This blog originally appeared on Creative Nottingham, after they asked me to be a guest contributor. I think the themes I explored are still relevant, even if a couple of years old, and as CN has now “retired”, I thought it even more important to archive the post here too. Originally written in 2012.
I’m lucky enough to teach back on my old degree course. Lucky that they consider me knowledgeable and friendly enough to be there, and lucky that I’m working alongside some motivated and committed colleagues and with some great students.
It’s odd being back, I try to convince myself that it’s not been that long, but a lot has changed. For me, the course, and graphic design itself.
But it’s also inspiring. Our new studio space is taking shape, the building has started to develop a sense of place, a sense of community, and a creative buzz. Design, particularly the broad spectrum of ‘graphic design’, is a difficult subject to teach. We have to encourage individuality and personal expression, within the boundaries of accepted tradition and technique. We have to encourage, if not insist on, the exploration of different media, thought processes, and outcomes, but again within the boundaries of understanding software, deadlines and clients.
I often do some of my best work after I’ve been teaching, nothing like trying to fire up a room full of other people to awaken one’s own motivation. It’s easy to let budgets, time, clients muddy the creative process. Paula Scher once said:
It took me a few seconds to draw it, but it took me 34 years to learn how to draw it in a few seconds
— Paula Scher
I find teaching gives me a clarity of thought, and although I wish it took a few seconds to build a site or create a brand, I think there’s something about talking to the students, still eager and full of their own fascinating ideas, that galvanises my own ideas, and reminds me what I’ve learnt.
Growth is fueled by desire and innocence. Assess the answer, not the question. Imagine learning throughout your life at the rate of an infant
— Bruce Mau [pictured above]
I can only hope that my passion for design (I say passion, my students may say sounding grumpy, moaning about a lack of work and a relentless barrage of typographic abuse — what can I say, I learnt from the best) captures the students’ imaginations in the same way my tutors’ did mine. I can’t always get it right, and the hardest lesson for me to learn when I started was not actually doing the work myself, instead encouraging progression and planting little seeds of thought. Sometimes just saying the opposite, playing devil’s advocate, is enough to strengthen the discussion process.
I guess there are two types of creative people, some people have it in them, maybe they don’t know it, or can’t quite engage it and some people are the visionaries, big thinkers, and the sharers of ideas. Or maybe there are two stages, the former becoming the latter. Re-read the Paula Scher quote, maybe some people need reminding how to draw it in the first place.
The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions
— Bruce Mau
For me inspiration is almost like permission to think differently. And it was being introduced to the work of Bruce Mau, and his An Incomplete Manifesto For Growth specifically, in the first year of my degree, that really opened my mind to the possibility of ‘thinking differently’.
Bruce Mau is a Canadian designer, and creative director of Bruce Mau Design. In 1998 Mau wrote his manifesto, 43 points articulating his beliefs, strategies, and motivations. The manifesto continues to outline BMD’s design process as a studio.
It must be ten years since one of my tutors called me aside and gave me a scrap of paper with Mau’s name on it. And every desk I’ve ever had since has had a copy of the manifesto pinned up next to it. More recently I’ve discovered Frank Chimero, and I see my students react to him the same way I did to Mau. Frank did a fantastic little illustrated presentation called How To Have An Idea (or How Not To Be A Dumb Ass Super-Computer). When I showed it to my students it just seemed to click with them:
What I find most interesting is that my students often need reminding of their creativity, and I see the spark in their eyes when I give them “permission” to think differently, but so do I. Every day. And you probably do too. Deadlines, budgets, clients, meetings, bosses, staff, all draw us away from doing what we’re supposed to be doing — listening, thinking, doing.
Avoid fields. Jump fences. Disciplinary boundaries and regulatory regimes are attempts to control the wilding of creative life. They are often understandable efforts to order what are manifold, complex, evolutionary processes. Our job is to jump the fences and cross the fields
— Bruce Mau
So that’s what I’m doing, via the big beardy dude, Bruce. Kick back a little, you have his permission. Be bold, be brave, be ambitious. Maybe even print out his wise words and pin them by your desk. They’ll still be with you in ten years.