role. Not pushed by someone, more by the idea that a leader was needed in this instance.

 

Although I needed to become a leader and push my team into work I am still incredibly proud of what they accomplished. In a short amount of time I think we all gained new skills and knowledge. I for instance learned what VAT is and learned more about finance than I have in 25 years. I also re-learned how to sew. I think more than anything we all learned who we are in the setting of collaboration.

 

Growing up I would have never thought one day I’d be in a leadership role, and be decent at it. I tried to lead by example, I tried to let my team create something and be passionate about it. Did I succeed? I’m not sure. I’d like to think I did for the most part. I’ve said this before, but in the end I think the thing I learned the most is who I am as a person and as a collaborator. I hope it’s the same for the rest of my team. I think this quote from Peter F. Drucker sums up my feelings on true leaders well. Leader is the word in the blank, by the way.

 

 

As much as I appreciate what having to design a business did for me, it wasn’t without it’s downs. For one thing I’ve never seen myself as an entrepreneur. I’ve never wanted to start my own business. That isn’t to say I never wanted the knowledge or skills to do it, it was just never something that got my blood boiling. I want to have a role in the world somewhat like Geoff Johns for DC Comics. He is somewhat known for “fixing” and modernizing characters that have become a little too out dated. If I could become that for the creative industries I would be very content. I don’t think I could have done that before gaining the skills from having to design my own business though. So, even though at the end of this my feelings for being an entrepreneur haven’t changed I am appreciative of the experience and skills I gained.

 

I’m still pretty mad I missed out on creating our teams advertisement when I was dying in my bed for two weeks. Just watching the advertisement and the bloopers made me realize I missed out on one of the most fun aspects of the business. I would like to thanks The National Gallery, on behalf of my team, for having an empty room we could shoot the most important scene in during the day. I honestly don’t know what we would have done if we didn’t find an empty room in the gallery that day, as we were already pressed for time. I guess that’s what you get when you want authenticity and control.

 

Actually designing and producing our product was a whirlwind, or a hurricane. I had prototyped before, learning a lot about IDEO in my undergraduate career guaranteed that. What I had never done was take a product to completion, especially when that completion involved it being hand made. I can’t stress the importance to the team of our product being hand made. If it wasn’t I can honestly say we wouldn’t have been as passionate about it. My team would like to thank my mother for helping me figure out how to actually make our product cheaply and in a timely manner. I’d like to thank her for helping me sew when I just couldn’t do it anymore. Do I think the product could be better? Of course, everything in the world can always be improved. Am I proud of what we accomplished as a small team in a short amount of time? Absolutely.

 

If anyone had come up to me and said by the end of the year I would design a product that could actually be sold, the process of which involved re-learning how to sew, accepting that I might be a leader, applying things I’m passionate about like symbolism to businesses, and learning how to create financial charts, I would honestly have laughed at them. Well I guess the jokes on me.

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Twelve O’Clock/Midnight

This will be interesting. So, in this post I will be almost as much of an audience member as anyone reading it. First, the team was tasked with creating an advertisement for our product. A few months ago we had decided the tone would be kind of humorous, a little endearing. We decided we wanted it to take place in a museum. We also decided which team member would direct it, because she wanted to and who are any of us to say no to someone with passion? The team also decided I would act in it. I said no, and for good reason. I am not what you would call emotional. I have been called an emotionless robot more than once in my life, now does that sound like good acting material to you? I didn’t think so.  Instead, I elected another member to act, and everyone was better for it.

Skip ahead a few months and we are about to shoot the advertisement. We decide to travel to London, and The National Gallery specifically, on a Monday. Then I get sick, like I can’t move sick, like I had to literally roll out of bed and fall on the floor to get out of it sick. So clearly, I was done. This was fine, I wasn’t integral to the advertisement and I trusted my team.

After watching the advertisement they created I wish I could have gone. You know when you watch something and you can tell they had fun making it? The story doesn’t have to be perfect, the cinematography doesn’t have to amaze you, the acting doesn’t need to send chills down your spine. That feeling you get when you watch something and you know their was joy behind it. That is how I felt, and as the “leader” of the team, that’s more than enough.

