Culture 30/04/2020

Designing in Lockdown: The Creative Captive

Andrew Capper

When left looking at the same 4 walls, are we like a caged tiger, at risk of treading the same ground repeatedly, from a shear lack of stimulus? Or, like prisoners, with only a small window to view the world, are we compelled to free our minds to envisage brave new worlds?

To answer this, we must step back for a moment and think about what creativity is and how it works under normal circumstances.

Creativity for me, as part of a branding agency, has always been about joining the dots: from insight, brand values, to consumer needs. In my mind an endless spider’s web of infinite connections and possibilities. True design alchemy lies in the ability to connect those in fresh and distinct ways.

I’m used to a process that develops those connections through a set of highly collaborative tools such as brainstorms, workshops and rapid-fire sketching/ideation sessions. The team has spent years honing and selling these to our clients, working seamlessly from our office-based environment.

We recently completed a pitch for a well-known personal care brand. It hit my In-box as the likelihood of self-isolation loomed. Could the Echo team deliver on the high-level of integrated creativity we always set for ourselves whilst being geographically separated and spending 23 hours a day in the same environment. I don’t mind saying it filled me with a measure of dread.

3 weeks later I look back with pride at, not only how we coped, but also how the team has gone from strength to strength.

Our creative process has 2 distinct parts: Firstly, unpacking the brief and strategic thinking, and then idea generation and crafting. I’d be lying if I said it’s been easy, but necessity is the mother of invention, and in a few short weeks, we’ve found ways that each of these parts has benefitted.

The strategic approach has become a more structured operation. We can’t wander over and chat at the coffee machine or all pile into a brainstorming room easily, we’ve had to be more precise in our task allocation and feedback. Software like Teams and Slack have helped make this possible and it has been easier to keep track of progress, as it is visually documented and digitized. I believe it has made us fundamentally more focused, more direct (who wants to spend 8hrs a day on Zoom?) and better at stripping back to the nub of an opportunity. I believe we’re well on our way to becoming essentialists – and we all know the most effective design is distilled to a core essence.

Now on to idea generation and joining those dots.

What self-isolation has offered me is the peace and time to better make those connections and really get under the skin of a creative challenge. And then, once there are designs on the table, the opportunity to reflect on them, pull them apart, and really think, ‘Do they meet the brief?’ and ‘Are they the best they can be?’

The opportunity to also flex my day around. Whilst the zero commute has the challenge of ‘always on’, it also offers the benefit for a designer like me to be able to walk away from a project for a few minutes, or maybe an hour or so, when the creative juices aren’t flowing allowing me to reset. Some of my best work over the last month has been done when normally I’d be on my way in to work. I’m also lucky to have a very compelling office – a sun-filled outside space; and as the weather has improved here in London, my studio has become a green-filled, inspirational environment in which to work.

Many of the same means of creative stimulation remain. The image searches for mood boards through to virtual gallery visits, but for me it’s the opportunity to slow down a little, make yourself unavailable (sorry guys I do sometimes hit the ‘unavailable button’) and without the hubbub of a frenetic office, mine a deeper seam of thinking.

I’ve never been one for meditation, but I feel a stillness in the air that’s leading me to some different styles than I would have developed in the office. I wonder whether we will see an evolving aesthetic in design and art created over this period?

So, whilst the jury maybe out on our pitch submission, the answer to whether lockdown has enhanced our creativity is a resounding, yes!

But the real question is what will happen as the lockdown is relaxed and things return to normal? How do I retain the best of what I’ve learnt in the recent months and alloy that with the best that face-to-face design offers? A creative challenge I look forward to tackling.