A New Renaissance for Creative Design?

[tweetmeme]I recently went to the excellent exhibition of Italian Renaissance drawings at the British Museum.
Verrocchio's Head of a Woman

The drawings were, of course, amazing, and included works such as the Head of a Woman by Verrocchio, and Leonardo’s first landscape (1473). But what has stayed with me, as well as the memory of the drawings themselves, is a couple of thoughts the exhibition triggered about today’s world of design and technical innovation.

So, the main source of material for new works of art before the Renaissance period were ‘model books’ – collections of images and compositions from which artists copied and used ideas and representations they liked. During the Renaissance, artists began to take their inspiration and draw more directly from nature, leading to a more naturalistic style, and more freedom for creative expression. This was in part due to the increasing availability of paper – much cheaper than vellum – on which drawings could be made.

My favourite section of the exhibition was dedicated to explaining the impact on artistic practice of the new tools (such as paper) and techniques for drawing that were developing at the time of the Renaissance. For example, how the use of pen and ink for sketching was increasingly favoured for its responsiveness and expressive capabilities, how techniques for drawing using silverpoint – that couldn’t be erased – compared with those for drawing with lead – that could be rubbed out and changed, and how the development of print-making techniques enabled designs to be mechanically replicated and shared with larger numbers of people for the first time. The exhibition shows how developments of this kind in drawing laid the foundation for a new world of art.

It struck me that current developments in interactive tools and technologies offer the potential to deliver a similar revolution in today’s world of creative design. Interactive technologies are more pervasive and available to us all than ever before – they are in our buildings, on our desks and in our pockets. We can share digital artefacts as never before, and the possibilities of gestural interaction offered by devices such as the Wii and iPad offer huge potential for flexible and fluid interaction. How are such developments in new technologies laying the foundation for a new world of creative design?

This is a question I’m looking forward to exploring in my course on Technologies for Creativity and Innovation as part of our new Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership. In the meantime, I’ll be happy to share more experiences, and hear yours too.

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How to Focus and Make Connections

[tweetmeme]Yesterday we had a seminar titled “How to Focus and Win”, given by The Twins: EnvironMENTAL Training. I found this event very interesting for two reasons.

The first is my personal frustration with the struggle to stay focused when working on something that I find boring and tedious. This inability to get my brain to cooperate and focus when doing boring tasks can mean that those tasks get left until the last minute when fear of missing the deadline forces my brain into action – A method I applied with varying degrees of success in my student days when doing revision. Even more frustratingly, I have colleagues who seem to have endless control over their focus and are able to stay focused regardless of how repetitive and dull the task is. So why can’t I do it?

Well, according to Chuka & Dubem Okonkwo, who gave the seminar, focus is something that can be trained. They showed us a selection of techniques that they use to help their clients train their brain to stay focused when doing boring tasks. They gave us some simple (though not easy!) games to do. E.g. counting in two ways at the same time, both counting down from 1000 and up from 1. (1000, 1, 999, 2, 998, 3 and so on. Try it, it’s not as easy as it may seem). The idea is that by commanding your brain to perform and focus on boring tasks – you train it so that you can stay focused whenever you need to. You also learn to find your own motivation and be able to make the most of boring tasks.

Chuka and Dubem also had us work through some visualisation exercises. Which leads me to my second point: being aware of and registering your surroundings and the impact this has on creativity.

“When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.Steve Jobs

I agree in particular with the last (underlined) point here, and this as well is something that can be trained. The exercises we did were all designed to demonstrate how easily we can recall and visualize what we already know, but they were also alluding to how much information we miss. Think about your walk home from the station or bus stop, you walk it everyday, but could you direct someone to take the same route when you’re waiting for them at home? What shops will they pass? Any land marks? Traffic lights? What if I asked you to draw your mobile phone, without looking at it, just from memory? Now compare this to your mobile. What’s different? Do you now see something you hadn’t registered before? The more detail you remember the richer your experience is.

The mobile is a good example of something you use everyday, so in theory you should be able to draw it in rich detail. But it can be harder than it sounds. We mostly don’t pay attention to the details. By training your brain to look at something and then later visualize the details, you should not only improve your ability to remember details, but also your ability to make connections.

What do you think? Have you tried something like this before? Did it work for you?

Author: Kristine Pitts