11 O’Clock/

Photo Jan 15, 3 16 56 PM (2)

In mid-January, we had our first opportunity to sell our product at a trade fair. For a few hours, on a Thursday, we got to meet some interesting people and talk about our ideas and intentions and get some great feedback. We had some really great reactions, honestly better than I thought we’d get, but there were some problems with the fair.Photo Jan 15, 1 01 08 PM

The first thing is, I don’t think the fair was advertised very much. Considering that 99% percent of the people there were other sellers. The random student would come into the building to go to class, not to buy something. Luckily, or unluckily, many of the students came to talk to us and showed a lot of interest in the product. Many of them gave us contact information so we could contact them before our next fair.

A funny thing that happened was that I remembered I can be somewhat intimidating. Whenever I was near the table with the rest of the team people seemed to be avoiding us. So, I left the table. Miraculously as soon as I left people started to move towards the rest of the team. I decided from that point on it would be best that I mingle with the crowd instead of standing by our booth.Photo Jan 15, 3 17 20 PM

In the end, we sold one of our products (woo!). Still, we had a lot working against us, from the lack of advertising to the lack of general foot traffic and the problem with myself being unapproachable for some reason. Other than that it was a fun experience and we got to meet good people, including a few people who wanted to blog about our product. I was happy we sold just one and would be happy if that was all we sold. I was never doing this for profit or money in general, but for the experience and the knowledge I would gain from it.

I think talking to strangers is a great way to see if what you are doing is worth the passion and time, which for me, is what the fair provided. I don’t plan to start my own business where I would need to sell things at similar fairs in the future, but I’m not opposed to the idea of helping out friends in situations like this one.

Ten O’Clock/

The next day the team pitched our prototype and had relative success with it. Every member of the team had a part to play and they did it well. We didn’t go into as much detail as we maybe should have on some topics, like marketing plans and social media. Otherwise our feedback ranged from good to respectful advice, nothing ever cruel.

A very valuable piece of advice given to every team was to make sure if we were going to commit to something, such as a social media campaign, that we fully developed it and didn’t do anything with half a heart.  There was also some mention of products that may inspire us, or that we could gain insight from.10170703_855404817844572_6431890343941816671_n

Despite pitching an idea being a stressful prospect, and it almost always is, it was still a worthwhile learning experience.

After the final prototype pitch came the teams holiday break. I made my way to the United States with the task of hand making the final version of our product using the guidance we got from the board of professors.Photo Dec 31, 5 29 20 PM (1)

I knew a few things I wanted to avoid very clearly. One of them was the use of glue. It was great for making a prototype in six hours, but it was poor material for making many of the same things consistently. I knew I wanted to make batches of different colored versions, all of them being brown or black would be quite boring. Lastly, I knew I wanted to improve the functionality of the design, something that would require further trial and error.

With the help of my willing mother, because let’s face it willing labour is the best labour. We discussed the changes I wanted to make to the design and figured out the best way to accomplish those changes.Photo Dec 31, 5 29 20 PM

After a few test runs using other types of fabric I set out sewing the final version. The major changes to the design were the holder/bag designs, as well as the general size of the product. I tried to minimize the use of materials and the layout of the design to be efficient, but not cramped. After finishing one, I put it through some tests. You know, throwing it against a wall, bending it in ways it’s not meant to be bent, scratching it, leaving it out for people to mess with. If I was going to sell this I wanted to be sure it could stand up to some damage. The first one passed my tests so I continued to make more. I finished with a black version, a blue version, and a red version. Being relatively satisfied the next task was getting back to the United Kingdom, which is where packing skills and my suitcase came in very handy.

After finishing one, I put it through some tests. You know, throwing it against a wall, bending it in ways it’s not meant to be bent, scratching it, leaving it out for people to mess with. If I was going to sell this I wanted to be sure it could stand up to some damage. The first one passed my tests so I continued to make more. I finished with a black version, a blue version, and a red version. Being relatively satisfied the next task was getting back to the United Kingdom, which is where packing skills and my suitcase came in very handy.

