Exercise All of Your Creative Muscles

Design is such a big word. It is everything, and everywhere. The visual presentation of products, people, places—you name it—cannot be escaped. It’s the font you’re reading this blog post in. It’s the outfit you chose to wear today. But too often, those of us who work in design get locked into the restrictive tunnel vision of specialization. We lose sight of the bigger picture: Design is a holistic, multidisciplinary domain, and generalization, not specialization, is the key to long-term creative success.

Each member of Nest’s Design Team is required to be a generalist from time to time, able to coalesce around big, all-hands-on-deck projects and fill in creative gaps where needed. But most of the time, we do have our respective silos within which we work. Mine has been managing our extensive database of ready-made marketing templates for our agents’ use. Our brand templating platform houses more than 200 templates sorted into categories by type and purpose: postcards, flyers for open houses, agent promotion, etc. Now, instead of relying on the Design Team for every creative asset, agents in need of a quick turnaround can simply insert updated copy and photos into existing pre-made templates and download their own designs at the click of a button! Those of our agents who make use of Nest Design Center are no doubt impressed with the efficiency.

As overseer of the template database, it’s my responsibility to ensure all templates are working properly, that new templates are added on a regular basis, and that our agents utilize the resource often and with ease. An important task—but one that can easily induce the tunnel-vision I mentioned. Creativity and design can begin to lose their meaning and importance if I become too solely focused on the mechanics of the digital database, the ones and zeros. It’s always important to remember what’s being created, why, and how. To look at each template—each design—as unique and beautiful. To reach outside my specialty on a regular basis and exercise my creative muscles.

Something I’ve done recently—and something I encourage all “designers” and “creatives” to do—is to force myself outside of my comfort zone and into an area within design where I don’t usually work. As someone who spends most of their time around print and digital marketing material, video has become my favorite method of extracurricular creative exercise.

For the past six months or so, my free time has been devoted almost exclusively to producing a 20-minute short film and everything that entails: writing a screenplay, recruiting actors, location scouting, shooting, editing. If there’s one area of design that forces you to be a generalist, it’s filmmaking. If you’re attempting a filmmaking project on your own or with a small team (as I have been), you need to know how to write a compelling story, convince actors and crew members to believe in that story (and your ability to execute it), plan technical camera matters down to shot composition and lens choice, pull off some high-level internet sleuthing to find locations and actors, and borrow (and sometimes, painfully, purchase) equipment so expensive you’re afraid to touch it. You must also be prepared for the inevitable disasters that accompany such large undertakings, such as your lead actor deciding to drop out of the project the morning of your first day of filming with no warning, and a key piece of equipment breaking without explanation. Both of which happened to me. In my case, given the setting and time period of my film, production even entailed no small amount of physical labor: hiking a solid half mile into the woods lugging camera, tripod, boom-pole, mics, and costumes over multiple hot Virginia summer days.

But in the end, all the hard work was worth it. As difficult as the process was, the experience I gained was invaluable. I exercised creative muscles that otherwise would’ve remained dormant, and now find myself reinvigorated and inspired to handle every creative task thrown my way. For designers looking to improve their skills or remain inspired, consider undertaking a creative project in a domain different from that in which you usually work. If you’re in UX/UI, write poetry. If you’re a painter, try woodcarving. If you’re in layout design, think about game design. Filmmaking was my choice. But whatever you land on, all design is interconnected, and all creative experiences benefit each other.

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