Measuring Creative Productivity

Austin Kleon just wrapped up a tour for his latest book. During a stop in Chicago. Eddie Shleyner asked him a great question: “Do you ever feel like no matter how much work you do, you can or should be doing more?”

This question immediately resonated with me; it’s an issue I’ve personally struggled with and am currently struggling through.

Thankfully, Eddie recorded his answer and transcribed it on his blog:

“Yeah, always,” he said. “If you get into that productivity trap, there’s always going to be more work to do, you know?

“Like, you can always make more. I think that’s why I’m a time-based worker. I try to go at my work like a banker. I just have hours. I show up to the office and whatever gets done gets done.

“And I’ve always been a time-based worker. You know, like, ‘did I sit here for 3 hours and try.’ I don’t have a word count when I sit down to write. It’s all about sitting down and trying to make something happen in that time period — and letting those hours stack up.

“So that’s sort of how I get over it.”

I love this. I love that the answer is simply to sit down and try and get some work done. If you don’t make it, that’s okay: try again tomorrow.

I think most people — certainly creative people — put a lot of pressure on themselves to deliver every day. We aim for perfection. I think the pursuit of output, rather than the joy of the chase, keeps us from doing our best work. Perhaps even more dangerously, it leaves us worse off as people.

A friend of mine told me that Cormac McCarthy, the author of No Country for Old Men and The Road (among many other popular novels), had to stop hanging out with other writers after he stopped drinking. All of his writer friends drank until inspiration hit, and he thought that was a poisonous attitude.

That idea, of creativity beholden to vices, keeps us from doing our best work. It keeps us from facing the blank page and making something. The fear of perfection will literally drive us to drink.

So what can we do instead?

We can sit down, measure our hours rather than our output, and make something. As Shawn Blanc says (and I love this), we can create without overthinking.

May 22 2019

New Year’s Resolutions for Creative People

I’m the sort of person who needs a list of goals in order to accomplish something. Early every year, I come up with a theme for the year and a few goals to help me keep my focus.

This year, my theme is about hunkering down and fostering my creativity. With that in mind, I’ve got a few goals that I think will be useful for anybody who wants to do something creative in 2019.

  1. Grab life by the balls. if you’re going to do something, do it wholeheartedly. Not halfway. Doing something halfway is worse than not doing it at all.
  2. Consume less. Create more. For me, this means spending less time on YouTube and my Nintendo Switch, and more time making things. This isn’t a challenge to work more. It’s a challenge to spend more time playing your favourite instrument — even if you play poorly. You don’t, and won’t, always make good things. That’s okay.
  3. Be aware of your needs. Do you need a new camera? Find the right one for you and buy it. Don’t waste hundreds of hours on research or the comments on DPReview. Just figure out your needs, go get the thing, and start making stuff. One day, we’re all going to die. Don’t waste time.
  4. Read more books. This is a notable exception to Goal 2 because it encourages slow thinking in a fast-paced world. We need more of that.
  5. Say no to that which limits your creativity. Like bad clients, Netflix binges, and hangovers. This one is hard. You will fail. Get up and try again.
  6. Act in the face of fear. I’m borrowing this from the great Steven Pressfield (The War of Art is amazing and you should make it one of the books you read for Goal 2). Fear is what keeps us from being creative and becoming who we’re meant to be. Stare that fear in the face and make the thing you want to make. Then you can declare victory, but not mastery, over the fear. Remember, the fear can fight again at any time. It wants to crush you. It knows no limits. But, then again, neither do you…
January 4 2019

Silence

Not long ago, after a long and trying day spent in meetings, I made the 90 minute drive back to my home in silence. No podcasts. No music. The stereo in my car was off.

On the highway, I heard barely any noise. Only the low rumbles of my winter tires, and the whooshing of surrounding traffic as we passed each other, driving into the sunset.

In today’s dizzying world, where we often fill the silence with social media and fast news, the silence and the isolation feel increasingly rare. They create an opportunity for slow thinking — for quiet contemplation.

More than ever, I think slow thinking is exactly what we need.

December 12 2018

Adobe reveals Photoshop for iPad (and other goodies)

A couple months ago, some folks at Adobe admitted to some major news publications that they were working on Photoshop for iPad. Today, they formally revealed it at Adobe MAX, and The Verge got a hands-on look at the app in action.

I’m a Creative Cloud subscriber because, well, I run a design studio for a living. But Photoshop is perhaps my least important CC app. (InDesign is king, if you’re wondering — nothing else comes close.)

For somebody like me, this app is going to hit the perfect sweet spot. Everything I need to touch up photos on the go, hopefully with the same Export to Web feature that I love on the desktop.

Ironically, if you live in Photoshop (like many designers I know), then it sounds like the iPad version won’t be for you. At least, not right away. Adobe is stripping away a ton of features that will make the app less useful (keyboard shortcuts, for example).

But in the meantime, this is a pretty serious win for creative professionals on the iPad. I’m holding out for InDesign next. (But I know I’m going to have to wait for Illustrator, Premiere, and probably After Effects first.)

Some other news that will change my life in some meaningful ways:

  • Typekit is now Adobe Fonts (and every font is available for unlimited desktop syncing now!). The new website feels slower than Typekit to me, but it’s also a little less quirky, which is nice.
  • Adobe XD’s first plug-in integrations are now available, drag gestures and linked symbols (finally) are built in, and the app is getting some great Illustrator and After Effects integrations. I try XD every six months or so to see if it can release Sketch. This update could put it over the edge for me.
  • There’s a new properties panel in InDesign that looks amazing. True story: I have multiple custom views in InDesign. I switch between them based on the amount of screen real estate I have. I’m hoping this makes that process less cumbersome for me. (Plus, there’s content-aware fill, which looks very neat.)
  • PhotoShop CC finally uses the same Undo keyboard shortcuts as literally everything else on my Mac. You can also double-click to edit text instead of switching to the type tool, which should have happened many, many moons ago.

All in all, these are great updates. Congratulations to the Adobe team for making their suite of products even better, and making my job easier!

October 15 2018

How to Design a Better Portfolio

About a week ago on Twitter, I asked a poorly phrased question, which I’ll re-phrase here for clarity’s sake:

Why do designers focus on images in their portfolio’s archive, instead of properly describing their work?

This is something I’m just as guilty of as the next designer. Here’s an image of what my portfolio looked like at the time of the tweet. You can find countless other design portfolios that riff on a theme just like this.

My old portfolio, before the design changes.

My favourite portfolios are really image-heavy, and I suspect that’s true for most people. Those portfolios are so funto look at and make. But I often find myself wondering if those portfolios are effective.

If you’re a potential client, why would you click on a thumbnail image? Some designers might hope that the thumbnail tells the story of their project, but the thumbnail is inconclusive at best and misleading at its worst. It often shows off what the final result looks like, but it doesn’t share the thinking behind that visual approach.

But that’s what designers should sell. We need to sell the thought process that gets clients results, because that’s what a good designer gets paid for.

Design pricing is in a race to the bottom. Or maybe it’s already bottomed out. But I think a lot of that is because we’re showing off visuals, instead of explaining our process or discussing our results.

So I’ve made some changes to my portfolio. Now, when you visit the home page, you’ll see a list of every project I was proud to be a part of. Instead of images, each project gets a description. Some of those descriptions link to case studies, and some don’t — but the work is all present and explained.

I had a lot of fun making this. My portfolio isn’t as flashy as it was before, but I hope my portfolio will now be more effective.

September 11 2018
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