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Welcome to the DT&G Design and Creative Department

Powerhouse Design Skills:
Creative Thinking

In the Design & Publishing Center we will build a complete course in creative thinking and design for publishing. This is the beginning.
. . . What we will do is take a deliberate, step-by-step series of analytical concepts and apply them to techniques that will arm you with the tools you need to get quick, fresh ideas for publishing.

The Path to Success:
1. Refresh our understanding of the principles of design
2. Investigate subjective concept tools
3. Establish an analytical approach to creativity
4. Forging the concept
5. Self Critique

These are the steps we'll take over the months to come. Each is important, and none can exist successfully without the other.
... These steps also happen to apply to any publication, no matter how produced or how delivered... from newsletters to bus posters to trade show displays to post cards. If it's visual, you can use these techniques to make it look fresh and inviting to the reader. You'll also build a cohesive message and a dynamic story line. Even though the players may change, the game remains the same.
... It needs to be said (even if you already know) that the advent of computers and desktop publishing has taken away one of the most valuable tools we once used to visualize and concept materials for publications. No one uses a pencil any more; and that's the biggest mistake to be made. Conceptualization needs to go quickly, and with as few barriers as possible. The medium needs to become the least important element in the process of thinking. The computer is a barrier. We're wrapped up in the intricacies of the interface, the input device and the software and this stands in the way of lucid thought. I have never met anyone who could manipulate fundamental concepts and ideas on a computer. Keep pencil and paper handy at all times.

Step #1
Do yourself a favor: go to the art or stationery store and buy yourself a handful of #6 Venus drawing pencils. Sharpen them, but not real sharp. You'll notice they don't have erasers. You won't need an eraser. As we move along, if you make a mistake, or go in a direction that you don't like -- trash it and keep moving to the next. As soon as you stop to make a correction, you're dead in the water. The concept has become precious to you and you can't move.

Step #2
Thumbnails. Repeat after me: Thumbnails. At the onset of any project, think about how it will look by quickly scribbling out shapes into a very small space. It's always easier and faster to draw simple shapes into a 3 x 4 inch space than it is into a full page. Do not worry about elegant rendering. We're concerned about how big, how dark and where on the page visual objects will appear. Not text. Not borders. Not illustrations. These things all stand in the way of dynamics.
... This month's disk edition will include a series of thumbnail templates that you can print and use to help organize this process, making it easier to use and understand.
Getting Started: Looking and seeing...
... What's most important in creative thinking is not so much originating the ideas, but in developing the ability to recognize powerful ideas when they happen. This is not so much a technique as it is a frame of mind. We have to force our minds to interpret the visual information, letting it move freely and quickly through our consciousness as a flowing thread. Once we stop on a visual idea the thread stops, and we're stuck. The trick is to let the process flow then go back and evaluate.
... The second most important skill is actually recognizing opportunity in the elements you're given to work with. All projects begin with logical "givens" that must be used or included. These elements represent opportunities. As we discover these opportunities - and verbalize them - it becomes a very easy matter to apply the basic principles of creative design -- and act on those opportunities.
... By now you're probably saying that Fred's lost his mind, and we're bogged down in all this mental hocus-pocus and ... "WHAT'S THE POINT?"
... Trust me, and stick with me. It will all dawn on you later as the creative process unfolds.
Now, until next time...

Here's your assignment.

I want you to save all your mail. All of it. Now, pull out what must be acted upon immediately, like bills and the like.

Put all the rest in a pile.

At the end of the month, methodically go through the pile QUICKLY and separate it into two stacks. DO NOT READ THE COPY... this is a VISUAL exercise.

  • Stack ONE will contain all the things that caught your attention, and that you felt compelled to look at more carefully.

  • Stack TWO will contain all the things that you did NOT like, or that did not interest you and would have gone into the trash can.

What are your findings?
Now, ask yourself why.

What caught your attention -- and why? Still without actually reading copy, ask what drew you into the piece -- and why. You can discount all those things that have obvious reasons. What I want you to do is begin to actually "SEE" what you're looking at. I want you to wonder what it is MECHANICALLY that has drawn you into the piece.
... In the same respect, ask yourself why you did NOT like, or feel compelled to look further. Not so much the subject of the piece of offending mail, but more importantly what it was about the piece that gave you the signals -- what the signals are, and why you reacted to them in the way that you did.
... Jot these reasons down. This helps you burn-in the reasons people read or don't read information.
... Now take one or two (or more) pieces that really grabbed your attention and tack them to the wall, and stand back six feet or so. Now ask yourself:

Why do I like it?

What specific visual tricks did they employ to get me to look?
What is it about the visual that got my attention?
Now, take your #6 Venus pencil and draw a small quick thumbnail of the piece, diagraming it in terms only of light and dark, and the positioning on the page. Could you do it accurately? Try again. Now move to the next.
... Now, by drawing thumbnails, see if you can reorganize the visual devices (quickly and roughly) into a different layout that might have been as good. Do you like it? Try again.

Now, do the above for the ones you didn't like.

What I think you'll discover from this exercise (if you follow it to the end) is that you've learned what it was that grabbed your attention, and now have the feeling for applying it to the pieces that offended you.

You're now actually seeing, rather than looking.

For me this has become a way of life. I automatically, and quickly, go through the process in my mind. I can instantly see dynamic work, or the lack of... I'm acutely aware of opportunities taken -- and opportunities lost.
Try it. A whole new world will unfold for you.

Some other fun things to try...

Apply the same basic series of steps at the grocery store. Stand back from the magazine rack, (or, say the cereal rack) and be aware of which covers are sending you the most dynamic message. Don't read the copy -- get far enough back so you can't really make out details or what the copy is actually saying. Which ones come out and grab you? Why? Was it the type? Was it the background color or texture? Was it the primary image? You're discovering visual dynamics.
... Try the same series of techniques with your favorite magazine - only in this exercise go very quickly through the pages. Establish a rhythm of page turning. When you're aware of a pause, tare that page out, and keep going. (I read magazines with a razor blade!) Now stand back and look at the ads and other pages you tore out. Start asking questions.
In closing, do this:
... Pick your favorite design, illustration, brochure or magazine ad that you've recently run across. Ask yourself: if you handed the artist a #6 and a sheet of paper, do you think he could impress you as much NOW as he did before?
... Have fun discovering that wonderful tool you have but seldom use - the connection between your eyes and your brain. And until next time, keep this firmly entrenched in your mind:
The human brain is still the most powerful computer of them all.

Happy thumbnailing...

Next. . . "Visual Proof Reading"

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