I admit at this point in time my entire being was wearing pretty thin. My patience and my excitement for the idea and the project in general were seriously fading. My curse has always been that I lose motivation and interest easily, in the words of my flatmates “I’m not easily impressed.” Eventually though, if I stick with something, I remember the reason or find a new reason as to why I was interested in the first place.

In this instance, it was my love for design. For me, the process of thinking diligently about the shape of something or the way one color would look over another, or the way something opens gets the gears spinning.

I don’t see a situation in the future where knowing how to pitch something would be a bad thing. My greatest exposure to pitching was a screenwriting class in my undergraduate studies, where I had to pitch my idea for a television pilot at the end of the term.

Pitching is an invaluable skill in any career and life, in general. I’m always happy to work on and improve my skills in that area.

Nine O’Clock/

After our initial prototype was finished we met with our professor who gave us advice on where to take the design next. A few things we had thought of before and just hadn’t worked out how to accomplish them yet, others were new and very useful. It was back to the drawing board.

The team was tasked, by me, to create as many simple prototypes as possible in the next few days to see if there was a design we just hadn’t even thought of yet. Turns out, there was. When it came time to meet up to show what we had all done, we found that certain aspects of multiple new designs worked well. When we combined those aspects together they worked wonderfully. A little part of one, the essence of another. The combined efforts of the team made a design that worked exactly the way we wanted it to.

It was much more difficult to make a final prototype of the new version. I needed to find and purchase more individual materials for each part of the prototype, as well as figure out how to make it quickly, without making it look horrible. I also had to keep in mind I had about twelve hours before my team would pitch the prototype to a board of professors. No pressure, right?Photo Dec 04, 11 06 52 AM

Using predominantly leather and fabric glue I constructed the prototype in about six hours. There were some casualties along the way, namely my fingers. I spent about an hour trying to pry them apart after I had finished making the prototype. It took another week for me to be convinced I wasn’t going to get stuck on anything.

With that the final prototype was finished and my team was ready to pitch the next day.Photo Dec 04, 10 42 18 AM

Making the second finished prototype was a lot like the first, but they say hindsight is 20-20. By this, I mean that once we had finished the first one it was easy to look back and see what could be improved on the next version.

Let me tell you about using super adhesives to make something you’ve never made before, don’t. I swear I thought my fingers would never come undone and that I’d live the rest of my life as an alien that couldn’t hold anything. Once that problem was solved, I was happy the prototype worked and worked better than our first version.

Eight O’Clock/

So, the team finally agreed on something. Everyone seemed to be behind the idea and we were all excited to finally start prototyping it. I had drawn up some initial design ideas. Over the week, we met up multiple times to discuss different directions we could take it.

I feel that this was the exact moment in time that I somehow became the person in charge, the leader, of the team. I’m sure there were hints of it previously, but this is when everyone started looking to me to have an idea. I have a long, and awkward, history with leadership. It is never something I choose for myself, but seems to always find me. However, that’s a topic for another post.Photo Nov 27, 7 25 00 AM

One day after finalizing the design we were going to pursue I went and purchased all of the supplies I thought I’d need to make it. Remember, it’s a prototype. Its main purpose for us was to prove its functionality, not to make it pretty. That would come later. The next day I would sit in my very plain kitchen and, for lack of a better word, destroy a sketch book. All in the hopes to create an improved version of it. I’m not sure improved is the right word, but it functioned. And remember, that was the point.

The idea was to make it as simple and functional as possible in the hopes to show that the idea was possible. I think I pulled it off, badly, but still.Photo Nov 27, 7 25 01 AM

I’ve always thought prototyping was important to the creative process. Although, I prefer sketching prototypes instead of physically making them. I know that making 3-D prototypes makes more sense with this kind of design. Prototyping is so far the most obvious thing I will continue to use for the rest of my life, no matter what career I pursue. After all what’s the first draft of a novel or a script, or an ad campaign if not a prototype.

