The Importance of the Creative Process

As a graphic designer, I’m interested in getting creative on a daily basis. I graduated in 2012 with a BFA in graphic design from Arkansas State University. In my early design classes, I learned about THE Creative Process. I don’t say “THE” to imply that there is only one creative process in the world, but to place emphasis on the importance of these practices. Just like I wake up, brush my teeth, fix my hair (fewer days than most, I will admit), eat breakfast, and go through the process of getting ready in the morning, I go through a process during my times of creativity. Before we jump into this process, I want to explain the significance of having one.

Much of my job is visual problem solving. I think when some people hear “I’m a graphic designer” they think “Oh…She makes pretty stuff.” While this is true, that’s only scratching the surface. Yes, I’m making things aesthetically pleasing to the eye (a*), but I’m problem solving along the way. I’m arranging these four key points on a flyer, including this logo, incorporating this image, using this specific style, staying within this color palette, making sure everything is legible, considering the visual hierarchy (b*) , AND doing ALL of that while making sure it looks “pretty.” Just like everyone else, I have good days and bad days. There are days that I am working on a project, and I think to myself “why isn’t my brain working?” The visual problem-solving area of my brain is literally ramming into a brick wall over and over again. What do I do when the creative juices are simply not flowing? Enter: Creative Process.

My creative process consists of five steps:

(1) Research aka Look, Look, Look

In college, my professors told me to look at good design ALL. THE. TIME. I wish I had listened to them more! Part of my problem was not trusting my ability to discern the difference between good and bad design. There are SO many great designers, illustrators, letterers, artists, etc. in the world! A few of my favorite design sites are,,, and I can get on Dribbble and go down the rabbit hole for hours. It is so easy to find a piece I love, look at that artist’s personal website, see a link to another amazing designer’s website, and so on and so forth.

(2) Mind Map

Mind Maps look like the image below. I seem to remember doing these in elementary or intermediate school for some reason, but I can’t remember why. I feel they’re pretty self-explanatory. You list a word, and then write words that are connected to it. If I find myself getting too far away from the original topic, I try to reign it back in. There will be a time to get crazy, but not quite yet. I typically highlight words that stick out to me. If they’re striking a chord that seems like it could go somewhere in the future, I want to remember it.

(3) Word List

The next stage is listing words out. This is a time to list everything you can about the original word, topic, or idea. Feel free to go down the rabbit hole as far as you like. You don’t have to reign yourself back in on this part. As V.I.C. so profoundly stated: “get silly.”

(4) Force Connections

In this stage, I make forced connections. I take words from my mind map and/or word list that have stood out to me and pair them together for a connection that is forced only by my creative process. For example: Banana Horse. If these two words stood out individually in whatever I’m brainstorming about, I might try to pair them together. Clearly Banana Horse is not an everyday thought; but when I pair the two together, I get visuals that could work with my hypothetical project.

(5) Sketching

Sketch. Sketch. Sketch. As much as my professors said, “look at stuff”, they probably said “sketch” twice as often! I am always tempted to use my computer as a crutch. I want to get started digitally and lock myself into the few ideas that have popped in my mind. Sketching is freeing. I can be as rough/sloppy or detailed/neat as I want because these initial drawings are for me and me alone. Trust me, I am not that great of a drawer. I may have been an art major, but the studio art majors could draw circles around the graphic design majors. (Cheesy pun intended).

By the end of my process, my brain is definitely awake and working! Ideas come quicker, and I feel confident that I have invested enough time and effort into a project. I am typically more proud of my work when I’ve gone through these steps. Like I said earlier, there is not just one creative process. So, find one that works for you and get those creative juices flowing!

(a*) Professional way of describing “I make stuff pretty”
(b*) Visual hierarchy is the order in which the human eye perceives what it sees. This order is created by the visual contrast between forms in a field of perception. Objects with highest contrast to their surroundings are recognized first by the human mind. The term visual hierarchy is used most frequently in the discourse of the visual arts fields, notably so within the field of graphic design.

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