Last week, Matt and I headed to Brighton for the ‘Reasons to be Creative’ festival: uniting developers, artists, illustrators and designers alike, with plenty of industry talent to stimulate our creative juices. This included the likes of Dominic Wilcox, Noma Bar, Jane ni Dhulchaointigh, and even Matt who spoke at the Elevator Pitch sessions.

Three days at ‘Reasons’ aimed to inspire, motivate and ignite our creative appetite. The festival offered a number of talks from creative people across a diverse range of sectors in the design world, including games programmers, data visualisers, graphic designers, illustrators and many more. I’m going to briefly describe the main takeaways that Matt and I gained from the festival.  

"Start Small, and Make It Good"

Across a number of ‘Reasons’ talks, one piece of advice stood out: simplify your products to do one thing well, and build from there. Jane ni Dhulchaointigh catchily summed this up, above. This idea follows the principles of the Lean movement. You release the basic product to market as early as possible, learn from users, and develop the product from there. As an agency, we can get flooded with ideas for product features, especially with some of our internal hack projects: every department has an idea of a feature that would best benefit them. Often, designing features in this way can lead to a confused product, with no clear use. With a long, drawn out production process, it may never reach the market; weighed down with number of people wanting their say on the product. 

For me, "starting small" means keeping the product concise, simple and focused on the user’s primary goal(s). The best example of this was Jane ni Dhulchaointigh talking about her product Sugru: mouldable glue, which turns into rubber. With companies jostling to change the product, they decided to take a step backwards from trying to attract the mass market. Instead, they targeted a small, select group of people (makers) and watched it grow organically from there, which it did successfully.

Think on Paper

Another common, but key idea was the importance of sketching on paper, especially in the early stages of a project. The ability to brain dump a number of ideas on paper quickly helps to iterate and test ideas faster. However, communication is the most important element to this: visually and verbally guiding all team members, so they can buy into your idea. 

This is certainly something that I personally can take away from the festival. I often want to jump straight into my preferred design software, without testing out the design or concept vigorously enough beforehand. The best way to test these ideas is through rough sketches, as they are quick to produce and easy to throw away. Producing low fidelity prototypes and performing small and quick user tests are definitely two aspects of our design process that we can fine tune here at Cyber-Duck.

"Stories = Reality + Emotion” - Carla Diana

One way to create memorable products is to make an emotional connection between the product and the user. The right place to start is to think about how you want the product to make the user feel; from here, you can think about the context in which the user will use the product. Together, these create a story. Stories are important, as they can help the user understand how the product can fit into their routine and can make the product more desirable for them to use habitually.

Experiment & Make Time to Play with ideas

I particularly loved the idea of making time to play. This means taking time every couple of weeks or so to learn something new, test out a new piece of software, or work on a personal project. This allows you to develop skills or experiment with new technology, which can be brought back into your day-to-day job and even used on a client project. 

As designers, we need to plan time into our work week to express ourselves creatively, gaining inspiration by exploring what we love most. This may mean that someone takes one afternoon a month to spend time tinkering with a Beacon on a personal project. Regardless of what they do – whether they’re developing their professional skills or pursuing something they truly are interested in – making time for creative play is a great way to help improve the team’s morale and motivation.

The Elevator Pitch

Matt’s talk was part of the Elevator Pitch session, where 16 creative professionals took to the main stage. Each had just 3 minutes to pitch their ideas in a bid to win a full speaking slot at the festival next year. It was a fast paced and very enjoyable session that included talks on hacking projects, project management, personal design stores and many more. Matt’s pitch was focused on redesigning how we work with clients, sharing personal horror stories before coming full circle: revealing how often it’s a monster of our own making, and what we can do to avoid the stories. Read his blog to find out more about his experiences.

How Was the Experience?

This was actually my first proper conference experience, after attending several meet ups. I was slightly apprehensive, as I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Despite this, ‘Reasons’ felt very welcoming, so I quickly got into the swing of things. By the end, I felt inspired and motivated enough to learn something new and start a few new side projects myself. The best practical advice that I’m already applying to my work is to sketch more and think on paper, before reaching for my laptop. This has helped me experiment more with designs and explore the best way to solve a problem, rather than the quickest way.