Seven O’Clock/

Next was deciding on the product we would design, the fun part. “Wait, it’s been two weeks, we still can’t agree on anything?” That was just our luck.

There’s a rule in most creative endeavours that your first 1000 or 10,000 ideas will be terrible. We sadly didn’t have the luxury of time to find a perfect idea. We filtered through about twenty; ranging from a pen/breath freshener, to some kind of guide for local students, to an app, to some type of collapsible storage for students. Nothing was clicking with anyone strongly enough for everyone to become committed.

A few people on the team had contacts with an art foundation based in London that they thought might want to work with us, but we just weren’t thinking of anything I thought would fit with their goals, or was worth us putting effort into.

Late one night, when I was finally getting ready to pass out, I had what can only be described as an epiphany (that’s probably not true, but I’m sticking to it). I decided we were thinking about it all wrong. If we were determined to work with this foundation I needed to start looking at it as if I was one of their consumers. Luckily our target of students fell into that, but more specifically I decided to focus on art students. By closing my range of thinking it also deepened my focus of problems these types of people would have. I then realized I didn’t have to go back in time and create the wheel, I just had to reinvent it.

I immediately contacted the rest of the team to try to explain my idea through text. We would design a sketchbook that stored the tools an artist needed inside of itself. Its purpose would be to help with organization, efficiency, motivation, and inspiration.

You know those ideas that keep you up at night and your mind just keeps processing the possibilities? Yeah, I felt pretty good about this one.

Strangely, the notion of ideas just popping into my head is pretty common. I suppose I’m luckier than most in that, normally, they’re fairly good ideas. I mean, most of my ideas for stories happen when I’m alone and come from out of nowhere. They also involved being in strange places, but we don’t talk about that right now.

The team got behind the idea much quicker than they thought they would, which I’ll admit made me slightly nervous. I admit, I’m not a huge fan of people thinking I’m good at things or highly of me. I realize this sounds kind of odd, and almost broken. However, for this project I was just glad we finally had a plan.

Six O’Clock/

Our first task was to find our team. This was probably the easiest thing we had to do. It was simple, almost entirely because no one knew each other yet. It was like being asked what kind of candy you want if you’ve never had any before. To you everything seems good. To make this a less chaotic practice, half the class interviewed the other half. Only after that did we decide who would form our teams.

My team ended up being formed by four wonderful people by the names of Asia, Alisa, Eric, and Andreas. Each of us had different backgrounds and very quickly we found we had very different views of the world. Right away I could tell this was going to get interesting.

The team’s second task was to find the target audience we wanted to work with and which problem of theirs we wanted to solve. Remember that in design thinking you work from the ground up, so the process always starts with who you’re trying to help and not the end result.

This took forever, and I do mean forever. I remember one day for an hour we sat around trying to decide who we would target and couldn’t come to a consensus. It might have been because, every time we thought of a problem to solve, a solution would pop into someone’s head. A solution I would always prove existed already. A requirement placed on us was to create a new product or at the very least greatly improve, change, an existing one.

We finally settled on the obvious choice, students. We’re all students, who better to help than our fellow colleagues? Yet it still wasn’t that simple, it never is.

I feel that the main problem of the team and the target came from the fact that we did not know each other, at all. We couldn’t even begin to understand how each individual saw the world, or what they would focus on.

In the future, I would hope to have time to get to know my team on a more personal level before we got into the work part of the relationship. Although I know that’s a best case scenario that is rare to find.

The fact that we all had different ideas and personalities is also what made finding a target impossible. It can really work only a number of way. A  person can find a target and everyone can agree because they like the idea too, or the one person can be so passionate that everyone gets behind them. Neither of those things happened for us, and it ended up coming down to something we all related to, but maybe didn’t want to do.

You don’t always get to choose who your work with, or for, so the best thing to do is to try to make the most of the experience.

Five O’Clock/

On long-running, especially serialized, television shows an episode will often start with a “previously on…” segment. This segments function is to make sure people, who viewed the previous episodes, are reminded of what happened and to show new audiences what came before to get them interested in watching what came previously.

