Creativity in general; how do you generate ideas? How do you go from a problem to a worked-out 'product'?
Also, some project management tips, to keep your projects in order :)
How do you manage your creative projects?
It’s usually not much of a problem if you only work on 2 to 3 projects, tops, and finish these before starting something new.
But what if inspiration hits yet again, and you just can’t bring yourself to work on gazillions of unfinished masterpieces-in-progress? And when you finally
decide to dig out one of your older crafts – “I haven’t touched this in 3 years!” – you have no real idea what brand or color of wool or paper or … you used in the first place?
Or when your project is so large, that you lose sight of the overview and details; like writing a comic book, where you think up a whole city including habitants. How do you keep track of all that?
Or if you want to make a second copy of a made-before item, and now you can’t remember the exact measurements or the pitfalls you ran into the first
Well, then it might be time for some project management.
Now, that doesn’t sound like that much fun, and certainly not for a hobby that’s supposed to bring you joy, but hear me out. Not knowing or forgetting some important piece of information can be a real source of frustration, too , especially when you’ve finally found some inspiration to work on a certain project. One of the joys of crafting, or any creative endeavor, is to finally end up with a nice finished item.
And keeping track of your projects certainly doesn’t have to be an all-encompassing task of bookkeeping that will take you days on end.
Now, I don’t mean to sound like an expert, since I’ve only recently began keeping track of my own projects, but I'd like to share some of my experiences and tips with you.
If you only have a few simple projects, that you put away for a few days only due to busy life, it may often suffice to just store a simple sheet of paper with
a project with some notes on it, or keep tabs on your projects in a small notebook.
If you are knitting from a guide, for example, you can write on the back where you left off (which you probably already do) and make notes if certain stitches needed to be looser/tighter than what you usually do. Then if you can store the paper with the knitting, you’re all set. (If you use a notebook, store it in a fixed spot).
If you do have a lot of projects, or just large projects, with quite some time in-between, it’s easy to lose random sheets of paper, especially if these
projects end up jingled together in the closet or drawer.
So if you need some serious ‘bookkeeping’ I’d suggest using a notebook or binder.
A binder has the advantage of adding and relocating pages whenever you need to, while a (hardcover) notebook may be sturdier and more portable. In case you intend to use a notebook, I recommend leaving a few pages for an index, bullet journal style, and then just fill the pages as they come. More on keeping a project book here.
Back to the project management.
A project (in business) is usually defined as:
a temporary endeavor with a fixed beginning and end, that is not a routine operation, but meant to gear towards a fixed goal, with limited resources and a defined scope.
In a creative hobby, the end is of course the finished project. Limited resources are usually material (or the cost thereof) and time, since life happens. You usually start a project with a goal in mind, whether that be a finished dresser or merely comparing various materials.
So let’s look at project management, then. There are many websites on project management for businesses, many of which define the process in the following 5 steps:
Now, let’s translate these steps for a creative (hobby) project.
what am I going to create? It usually works best to have an end-product in mind. I suggest reading about ‘The creative design process’, to make sure your idea is more than a vague outline. (It may not be always necessary to have a finished item thought up; sometimes just testing out new materials or letting the creative juices flow, is fine too! But these may not warrant the effort of following project management guidelines.)
Which materials do I need? Do I have this fabric in my stash? Do I have enough watercolor paper? Planning basically involves checking your supply list and your inventory and then creating a task-list of what needs to be done, before actually starting your creative project. What problems may arise in the process?
Like the staircase I painted needed to remain usable; how do I make sure I don't step on a just painted surface when painting every other step?
What steps do I need to take to get to the finished product? Buy and prepare materials, print the guide, measure etc.) It's a real pain when you're busy with a time-sensitive step, like gluing or painting, only to find out you're missing a crucial tool or material!
Time is probably the most important resource when it comes to hobbies; they usually get last place in the priority list of life. It’s a good idea to ‘schedule’ in some time for you to work on a given project; free up some time for your hobby, and plan it as if it were an appointment. Some self-love is important, so make sure you get to do what you love! :)
If it is a craft that needs to be finished before a certain time, like birthday gifts, Christmas decorations etc., you may want to add these as a string of
‘creative appointments’ in your planner, to make sure you won’t need to plow through a massive last-minute session to get it done. That would take the fun right out of it!
