Anyone in Sioux Falls can design webpages; you don’t even necessarily need to go to school to learn how. There are two basic skills you need to be a Sioux Falls web designer: the ability to ‘speak’ in a few different languages (code), and the ability to design. Coding is a relatively simple skill — the ‘languages’ are easier than any human language on Earth (even Esperanto!), and you don’t have to practice live. You can always go back and edit until you get it right. The real difficult is in learning how to be a designer.
Creativity and Practicality
When I grew up, everyone around me always referred to a certain kind of person as ‘creative.’ These are the people who would paint, write stories, make Play-Doh into robotic warsuits for their G.I. Joes, and so on. Me? I made my Play-Doh into snakes. Sometimes, on a great day, I’d make those snakes into spirals.
Don’t get me wrong — I drew, I just didn’t draw stuff that wasn’t in front of me. But boy Howdy, could I make perfect replicas of Goku and Pikachu and Shinobi. I wrote, but I didn’t write stories except stories about things that actually happened. Those stories were good, and I got several compliments on my attention to detail and sense of drama, but they weren’t “creative” — they were just good re-tellings of real events.
If there was a single lesson that I wish I could go back and tell my 12-year-old self, it’s this: those other kids weren’t just making up things out of whole cloth, either — it was just less obvious where they were drawing inspiration from.
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.” – Steve Jobs
My form of creativity is the practical kind: the kind that can connect this thing with that thing and unite them to form something useful and good. That kind of creativity isn’t a God-given talent the way that many people believe that ‘from scratch’ creativity is. (I’m not sure that either kind is, but I’ll stick with what I know for now.) Practical creativity is a skill, and like any skill, it can be improved with practice.
It’s also the first and foremost skill of a designer. It doesn’t matter if you’re a web designer, or you’re on Project Runway, or you’re a Madison Avenue advertiser — if your job is creating something that is both valuable and useful, practical creativity is your stock in trade.
How to Develop Practical Creativity
The skill of practical creativity can be restated as a short series of abilities. They are:
- The ability to choose to have a wide experience base.
- The ability to ask questions about something (i.e. not take that thing at face value),
- The ability to take on the perspective of a different person or group of people,
- The ability to fail until you succeed.
In short, practical creativity is the skill of asking questions that no one else has asked, and answering them in a way no one else has answered even though the answer already totally exists in real life. Creativity is the skill of drawing on entirely different areas of endeavor (which means you have to have experience in entirely different areas of endeavor) to find perspectives on a thing that aren’t obvious to the people who regularly work with that thing.
How do you develop this skill?
- Engage in as wide a variety of activities as possible. If you can’t physically get out and do a variety of things, read. Reading — books far more than websites, for reasons science is still arguing about — provokes the imagination powerfully enough that it is almost as good in terms of perspective-building as actually living through the experiences.
- Carry a notebook with you, and rather than engaging in a game on your phone (when you’re not reading), look around and write down either questions or observations about the people, things, and processes around you.
- Practice the art of brainstorming often — any time you have to make a decision, even if it just ‘what’s for dinner,’ write down at least a dozen answers before you make your selection. Yes, most of them will suck, but that’s actually exactly the point: ‘reaching’ for obscure answers not only helps you connect disparate parts of your brain, but it gets you used to the idea that you have to fail in order to succeed.
- Finally, fail a lot. Creative processes — practical or otherwise — are evolutionary. As in, the vast majority of your ideas will die before they (re)produce. The best ideas will go on to grow and develop, and many of them will still die before they truly blossom. The remaining ideas are the ones that are genuinely worth pursuing.
When I sit down to design a webpage, it’s never to look at a blank page and wonder what I should do first. (Not anymore, at least. I’ve learned better.) I don’t sit down until I have several ideas that I have culled from a list of at least a couple dozen, and as I create, I constantly compare how the idea I’m pursuing stands up to what the others could look like. If one of the other ideas is clearly the better one, I switch (time and budget permitting).
There’s no shame in having ideas that don’t work — even thousands of ideas that don’t work. The only shame is in forcing an idea that doesn’t work into production.
That’s it for this one — next time, we’ll get into some of the more concrete aspects of how anyone in town could, with a bit of application and practice, become the next great Sioux Falls web designer. Join me!