Association Connect

Staying Creative in a Time of Uncertainty

By Ashley Reid | April 10, 2020

In this time of unprecedented peril and isolation, it can be difficult to stay engaged in your work and keep those creative juices flowing. To discuss this issue, we convened a virtual roundtable with our design team—Reynaldo Alvarado, Zon Buckley, Deborah Burgess, Megan Hacker, Tara Roth, and Mike Vucic—to get an inside look at how they’re staying fresh and collaborative, despite the changes in scenery and workflow. 

Q. What methods have you utilized to stay in contact with other team members for brainstorming and sharing your work? What are your preferred platforms for team collaboration?

Deborah Burgess: We’ve been using Microsoft Teams a ton. Through it we are able to chat, call, do video conferencing, and share files so that we can keep the collaboration going while working from different locations.

Megan Hacker: Agreed. Teams is great. It’s always helpful to send PDFs and screenshots throughout the creative process to get a second (or third) set of eyes on something. 

Tara Roth: Gotta go with Teams as well. I love that we can easily share documents back and forth and it keeps everything in one place, which proactively eliminates a lot of communication breakdown that could otherwise occur. 

Zon Buckley: In addition to Teams, we recently used Zoom to have a virtual happy hour, which was so much fun. It was great to actually see my coworkers rather than an IM or voice over the phone.

Q. Have you found your creative drive is waning since the quarantine? How so?

Reynaldo Alvarado: A little bit. Having a 6-month-old baby can be pretty distracting every now and then.

MH: A feeling I know all too well, Rey. It’s not easy to feel creative when you have a 1-year-old clawing at your leg, so yes, my creative drive does take a hit from that sometimes. I find it easiest to work on more mundane design tasks (flowing and formatting text, creating PDFs and Word docs, doing text edits, etc.) during the day when she’s awake and occupied and to save projects that require creative focus for while she is napping or after she goes to bed. 

DB: I think the creative hype you get from physically being around other creatives is different now. Being in the same room with other creatives trying to problem solve is always a melting pot for good ideas, so I definitely think the energy has dwindled a bit.

MV: I disagree! Having a creative mind isn’t something I can turn off. It doesn’t matter if I’m in the office or at home. Where I pull inspiration from certainly has changed (typically out and about at stores, art galleries, concerts, etc.), but the emotional component of what is going on today is definitely fueling my creative drive.

ZB: I’m with Mike on this one. I’m approaching each project the same and finding creative process to be the same in or out of the office.

Q. For those of you who are feeling it, how are you combatting that lack of inspiration or creative drive?

DB: Like I said before, Teams is a good solution. Even though we are physically separate, we are still finding ways to collaborate. Another thing I’ve loved is that Adobe has been doing live streams with different creatives constantly throughout the day during this time. You can tune into the them working from their homes and watch them discuss their industries and various areas of expertise. Really great.

RA: I am going for walks and exercising at home. It’s good to step away every once in a while and come back with a fresh mind. Also looking at Pinterest, Behance, and Dribbble.

TR: I’ve been trying to take more breaks. Physically standing up and walking away from my computer helps, or if I have reached a roadblock with one project, I will start working on a different project. I find that when I take a break it gives me the time or space to resolve the issues I was experiencing faster than if I try to power through.

MH: When I’m experiencing a lack of inspiration or just wanting something to jump-start my creative juices for a new project, I often utilize Pinterest, Dribbble, and Behance, as Rey suggested. They are three well-established platforms that showcase every kind of designer and project you can imagine. I pull inspiration for my projects from a wide breadth of sources on those platforms so that none of my end products look too similar to something that already exists. For example, I may pull a color palette from a packaging design project, a typography style from an editorial layout, a texture from some signage, a photographic effect from some environmental design, etc. 

ZB: Ditto for me. I’m using the same methods I used before the quarantine—sites like Pinterest and Behance are go-tos for inspiration and to ignite the spark.

Q. Have you found inspiration at home in unlikely places? 

TR: I would say the kitchen. During my personal time, I really enjoy cooking and baking, so I’ve been challenging myself to try out new recipes that I haven’t had time to try before. Sometimes it’s a success, others it’s a complete failure. Either way, it’s been fun experimenting and learning new things. 

MV: It’s lawn-and-garden season. How can you not be inspired this time of year?

DB: Agreed, Mike. One of the things I’ve noticed is that my awareness of nature has increased. Simple things like flowers, trees, grass, and the smell of fresh air have all been so inspiring. We’ve thrown almost all the windows open in our apartment and are just pausing to breathe in the outside, and that has been invigorating. 

I’ve also been taking a page from Tara’s book and playing around in the kitchen and baking more. It feels like another form of art to me and allows me to create in a more hands-on, tactile way while working remotely. 

Q. What is the best piece of advice you’d like to share with fellow creatives to keep the ideas flowing?

DB: Creative community is important! Having other creatives around you to bounce ideas off of keeps you fresh and prevents you from getting stuck in a creative silo. Even though we aren’t physically with each other, the ability to ask questions, get opinions, and collaborate with each other is vital to our growth as individuals and as a team.

RA: I agree with Deb. Communicate and share your work with other team members. And look at those creative websites we mentioned before—Behance, Pintrest, and Dribbble.

MV: Get up and move around. Nothing is stopping you from taking a walk outside to get fresh air and clear your head. It’s easy to let the day get away from you when working from home. I find myself starting work earlier and ending later, but I have been forcing myself to take a walk outside to clear my mind.

MH: Totally, Mike. I can’t say I’ve ever designed anything that hasn’t benefited from me walking away from it for at least an hour or two, maybe even a day or more. I know there are always deadlines to adhere to, but if I can spare the time, it’s always worth it in the end. After staring at something and “pushing pixels” for hours on end, it’s always helpful to get a fresh set of eyes on a project, whether it be my own, a fellow designer’s, or even the objectivity of someone who isn’t a designer. I’ve experienced many design epiphanies when I sit back down to something after taking a break from it. My favorite thing to do while taking a break is to walk my dog, because it gets my mind focused on something else for a bit.

ZB: Keep the mind going. I find myself always thinking through creative problems. Whether it’s a home renovation, a fun way to rearrange a room, or even making up songs that include my cats’ names (my favorite). The point is to keep the mind moving and exercise the creative muscles in any way possible. A rolling stone gathers no moss, as they say.

 TR: Keep an open mind because even though we are stuck indoors, sometimes the tiniest of things can spark a huge idea. 

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