December 14 2023 – Niels Floor |
What do all designers need to do their best work? Creativity! Designers use creativity to envision and create things that we love to see and use.
We expect designers to come up with original ideas, innovative solutions, and beautiful designs that get the job done. Whether it is the design of a poster, a game, a website, or a piece of furniture, they are all the result of a creative process.
You can’t be successful as a designer without well-developed creative skills. Yet, when you look at people who are transitioning into learning experience design (LXD), few are creative professionals.
What is creativity?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, creativity is “the ability to produce original and unusual ideas, or to make something new or imaginative.” When you apply creativity effectively, you create something that is different and has value. For example, a musician writes a new song that people enjoy listening to. If the song sounds the same as other songs, it isn’t considered to be as creative. A less creative song can still be enjoyed by many but the value decreases in terms of musical relevance. It’s the original songs that make music history and stand the test of time.
Making music and designing a learning experience are not the same. However, the creative process is similar. Both musicians and LX designers start with a vision for what they want to achieve, generate ideas, develop their ideas into something you can experience by adding detail and structure, improve their creations until they are satisfied, and finally launch their work for their audience to enjoy.
Talent vs skill
Creativity is generally regarded to be a talent. From early on, I was considered to be the creative type because I enjoyed drawing. While a bit of talent definitely helps, you won’t get far just on talent. There’s a big difference between being called creative and being a creative professional. This takes time and effort. It took years of design education to bring my creative abilities to a professional level.
I see many who enter the field of learning experience design struggle with being creative. That’s perfectly understandable if you don’t have a creative background. Fortunately, creativity isn’t (just) a talent, it’s a skill that you can and should develop.
The role of creativity in learning experience design
I’ve used the analogy of creating music to illustrate how creativity has universal principles that can be applied in different ways. You can imagine how going through a standard learning experience is like listening to a mediocre song that you’ve heard too many times. You’re glad when it’s over. A great learning experience, like a great song, can stick with you for the rest of your life. If you want to raise the level of the learning experiences you design, creativity is the path to get you there.
In my years of working as a designer, trainer, and teacher, I’ve experienced the power of creativity firsthand. Creativity plays a vital part in each step of the design process and unlocks LXD superpowers.
Creativity enables you to:
- Come up with original ideas that work.
- Find patterns, opportunities, and solutions that others overlook.
- Find the right form or shape for your design.
- Be resourceful when dealing with resources and constraints.
- Create new options to choose from instead of choosing an existing option.
- Design unique learning experiences that have never been done before.
- Have (more) fun!
The bottom line is: If you want to work in LXD, and if you want LXD to work, you need to get creative. So, let’s get started with getting (more) creative!
Five steps to boost your creativity:
I’ve come up with five steps to boost your creativity. There are other things you can do, but these steps are based on my own experience as a design student, professional designer, and trainer:
Step 1 – Take another look
Creativity starts with how you see things. The way you look at something determines what you can do with it. For example, an empty soda can be found in the streets is generally perceived as trash. You can pick it up and throw it away. Or you can pick it up and turn it into a piece of art. It’s the same can, just a different perception.
By looking at a problem from different angles leads to different views. Many of those views are easily overlooked. Creative people have a knack for exploring those unexpected angles which allows them to start exploring new directions for finding solutions. When you design a learning experience, try to consciously look at things from different angles. This enables you to start exploring new ideas, designs, and solutions.
💡 To do: Take an object in your house and find as many uses for that object as you can. For example, a book can be read, used as a monitor stand, be decorative, the start of a conversation, and so on.
Step 2 – Generate ideas
Once you’ve gained a fresh perspective it’s time to come up with ideas. Loads of ideas. Don’t worry about how good or bad your ideas are at first, just generate as many ideas as possible. You can do this by yourself, or you can brainstorm with others. In both cases, you want to focus on quantity first. Don’t criticize the ideas straight away. It’s all too easy to shoot down an idea before it might come to fruition. Instead, keep it positive and use ideas, even bad ones, as fuel for generating more and better ideas. Brainstorming is probably the best known technique to generate ideas, but there are many other options as well.
Tip: There’s a great list on Indeed.com with 18 idea generation techniques besides brainstorming.
The great thing about ideas is that you can never have enough of them. Once one idea inspires the next idea, you get into a cycle of ideation and the ideas keep coming. You can also combine multiple ideas into a one new idea. This works especially well with ideas that are totally different as it forces you to get creative in finding ways to combine them.
💡 To do: For your next social event, like dinner with friends, try to come up with a bunch of ideas to make it even more memorable. You can use brainstorming or any other technique.
Step 3 – Make your ideas tangible
Creativity isn’t just a way of thinking. It’s also about how to turn your thoughts into something that people can experience. An idea for a movie isn’t going to captivate an audience. Taking a movie from an idea to the big screen is a challenging creative process. Just like a movie, a learning experience needs to be experienced, not just described.
Having design skills like graphic design, interaction design, or game design enables you to breathe life into your ideas. What people see, hear, and feel makes all the difference and the impact of a tangible design cannot be underestimated. It can be the difference between a learning experience that is just okay and a learning experience that learners love.
💡 To do: Put your ideas for your social event into action! If you came up with a small game to get a conversation started, prototype it and see if it works.
Step 4 – Take your time
Do you ever wonder why your best ideas seem to pop up when you’re not doing much, like taking a shower? That’s no coincidence. If you are actively working on a problem, you focus your attention. When you take a break, your brain doesn’t stop working. It relaxes and opens up to new possibilities. In that moment ideas start to flow, and your brain can explore different combinations of ideas. Suddenly a solution to your problem emerges that you would have never thought of if you kept concentrating and focusing on the problem.
If you feel like you have a creative block, take the time to rest your brain. Like a painter stepping back to look at the canvas, you need time to reflect and process your thoughts.
💡 To do: Take a break when you’re stuck thinking about something you’re working on. Go for a walk, stare out of the window, or take a cup of tea and just relax. Keep a notepad nearby as ideas might start popping up.
Step 5 – Start creating!
Creativity is not a talent, it’s a skill. Just like any other skill you need to work on it to get better at it. The best way to develop your creative skills is to create stuff. There are endless opportunities to do so. At work, transform that text heavy presentation into something visually appealing. Or find a fun way to make boring meetings more enjoyable. At home, create fun decorations for a birthday party or come up with a game you can play with your friends or family.
💡 To do: Apply all five steps frequently at home, at work or wherever you may be. You’ll be surprised to see how fast your creativity will start to flow and flourish!
This is your call to action. Being creative takes a bit of courage. Don’t be afraid to fail. If your ideas don’t work out, learn from it, and try again. Enjoy the process of trying new things and seeing your creativity evolve. It’s a challenging, fun, and rewarding journey with unexpected turns, inspiring detours, and an incredible destination!
If you are serious about developing your LXD skills and creativity and learning experience design, then sign up for our four-week online learning experience design course that’s starting January 15, 2024! Find more information on Eventbrite.
You can also get a copy of the book “This is Learning Experience Design” for concrete examples, (ideation) methods, cases and tools of creative learning experience design.