Creativity: on manifestations, why we create and what conditions are most conducive for sparking ideas


Digital by Design explored this question in the first of a series of sessions for Visible by Design. With participants with us in the Victoria & Albert Museum's Sackler Centre as well as people joining us virtually from as far away as Nairobi, we had a range of professions/disciplines covered – from medical science to structural engineering (oh, and design thrown in the mix too!).

There was a lot of discussion about observation, stimulation and capturing inspiration in order to facilitate and develop ideas but, I found the following 3 lines of enquiry particularly interesting:

  1. How does your creativity manifest itself?
  2. Why do you create?
  3. What is necessary for creativity to take place? What conditions are conducive for sparking it?


How does your creativity manifest itself?

This is not the realm of creative professionals – all of us possess creativity and exercise it in many different scenarios. Whether in the medical world as participant Barbara shared, or simply by not worrying about being outside "the norm". Rasoah from Nairobi discussed finding inspiration from observing children making toy cars from discarded beverage cartons and bottle tops. An unselfconscious manifestation of creativity at a young age. 

Participant Zosia made a great statement: "The term 'creativity' is sometimes treated like an untouchable gift that only a special few have but, everyone is creative." She brought up a great example of a creative act that we perhaps don't often think about as such: "drawing out people's creativity is also being creative." 


Why do you create?

There was a lot of talk about problem-solving and creative responses being triggered by the need to change something or to make something more useful. I find it really encouraging to think of design in this way – as a constructive reaction to less than ideal circumstances. In this vein, failure can be seen as a positive situation because it may spark more creative thinking. Restrictions can become guides rather than barriers as they require you to exercise more ingenuity. My fellow facilitator, Tapiwa Matsinde of African Daydreams even suggested conflict as an opportunity for creativity – from clashing viewpoints, forging a new and more agreeable way forward.


What is necessary for creativity to take place? What conditions are conducive for sparking it?

We had all manner of suggestions. From BBC Radio 4 and music to naps and glasses of red wine! Ultimately, everyone described pleasant, relaxed environments and a general feeling of wellbeing as being ideal. So, ironically, quite the opposite to the traditional workspace where high productivity (and inherently, creativity) is expected from us.

Artist/Coach (and graphic designer in a previous life), Emily Wilkinson of Mindful Maps has a really interesting post explaining her findings from interviewing 50 professional women about creativity in the workplace. Her conclusions were very much in line with our discussion today. In short, the following things enable us to be creative: creative community; space & time; wellness; playfulness and an openness to learning and experimentation. (Long version here)


Top takeaway

If I had to sum up the session and come to some sort of consensus, it would be that creativity is about curiosity and openness, rather than being focused on making and on tangible things. Creativity is something that all of us can indulge in and enjoy. It is, as the title of Ben Okri's book of essays suggests, a way of being free

You can follow the entire discussion by checking out the chat room and you can still add to it to by joining in here

Tomorrow's session will explore the role of research and investigate where you go from the initial spark. The session will take place entirely online so join us at, at 11am GMT.


By the way …

I attended some great Visible by Design Salon talks today, one featuring fashion designer Sarah Elenany (the inspiration behind her line is super compelling – check it out) and Pentagram UK's first female partner, Marina Willer. I'll be the featured designer in The Design Salon this Friday at 1pm. Come along!


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