Executing and Monitoring –
Unless you’re doing your project with more people (building a dresser from scratch with your significant other, for example), you’ll be the one doing all the steps, and monitoring them as well.
Basically that means that whenever you execute a step from your planning (made in the previous step), you then check whether it has been done correctly, or whether some part of the coming process needs to be altered. You may also need to alter your planning during the project if it somehow doesn't work out.
Closing – This might be one of the most often forgotten steps for personal projects; the deliberate reflection of what went right and wrong and why, and how much you enjoyed doing the project. Of course, after any project you’ll either feel like; ‘never again’ or ‘amazing!’ or anything in-between. But how often have you kept track of these feelings, (preferably in written form), so you can refer back to them later? And use your past knowledge to prevent errors and not-so-fun projects is the future?
So in short:
Now, most of this is pretty straight-forward, and you probably are already doing parts of this, but it can make a difference whether you do it sub-consciously
It’s like cooking: it’s way less stressful if you have the right ingredients ready, pre-cut and everything, and know beforehand when to add which one.
For me, the best way to keep track of projects, is to create a project book, (or binder) as I mentioned before. Especially if there are a lot of ‘ideas snippets’ or projects that I want to create a different variety of later. (Same project in a different color or size for example)
The creativity journal or project book
How do you keep track of your craft or art projects? If you are anything like me, there are probably a handful of unfinished projects swirling around in your
home somewhere. I know from other people (a lot of knitters are notoriously known for this…) that it’s not a straight-forward rule that you start a project only once you’ve finished the old
My mom for example, is a Ravelry fan, and has lots of sock and other knitting projects lying around. Some, which she can knit from memory; easy projects, for when concentration is not at its best. Others, which come with a guide of several pages; the more difficult ones.
I personally have several stories I’m working on, both in writing as well as in ‘comic’ form. I draw characters from these stories, or make up scenes.
But how do you save your inspirations and make sure you don’t mix up the abundance of projects? How do you store your idea snippets?
(Idea snippets are rough ideas for part of projects. Say, an interesting pocket for a bag, without the rest of the bag design. You can use these later, for when you need inspiration.)
I for one, keep project notebooks. I highly recommend using at least one project book, or creativity journal. So what are they, and how do you use one?
A Creativity journal is similar to an art journal; it is used to journal, to draw in, do paper crafts etc. Basically all creative expressions that fit in a
paper book. Contrary, a Project notebook is not used for craft projects in themselves, nor journaling. They are identical however, in that you can use them for tracking your projects. So
basically, a creativity journal is a project notebook, plus journaling and crafts.
Since this post is about project management, I’ll limit the explanations to the functions of the project notebook. So without further ado:
What is it, and why use it?
A Project notebook is a simple notebook, used to keep track of your projects, and other craft related inspirations and ideas. In short, it is used for:
ð Storing idea snippets, and annotations/files from projects.
ð Great for sparking ideas and inspiration when you are in ‘art-block mode’
ð Accumulation of tips/tricks that you’ve experienced first hand
ð Easy guide to start unfinished projects again, where you left off last time
ð A tool to reflect on projects, so you can prevent mistakes and not-so-fun projects in the future
Sounds pretty straight-forward, right? So how do you keep track of your projects? What is important?
That pretty much depends on the art, craft or DIY project you’re working on. But in general the following are worthy of scribbling down:
ð Which material/stitch/guide did you use? (include copies if possible)
ð What difficulties were you having last time? What should you pay attention to when starting again?
ð Is the project finished? Did you enjoy this/would you do it again? What was the difficulty level?
ð Did you lack a certain material/tool or option?
ð Would you do it again? (any ideas for a different variety? Mention it, and maybe come back to it later!)
ð Loose idea snippets
An example would be a granny square blanket; do you have the color combination planned out beforehand? Then draw out a simple block and color in the squares
and note which pattern you planned to use for which square. If you restart it after a few months of downtime, you know exactly what you had in mind when you started the project.
You could also write down the brand and weight of the yarn you used, or paste in the wool label for easy reference, as well as the number of needles you used.
Saving a copy of the guides is also a good idea, since you might forget it. Simply print it and paste it in the book. You can also write a link to the computer location, if you want to store it digitally.
Since you want to be able to start quickly, I would keep descriptions and annotations as simple as possible. How elaborate do you need your descriptions will
differ from everyone, so you will have to figure this out for yourself. Just remember that on occasion a bad drawing is still a lot better than a full page of text. ;)
A simple example below: I'm currently working on a very simple blanket using a knitting loom.
