writing by steve smith

The Threat of Creativity

Designers tend to laud the concept of creativity. A unique, original idea that has never existed before. It takes imagination. Skill. Vision. Confidence.

But in my experience, excellent design is rarely about creating something new. The so-called flash-of-brilliance isn't about invention. It's about distillation. It feels so strikingly simple. It doesn't feel new. It feels like it should have always been that way. Knowing that, I would argue that the best designs come from discipline, not creativity.

Ideas vs. Execution

The rejection of good ideas that don't completely solve the problem is paramount.

Ideas are cheap. Have a problem to solve? Any group of intelligent people can come up with heaps of potential ideas to a problem. Coming up with ideas and solutions is never the problem with design. Almost every time, there will be too many solutions presented. Too many good ideas. So many, in fact, that if you try to implement them all, you end up with a terrible result. The result of implementing creativity is complication.

Being creative is never the barrier to good design. In fact, relying on creativity to solve design problems will more often produce bad execution. Creative ideas are only the first step of many along the path of design.

Truly useful execution of ideas requires so much more than the idea itself. It takes a holistic understanding of the problem, and all potential solutions. It takes research. Thought. Reflection. Experimentation. Distillation. Discipline.

The rejection of good ideas that don't completely solve the problem is paramount. If you describe an idea as interesting, it's probably not worth implementing. This is the art of discipline in design. When many good ideas present themselves, it's easy to become distracted. Don't let good ideas get in the way of great execution.


Therefore, the focus of a designer shouldn't be on creative ideas. Their focus should be on truly understanding the problem, deeply and thoroughly. Only then, will the truly brilliant solutions present themselves, often times in the most obvious, simple ways.

October 17, 2013