Inspiring Creative Juice
September 19, 2011
Method creative director Sally Clarke suggests five ways to keep design ideas flowing.
By Sally Clarke, creative director, packaging and products, Method products
For a designer, being and staying inspired is as much a part of the job as being a typography whiz or Pantone geek. Everyday, I question if I will be able to find the solution to a brief. And I always believe my latest idea is my last-as if I have a finite amount of designs in my head. And while, at Method, we have built a company culture around encouraging creativity, our in-house design team is never complacent about letting the well of ideas run dry. Here are five ways I keep the creative juices flowing:
1. Get Down to Business
Stay involved in what the rest of the company is doing
Purchasing, engineering or other “non-creative” disciplines don’t seem like the most natural starting points, but at Method, designers do not work in an ivory tower separated from the needs and wants of the business. We sit as members of cross-functional business pods (e.g., hand, laundry, cleaning) and participate in the process of developing products and marketing from start to finish. Being involved at this level allows us to more fully understand the creative opportunities and implications and to work as creative thinkers rather than executers. We can advocate for an idea and propose where to push the limits of a concept, and we carry the responsibility of bringing the team along with that thinking. Recently, while redesigning our spray cleaning line, I pushed hard for a three label execution that would allow for increased brand storytelling and would leave the back panel free of copy for simplicity at shelf. The implication was that we would have to invest in expensive new labeling machinery. By being able to walk everyone through the opportunities, and by partnering with our packaging engineers to identify other products that could use the labeler, we agreed to make the investment. The end result exceeded our expectations: The products look amazing and have increased sales, and the new swanky label machine is working across multiple products.
Our designers also talk directly to our retail buyers. We have worked hard to forge great partnerships with our biggest retail partners, and they often have invaluable experience that designers can tap into to produce better merchandising solutions. Having a voice in the process and seeing the difference I make keeps me inspired.
2. Meet the Fockers
Know what your customers are thinking
At Method, we take a different approach to listening to the people who buy our products. It’s not about putting a set of designs in front of the consumers, sitting behind the glass and asking them to pick which one they like best. We do insight work at the front end of the process and use their experiences to inspire our work and to develop product. This is how we deliver the intangibles that make using Method a different experience from other cleaning products. Meeting consumers, watching how they shop, sitting in their homes, or co-creating ideas with them inspires products that are innovative and enjoyable to use. As I sit and listen to consumers, it’s often a tiny observation or an unusual cleaning habit that sparks a new path of thinking.
3. People Against Dirty
Talk to experts in their functions
At Method, we call ourselves people against dirty. Everyday I am lucky to work with a group of experts in their fields: industrial designers, packaging engineers, fragrance mavens, sales ninjas and green scientists-all on a mission to fight “dirty” in all its forms. I work alongside these experts and hope that a little of their smarts rub off on me. Getting a functional expert opinion on a project gives me the opportunity to look at a solution from another angle.
For instance, one of our experts at Method, Fred, is a scientist (we call him a green chef), and he works on formulating laundry detergent. Fred is a super smart guy. A couple of years ago, we began a project to revolutionize the way people do laundry by creating a new kind of detergent that is 8x concentrated and can be easily dispensed in a handy pump. The bottle design is so different from what consumers are used to seeing in the supermarket aisle, and it’s much smaller structurally. We knew we had to create a distinctive identity on pack to tell this innovation story quickly at the shelf and to help consumers believe that something so small could do so much.
I had bounced around plenty of ideas and packaging graphics, but felt we hadn’t landed on a big ‘a-ha’ yet, so I went and asked Fred to explain to me (again) how the formula worked. As he talked and got excited about the science behind it all, he started scribbling diagrams on the white board illustrating how the molecules worked. The science behind this formula is amazing, and the scribbled diagrams inspired an identity that brands the formula, reinforcing credibility and putting an optimistic, colorful “Method” spin on a scientific breakthrough.
4. Treat Your Eyeballs
Look at everything everyone else is designing
Nothing is more inspiring or enjoyable than a visual feast. Design blogs and websites like Design Sponge and Core 77 are daily visits for me. I also love looking at the latest in fashion, food, textiles and architecture. I subscribe to plenty of magazines, both online and in print. I go to stores. I go to weird stores. One of my greatest joys in the world is to go to supermarkets in other countries. Seriously, I could spend days in them. Sites like FFFFound!, an invitation-based website that lets you digitally collect pieces of design ephemera for future reference, are great tools. Browsing these lovely nuggets always inspires me.
I also believe in creative teams sharing work with each other as well as with the wider company. At Method, almost all of our walls are white boards or pin boards, and we cover them with our most current creative work. Getting the work off our desktops and on the walls helps our creative team collaborate and become more confident sharing and building on ideas. We add tear-outs from magazines, bits of layouts and, even, the occasional picture of a kitten in a costume.
5. Top Chef is My Co-Pilot
Give your brain time to process
I find the creative process amazing, frustrating, exciting and unpredictable. I have tricks to keep the creative juices flowing, but I can’t force the process. I have learned over time to let my mind have the room to quietly bounce ideas around. Watching cooking shows is my way of giving my brain some downtime. Food shows are creative, but in way that doesn’t feel like what I do for a living. They are easy to dip in and out of-plus, I just really love food. And sometimes, it’s times like these, when I’m watching Jamie Oliver whip up a “roast beast,” that a perfect little hand soap design just pops into my head. BP
Sally Clarke is the creative director of packaging and product at Method but likes to go by the title ‘artsy-smartsy’. She has worked in branding and packaging design consultancies in Auckland, London, New York, Sydney and San Francisco. And she loves packaging, which makes her a pain in the rear to go to the supermarket with.