This post and the ones that follow will serve that same purpose. So, welcome to the flashback post! The time traveling tease! The long overdue history of a postgraduate project.

In one of my current postgraduate classes we were tasked with designing a project that solved a problem. We would form teams, manufacture the product, and eventually sell it. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong, on every level. Simply because we are also tasked to execute the project from a design thinking perspective.

Now the largest difference between normal business practice and design thinking is that, in design thinking you assume nothing. You don’t jump ahead to the solution because it sounds “cool” and it’s what you want to do more than anything. No, instead you work from the lowest point and move up slowly to the solution. Making sure all the while, that you are making decisions for everything else that comes before it.

Design Thinking Model

Design Thinking Model

This type of thinking isn’t something new to myself. I spent most of my undergraduate career going through this same process. It is, however, very far removed from my standard method of creativity and inspiration. Since I spend most of my time thinking and writing stories about fantastical places and people, I normally don’t start from the bottom and go up. Well, I guess it depends on the story. Sometimes I’ll think large-scale. What kind of place do I want to see? Who would be interesting to visit on that world? What type of conflict makes sense for the story? And then how do I get to the end of that conflict? In this instance

Sometimes I’ll think large-scale. What kind of place do I want to see? Who would be interesting to visit on that world? What type of conflict makes sense for the story? And then how do I get to the end of that conflict? In this instance, I think from a grand scale down. I start with the overarching plot of a world or society and work backward to the beginning.

Yet, it can be done the opposite way and I’ve done so many times. You start with a character, based on a real person or completely imaginary, and you let them decide where they live and what conflicts they will run into. To me, this is much closer to the design thinking method and it’s a style of writing I honestly have trouble grasping. I am what’s known as an architect writer, and not a garden writer. It simply means that I like to have things planned out precisely and know how one page at the beginning of a story relates to one sentence on a page at the end of a story. If you ever know me in reality this idea of control and planning will make perfect sense.

The design thinking method is something I think I will obviously use in the future beyond the current task given to me. However, it still hasn’t proven itself to be the most effective way of thinking. Although, That may change by the end of this.

Byzantium Eidolon

A persona, in simplest terms is a character. When you play a role playing game you are becoming a persona. When an actor plays a character, they are becoming a persona. When creators personify, or create a story around their product, they are creating a persona. Storytelling, for me, is one of the most exciting and integral parts to taking any project from idea to reality. We do it for almost everything, and most people don’t even realize it. Think about how many times you’ve had an amazing idea for a book, or a new dish at a restaurant. One of the first things most people do is put the idea into a situation, “It would be amazing if…”. You just began creating a story. Every story needs characters, and that’s where persona’s come in.

Final Fantasy 7

Every time I think of a new story idea for a poem, or novel, I always try to put interesting characters in interesting situations. Makes sense, you don’t want the tale your telling to be boring. The same can be true for other creative products. If you’re creating a new digital user interface you don’t want to put the super tech savvy, not surprised by anything, type of person into the story. You want to put the person that’s going to be amazed at every turn. The person who desperately needs your idea, but might not even know they need it.

Mistborn Trilogoy by Brandon Sanderson

It’s a skill set that is invaluable in any line of work, in any creative endeavor, well in basically everything. Whether I’m writing poems or comics, creating a new advertisement, or simply trying to tell an engaging story to students. Being able to create engaging persona and a world for them to inhabit and explore is the first step to brilliant creation.

My first NaNoWriMo update in what seems like forever, and sadly also my last. After weeks of being completely enveloped in the story and ideas for my novel I found that I just didn’t have the time, motivation, or excitement to work on it and everything else in my life. Sadly, I am very much a mood writer. A habit I am trying desperately to break out of. Until I do however, I know that if I am just in the most anti-creative mood, nothing good will come of it. I will keep the ideas and the personas I have created locked away for another time.

On a slightly more cheerful note, this idea of personas has brought back a story I have been working on in my head and on paper for years. It’s about a young man that can create illusions of people, real or fictional, an Eidolon. Hopefully one day I will complete it and release it upon the world.