How experimentation fuels creative lift-off

What does it mean to experiment in design? And what role does exploration play in the creative process? I sat down with our creative team to find out.
Gemma Ballinger
Gemma Ballinger
Managing Director

Our Associate Creative Director Johanna Drewe recently discussed the importance of experimentation with Digital Arts. She highlighted the value of a culture that celebrates explorative design to create outstanding work. But do her own creative team agree? And what do they think are the benefits of encouraging and embracing experimentation in their design work?

Designing without boundaries

It’s not uncommon to overhear a ‘What if…’ question around the Output studio. Curiosity is an essential ingredient for experimentation, and applying it to client briefs or self-initiated projects helps designers look beyond potential blockages.

That’s the view of Designer Emily Dann, who believes in making time to absorb a brief before she can put her own spin on it. “Sometimes briefs can feel restrictive, especially if a quick turnaround is required, but it’s important to take some time to experiment in your design work to see what you can challenge, or do differently.”

Senior Designer Sam Turner agrees. He looks for the “wildcard opportunities” within briefs, before exploring how each one can be isolated and worked through.

It’s clear that effective experimentation takes place when you have time, an open mind and a fresh canvas to work with. Looking beyond boundaries and around potential restrictions helps you experiment in the right places.

It’s useful to store and pick things up that don’t make the cut, then be prepared to experiment with them for future projects.”
Sam Turner
Senior Designer
Archiving ideas

Designers often have a bank of ideas, thoughts and concepts to tap into when inspiration takes hold. But keeping tabs on ideas is one thing. Using them to an advantage is another.

For Designer Tom Shotton, experimentation involves looking back to look forwards – and it doesn’t always have to be original. “It can also be about collecting and storing ideas to be used later. A relevant aspect of design I’ve seen or worked on, even if it’s from a previous project, can still be applied somewhere new.”

Sam Turner agrees. He claims creative ideas can be plotted along a spectrum – from pared back to radical. “What ultimately moves forward to the next stage of design might be safer or less revolutionary, but there can be a ton of thinking that’s gone into other ideas which is relevant to another brief. It’s useful to store and pick things up that don’t make the cut, then be prepared to experiment with them for future projects.”

It’s common for ideas and concepts to overlap, even from brief to brief, so keeping them alive in an experimental archive means potential golden nuggets never go to waste.

Making time to talk helps to spark more experimental ideas
Exploring together

A clash of ideas and skills is essential for creative teams to thrive. And exploring together should be a natural process, as Senior Designer Charlotte Francis explains. “We’re all so different in our skillsets and that’s really important. We’re always looking for ways we can share more thinking to push each others’ work further.”

That view is shared by Sam Hodges, who enjoys those ‘eureka’ moments a simple conversation can provide. “I really enjoy those moments where I’ve been stuck on a problem all day, I spend 20 minutes with someone, we have a conversation about it and before I know it it’s solved,” says the Senior Designer.

Ideas can come from anywhere, and anyone. And they can spread like wildfire. Making time for conversation, and creating opportunities to share ideas, can be an undervalued and underused form of experimentation.

To push things further, the way we get to answers might need to be different from the way we approached a similar problem the week before.”
Bahar Shahidi
Creative Strategist
New ways of working

In one sense, design is about nudging behaviours. But for that to happen, and for work to be effective, the way we design might need to change.

Experimenting with how we work, and not just what we create, plays a key role in creating work with lasting impact. That could mean working in a different way to uncover new ground and unlock potential answers. For Creative Strategist Bahar Shahidi, how she finds answers can be as interesting as the answers themselves.

“We need to be experimental with how we do things. To push things further, the way we get to answers might need to be different from the way we approached a similar problem the week before. That could mean running a workshop in a new way or thinking deeper about the way you brief in a piece of design,” she claims.

It’s clear that our work would be less effective, and our lives would be more dull, if we weren’t encouraged to experiment creatively. While it can be difficult to find the time, it’s important to make exploration part of your working process. By looking for opportunities to push beyond boundaries, storing experimental ideas and allowing our own processes to flex, we can uncover the most rewarding and exciting creative outputs.

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