How Stuff Works: The Creative Process

Posted: September 28, 2018 by Kiku Gross

Behind the Curtain

Everyone seems to be on the fence about hotdogs. If you love them, you still don’t wanna think too hard about how they’re made. And if you hate them, it’s because you can’t not think about how they’re made. Or maybe it’s a texture thing—whatever.

Anyway, there are some things we love that we’d rather remain mysterious, and other things that just get more marvelous the more you learn about them, like space or Andre the Giant.

When it comes to art and advertising, a glimpse into the creative process can be fascinating. For example, Stanley Kubrick is known for being such a perfectionist that a scene in the Shining holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for most takes—it was shot 148 times. And Hunter S. Thompson had an iconic writing regimen that included a full day of cigarettes and speed abbreviated only by a colossal lunch (two hamburgers, two orders of fries, a plate of tomatoes, a taco salad, a double order of onion rings, carrot cake, ice cream, a bean fritter…and that’s not even all of it).

Every artist has their quirks. I’m gonna go ahead and tell you up front that ours aren’t that wild. But here’s a peek at how the hot dogs are made:

Jessie Irwin, Creative Director: Quick prototyping to get all of the ideas (bad and good) out. I try to eliminate faster and get to good ideas faster. A lot of the creative process is waiting for the “good idea” to come. You don’t know when it’s going to happen…then all of a sudden you crack the code. There’s just a moment when it happens — you’ve got the perfect idea that checks all the boxes.

Kevin Dakin, Graphic Designer: Look up a lot of inspo. Then I just start making things until I have something that feels right—usually after a ton of failed ideas that should never see the light of day.

Elvis Camarena, Graphic Designer: What gets me in the mood is:

  1. Music
  2. Music
  3. Music

I work best by staying away from the computer when starting a design project. I mean, I like to doodle and sketch even if it has nothing to do with what I’m working on. It just gets the mind going in the right direction.

Josh Harding, Animator/ Editor: I’ve got a ritual. I have this knit cozy that I put all of my stuff on – my keys, my phone, all of that. Every morning, everything has to go on that. And then I turn on music. Music is super important to me in all of my projects – in editing I look at the rhythm and the cues in a piece of music and let that be the map for how I cut the footage. Or if I’m animating something and don’t need to listen to any particular track, I sometimes find myself listening to the same song for hours on end, just because it keeps me in the right headspace for the task.   

Montanna Tilton, Web Developer/Designer: Well, I start with research. I google a bunch of things related to my project followed by “design inspiration” to look for examples. I watch movies/short films, listen to podcasts and TED talks, read relevant articles, and look at art/collect examples that convey the style/mood I’m going for.  This is also a convenient excuse to look at cool things. Then I get Snacks. And then after that, I get more snacks. The brain needs glucose to function (at least, this is what I tell myself to justify eating three consecutive bags of microwave popcorn in one night.)

Then, I sketch. I make a full sheet of really basic, ugly, quick thumbnails to get a general idea of what works and what doesn’t in terms of layout and composition. I’ve learned from experience not to show these to anyone else if I can avoid it, because they’re such a raw form that it’s hard for clients/well-meaning family members to envision how this ugly scribble is going to turn into a good logo/website/what have you. I then pick the best few thumbnails and do larger, better sketches of them so I can use these to get feedback from clients/helpful friends and family. (Shoutout to my roommate for always being there with art advice!)

Then? I do the thing.

I take a picture of the thing with my phone and send it to my art friends. Usually, in the process of doing this, I notice a million things that are wrong with it and immediately send a follow-up message like “WAIT hold on I have to fix some things.” Something about looking at a piece from a different angle, or on a different screen, really helps me see it with fresh eyes.

Sometimes I go back to revise it right away. Other times, I sleep on it first.

Then, tweak it until I start making it worse. Stop and go for a walk. Come back and tweak some more.

Finally, declare the thing done. Celebrate with snacks.

Angela Corbett, Senior Copywriter: I read. I write. I scroll through the ‘gram. I listen to music. I watch videos. I collaborate with Jessie. We avoid the project by cracking jokes. This somehow leads to a concept. I don’t really know how it works. But it does. It’s a miracle, really.

Craig Cook, Senior Copywriter: So every job is different, and my creative process changes dramatically depending on what I’m working on. If I’m doing something fairly routine for a client I’m familiar with, I just look at what the job jacket is asking for, compare it to what I’ve already been doing, and work towards those changes.

Assuming I’m doing a new, fairly complex job for an existing client, the first thing I do is try to figure out what the final product looks like. If it’s a TV spot, I’ll want to get as much information on what the client wants people to think when they see it… what’s the takeaway? Is it a branding spot? If so, what are the one or two main points they want conveyed. Trying to be too much to too many people is a good way to produce something that’s nothing to no one. Ideally, there will be just one or maybe two or three things that we can really drive home in the spot.

Once I’ve established those takeaways, I’ll look at the target. Who am I talking to? Fairly often, the target demo is pretty broad, but occasionally, the client will be more specific. Like pet owners or kids getting ready to go to college. If the target demo is pretty specific, I might do a bit of research on the group to make sure I know who I’m talking to. I also might watch some commercials that appeal to that demo and try to figure out if there’s anything clever or unusual that could be “borrowed” and modified for use on the project I’m working on.

When it comes time to start moving forward with getting something on paper, I usually try to get the key information for the project into my subconscious and then think of ideas. Sometimes that means writing a single word down. Other times, and more commonly, it’s jotting down phrases or sentences that contain the idea or a key line that I’ll want to build around. There have been times when I built entire spots around a single funny line that I wanted to use – the challenge then becomes piecing together enough of a spot that the payoff line delivers. Sometimes I’ll morph three or four ideas together in the editing process. I’m constantly in the mode of trying to get ideas that make sense together into some format that will support the main idea I want to leave viewers with. It’s a constant tug of war, but having a fun idea that doesn’t advance the takeaway won’t result in an effective spot, but having an idea that delivers information without being memorable won’t result in an effective spot either.

And at the end of the day, the client is just as likely to revise the core idea out of the spot anyway, so

Kiku Gross, Baby Copywriter: Well, I’m a DIY-punker through-and-through, so I fully believe in the process that I used to use when I was a scrappy 17-year-old writing two-minute songs about hating my hometown. Basically, I caffeinate like coffee is going out of style. Then, I put on some rad tunes (big fan of the Misfits and the Descendents, but I also jam to stuff like My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy. Sometimes some Ska Punk if I’m feeling saucy… The Aquabats are cool, leave me alone), and then I just spit out every single thought that crosses my brain. And I make sure to handwrite it, because… uh… something, something, art should be done by hand, something, something, blah, blah, blah. (Seriously though, it helps.) When I get it edited down to the two or three good ideas I managed to push out, I then send it in for revisions. And after I receive revisions, rinse and repeat.

… I’m being told by my seniors that this is not a sustainable process. Sorry, mom.


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