I keep mentioning ‘notebook’, but it’s also a good idea to use a binder instead. It’s easy to relocate pages, and thus easier to keep several
crafts or projects organized.
Notebooks have the benefit of being more compact and thus easier to carry around, but they can be harder to organize internally. I advise to use a (bullet) journal index!
You can easily organize a notebook by numbering all the pages in the book, and adding an index. I started this craft project notebook only recently, so the index is fairly empty.
I usually only number the right pages (so 3, 5, 7 etc, yes I'm lazy efficient..)
Whenever you add a project to the notebook, you title the page, and put the description or title in the index at the front.
I suggest having space for roughly 3/4th of the amount of pages as entries in the index. So if you have a 100 pages, I would leave space for roughly 75 boxes. It's also an idea to leave a page or two blank (and two corresponding index boxes/lines). If you need to expand your index, you have some space left. If not, you can fill in the empty spaces at the end.
When working on more than one project at once, and taking notes for all of them, you can either decide to leave a page blank after a project, so you'll have some space left for annotations, or, you can resume annotations on the next free page, and make a note in the index and first project page as to where you continued.
For different crafts, you could add a color to the title page block to sort them.
Or you could create a color index like shown to the right. By marking pages along the edge in the same color (and height) you can easily see which project belong into which category.
(you may need to create two indexes, one in the beginning on a right page, and one in the back on a left page)
Very large projects (books, comics, where you have to create a ‘whole world’) might warrant a notebook per project. These can contain character data, descriptions and sketches/maps of locations, scenes and rough story- and timelines. I have a set of small A6-sized notebooks for my story projects. I call them my 'writing journals', but they're basically also project notebooks, for a single project each.
I hope you now have a clear understanding of the purpose and how to use a Project notebook!
Please let me know in the comment section if you plan to use one! Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to ask those too! :)
The structured design process
Creativity seems to be this all or nothing thing; it’s either there, or it isn’t.
We wait until a spark lights up our brain and the ideas whirl around, then pick something to our liking. When inspiration hits, it's almost like magic. Especially when it’s used to create art and crafts, when we create beautiful things from our colorful minds. There’s no real structure there, no to-do list to follow. But how do you come up with ideas that fit your project?
As a student mechanical engineering, creating and generating ideas is part of task of problem-solving. The design of products is often taught as a structured design process. While most engineers will use their creativity freely, as most artists would, to come up with most solutions, there is certainly merit in the idea of a structured process. By following a few steps, you may think of certain ideas you otherwise wouldn't have thought of.
So when could you use this process?
Expect to come up with a lot of ‘idea snippets’, as I like to call them; small parts that can be used in a later project, and could be stored in a ‘creativity journal’ or ‘project book’. (Expect a post about this soon!)
The design process looks like this:
What is your starting point? Let's say you want to design a handbag from scratch.
What exactly is your ‘problem’? “I need an idea for a bag design,” isn’t going to give you any clarity on what you need.
Instead, it’s important to break your main ‘problem’ into smaller sub-problems. Breaking the problem down is usually done in terms of functions. What does it need to do? Or what should it be capable of? Think of the needed functions in broad terms.
Let's give an example: you want to be able to open and close the bag. Then your function is 'open/close' instead of 'it should have a zipper'.
By defining functions this way, you’ll be able to generate a lot more ideas in the following steps.
Continuing with our bag example:
In this stage, it helps to look at similar items. Take a few of your purses or handbags, and look at each individual feature; what is it used for? Why is it on there? Then look if you need that
function for your own bag, and list it. You can even turn this into a little game with friends or kids!
Most stuff will be straight-forward, but occasionally you’ll come across something that you don’t really know the function of. Google is your friend there!
Ever wondered about the mini-pocket on your jeans, for example? They used to be for pocket watches, and are still added as a style feature, even though no one really carries a pocket watch anymore.
Quantify and Research: define your requirement list
In this step, you actually do the ‘research’ to find numbers for your requirements. The bag should fit your wallet, phone and a book.
Now it’s time to give actual measurable values to this. You can grab the items and measure around them, for example, or look up the size of your notebook online. You should add numbers to requirements, where you can. Numbers are a lot more straightforward when comparing options later. And it forces you to think of limitations: if your bag needs to fit a certain book, and you set that size as a limitation, then that automatically means larger books won’t fit.
