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The Juices and The Flows Have Been Diminished

What Grandmaster Flash can teach us
about reviving our creativity and craftsmanship...

Renaissance: A rebirth or revival; an awakening; a fresh take

Woot... JS libraries, font embedding, CSS3, HTML5, and a heck of a lot of cool stuff is on the table. Designers are laying down some amazing designs, and the strongest stuff seems to have to do with better typography, more custom illustration work, super-elegant interactions and transitions, stronger foundations in user experience, and a return to design fundamentals.

It's awesome. There's huge potential. I'm overwhelmed...

Yep, you talk to a group of designers, and chances are good that a number of us feel we aren't exactly "waking up" with the movement. Somewhere along the way we've stagnated. We're checking out the yellow brick road, ready to dash down it, knowing we've got heart and will, but we feel stiff and rusty. What might have happened?

No worries, Grandmaster Flash, 70's hip-hop and DJing pioneer, has five flavors on this. You'll be, um, gettin yours in no time:

Hip Hop has become real constrained. The creative juices and the creative flows have been diminished.

1. CRACK THE CONDITIONING.

We just might be overly conditioned by contraints. We've had technological barriers, "uninspiring" projects, difficult clients, slim budgets, short timelines, and lots of ugly logos to work with. Repeat, repeat, repeat, and we may now realize that we've left creativity on the shelf for quite some time. While we were busy being web standards-ists, we may have gotten too good at doing things by the book and in the same way.

  • Don't confuse constraints as dead ends (not all the time at least).
  • Work with constraints and figure out how to turn them into creative challenges.
  • If you're feeling constrained on all fronts, create a non-client opportunity to get your creative juices flowing.
  • Figure out what your biggest crutches are and shelf those on occasion.
What has happened is that to some degree they have taken an attitude where they don't listen to demos of diverse subject matters. They're looking for demos like the record the guy on the left just did.

2. ENGAGE IN EXPLORATION.

We've openly admitted that we've relied too heavily on project galleries for our inspirations and that we've gotten too reliant on stock everything for our projects. It's old news, but it might still be an old habit that keeps you from doing something more engaging. Remember how it feels to sketch and draw and research and dream about cool ideas and push boundaries and understand impact and nuance and fundamentally explain good design and salivate over type faces? Fear not.

  • Always look outside of your specific discipline for new inspiration. Research, don't just stare at examples.
  • Force yourself to create something from scratch, based on what you know to be good... and not another "better" web comp. Hand-draw a set of unique letters, sketch a series of unique illustrations, design your own unique icon set. They likely won't be great if you haven't been doing it, but that's ok.
  • Experiment with the new tools, even if you can't work them into a project yet.
  • Remember how fun it is to take risks. Good things will come from it.
Normal kids in their teens want to go and date girls and do mischievous things, your hormones are jumping around, but I stayed in my bedroom in search of something.

3. REMEMBER TO FOCUS.

We may have lost focus, possibly in a big way, and likely for good reason. Reports say that our multi-tasking, update-following generation is screwed because of Facebook and Twitter and Reader and Smart Phones and DVRs. Don't believe the hype and fight for a bit of focus.

  • Intentionally carve out time for focused creativity and detailed craftsmanship.
  • Think about turning off all the technological distractions while you do it.
  • Remember that craftsmanship coincides with focus.
I had to go into a studio and compose and write and press up 12 songs in 14 hours. When you're recording a song from scratch it takes you 14 hours to do just one song.

4. SLOW YOUR ROLL.

Whether it's budgets or timelines or self-imposed busyness, we're not slowing down enough to develop our craft and perfect it. If you haven't already, it's a fine time to renew reading and researching and experimenting.

  • Where you can, take less on so that you can do more with what you already have on your plate.
  • With at least one project (even if it's on your own time or needs to be your own personal project), take as much time as you need and want to make it great.
  • Read a book, from cover to cover.
  • Challenge yourself to spend time on things you may now take for granted (or have forgotten). Revisit design fundamentals, color theory, and elements of good typography.
I had two very special people who helped to take my style to the next level. Thank God for my first MC Cowboy and my first student Grand Wizard Theodore. Disco B still rolls with me now. He was very instrumental in helping me perfect my craft.

5. DON'T FLY SOLO.

Your peers are perhaps your biggest asset.

  • Make sure you get your work in front of talented people.
  • Get your work in front of them often.
  • Be honest. Learn where your strengths and weaknesses lie.
  • Find opportunities to learn, teach, and share.

Make It Fun

Identify what areas might be holding you back, get serious, but don't get discouraged. This is a fun time to be designing on the web.

References: Grandmaster Flash at Wikipedia, Grandmaster Flash quotes at BrainyQuote, and Whomp at Veer Type.


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