When I worked at Campaign Monitor, we used a Campfire (a chatroom system) for team discussion. The designers had a “design room” where they would share mockups and ideas. This worked really well as it allowed the rest of the team to provide them with fast feedback of their ideas, even in remote teams, and there was a full transcript we could refer to later.
One day a private room appeared in Campfire called something like “Super Elite Designer Room for Make Good Design”. I asked why it was private and a designer explained to me that it was for brainstorming ideas when they didn’t want feedback on them yet. He explained that as part of the creative process, you have to feel safe and free to talk about ideas without any restrictions.
I believe all creativity is like this. We need that part of the process to explore the moonshot ideas before we’re dragged back down to earth. We need to be able to run with the crazy, stupid and impossible ideas before someone tells us “it’s too expensive”, “it’s been done before” or “nobody will want to use it”.
So a few months ago I started working on a web application and I didn’t tell anybody what it was about. This approach was met with some curiosity and a lot of criticism. One critic said that I should definitely tell EVERYBODY what I was building, because then they would be able to give me feedback on my idea so I could make it better.
That is exactly the reason I wasn’t telling anyone about it.
See, while some things remain subjective, communities tend to form rough consensus on what they think is good, bad, crazy and stupid. If I start creating within the rules of good, bad, crazy and stupid then I’ve already built a strict set of rules around whatever it is I’m building. The shape of my idea has already been laid out for me, ready for me to fill it in with yet another colour. When someone says they’re making my idea “better”, what they really mean is they’re making it conform to the the collective notion of “good”. That’s no way to make anything interesting.
But even without feedback, this is hard mindset to break. As someone who’s lived in the same world as everyone else my whole life, I have hardwired notions of good, bad, crazy and stupid already. So how can I break free of that in my creative process?
So I decided I’m going to create the worst app I can think of. The craziest app I can think of. The stupidest app I can think of. Something nobody would ever want to use. Something everyone would laugh at. Something only a damn fool would make and nobody could even understand but me.
Then I’ll make a beautiful user interface and create a fabulous user experience, because that’s important to me.
But I’m not going to tell you what it is.