Generate solutions to sub-problems:
If all goes well, you have generated quite a list of requirements in the previous step. Now it's time to come up with solutions. For each requirement, you try to think of as many ideas as you can as how to solve them. It can help to sort the requirements into categories first, like size and material.
Now for the fun part! Brainstorm and go wild! There is no wrong or right at this stage, so it's fine to be goofy! Turn it into a game and see if you can get to at least 5 solutions per
By thinking of each function or requirement separately, it’s easier to start thinking outside the box.
Say you need a ‘desk’, and find the requirements are:
Instead of looking at just desks, you would probably come up with a flat plane of wood, glass or metal, which is staying at a certain height using either legs, or
could be suspended on hooks or wires. Storage could be integrated or separate.
If you combine varieties, that gives you several options to work with.
Back to our handbag:
Some solutions would include:
Continue creating various solutions to the sub-problems/requirements. A possibility is to draw these out in a table, thus creating a Morphological analysis. (A method developed by Fritz Zwicky)
The method, in engineering, is used to create and arrange solutions to functions, and easily combine them. By drawing instead of writing, you are forcing your brain to think creatively.
Don’t worry about quality of drawings here, doodle and scribble to your hearts content!
It's OK to write a few words to clarify, but don't be tempted to write only. It’s all about getting your ideas visualized.
I've drawn one morphological analysis diagram below:
Combine to create concept: pick the most promising solutions
In this step, you can pick the most promising combinations. You can easily create several concepts by drawing lines in the morphological diagram to connect part-solutions. You basically select a solution for each function, and connect these by a zigzag line, as shown above.
Some options usually drop out quickly because they’re either unrealistic, or too expensive, or don’t fit other requirements. You can cross these out, or just leave them. If
you've found some really nice solutions, but you can't use them for your current project, feel free to save these 'idea snippets' in your Creativity/Project book for later use or inspiration.
[A post on this will follow soon!] You can of course save the whole morphological diagram as well.
In short, in this step you’re converging from a big number of ideas to a handful of concepts. A common number of concepts is around 3 to 4.
Compare remaining concepts and pick 1.
From the handful of concepts you’ve created, you then pick 1. If decision-making is hard, you can make a list of pros and cons, like cost, safety, ease of manufacturing or even
'material-stash'-availability. A good way to compare pros and cons is to give a ratings (1-5) and weighing factor for each theme, and apply these to each concept.
A weighing factor is used when you think a certain option is more important than the other. Say, cost is more important to you than the ease of manufacturing, then you can multiply the ratings for cost with a certain factor, say 2.
At the end of the rating, you add up all points for each concept, and pick the one with the most points.
Create improved final concept
In the last step, you’ve chosen a concept. Now try to improve this concept to create a ‘prototype’. Say concept 2 comes out as the ‘winner’ in your pro-cons check, but you like the pocket you added on concept 1 better. You now get to create a final concept/ prototype, that includes the best of both.
Check with initial demands/confirm final solution
The ‘last step’, is to verify that this prototype or final concept actually does check with your initial requirements/demands.
While this step may seem redundant, it is actually quite important to check back on the requirements. Sometimes changing one option has an effect on another, and suddenly another requirement doesn’t pass the test, anymore. So don’t skip it! ;)
Make it! :)
When you're happy with your final concept, you are done! Get ready for creating!
You can reuse the process files, if you make a similar project in the future, or just restart when your start something different.
In the whole process, it can happen that you need to go back a step to edit or refine, before you go forwards again. You may find out that you forgot a requirement, or that you
came up with a better solution for a previous step. Feel free to go back, and add this in. The design process is merely meant as a guideline to create solutions and get you to think ‘outside the
As mentioned before, sometimes you end up with a concept, but other ideas were really interesting as well. I advise you to put these ‘idea snippets’ into a creativity journal/ project book for later reference.
It’s of course not necessary to follow this design process, but you might find you like it for larger projects, especially if you want to create something from scratch. If you find yourself making similar items, you can actually reuse the process (especially the morphological diagram) to create various different designs.
You can actually use the diagram for images as well; say you want to design a logo; instead of drawing in functions, you can put in parts of the logos design: colors, fonts, dots/graphics etc. Just go crazy wild there and remember to have fun!
Any Questions? Feel free to ask!