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Don’t let process kill creativity

By Drew Strojny on April 12, 2013

I’ve been on the soapbox over here at The Theme Foundry lately discouraging too much “process” while we’re designing and building a new WordPress theme. What do I mean by process? I’m defining process as the steps you take to get from point A to point B. In a traditional agency environment this might take the form of: client meeting, client pitch, wireframes, Photoshop mock-ups, site delivery.

Who doesn’t like process?

Process at it’s core is a great thing. Without some processes in place even the very best companies will have trouble staying organized and productive. Process streamlines workflow so a team can be more effective. When clear and defined processes are in place everyone feels better and more confident in their work.

Process taken too far

Too much process can lock you in to bad decisions and kill creativity. Specifically, you start saying things like:

“We already signed off on the wireframes, so we’re not changing that.”

“We already scoped out that feature, so we shouldn’t explore this new idea.”

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“I think I have a better way of doing this, but we’re already so far along… I probably shouldn’t bring it up.”

We always want new ideas and creative thinking throughout the entire process at The Theme Foundry. If we’re in the middle of a theme and someone has a brilliant idea involving a complete overhaul of the home page, we do it. The best ideas win, always. Process never rules over spontaneous creativity.

In contrast, this type of spontaneity usually doesn’t exist in agency land. In that environment, volume is important. Therefore, breaking down the process into specific steps makes perfect sense. If you’ve ever done client work, you know some sort of approval process is required to stay sane. In an agency, the process usually starts to form the roles of everyone working at that agency. You have a project manager, a designer, a front-end developer, and sometimes a back-end developer. Each person is a cog in the wheel of the process. Once something has been researched, scoped, and approved by the client, expectations are set. No matter how great the idea, substantial and meaningful change usually won’t happen. The process rules supreme.

A process that encourages creativity

Our design process follows this pattern: sketch and discuss ideas, rough mockups, design and build in the browser. The first two steps only take a week. Designing and building in the browser usually takes about six to eight weeks.

During the building phase the whole team checks in at least once a week and reviews progress and discusses important decisions. These meetings are where we see creativity blossom. Because we don’t have any rigid process in place, nothing is off the table. We may decide to go a completely different direction with the design or explore a new idea. Because we’re building the theme in the browser itself, we don’t have to worry about starting the process over. Everyone on the team is proficient with HTML and CSS. Not only that, we’re able to use Forge to leverage languages like Sass, which allows us to prototype new ideas much more quickly and truly make the browser our canvas.

I feel pretty strongly that putting creativity first gives us the freedom to do our best work and build better themes. It’s important to remember that process has it’s purpose, but it shouldn’t be allowed to stifle spontaneous creativity.

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6 Comments

  1. Andrew Bergeron

    Great point Drew. I absolutely agree with your statement that just because something was “signed off on the wireframes” it should not be considered or explored. In my process, I’ve often noticed that great ideas manifest themselves during the actual building of the project – sometimes even from the client (gasp!). With so much going on at the early stages of a project it is easy to sometimes overlook these important details that are ultimately what makes a project unique or special. Awesome post and thanks for sharing!

  2. Drew Strojny

    Thanks Andrew! You’re definitely right about the creative details sometimes getting lost in the process. Making it a point to actively seek them out can make all the difference.

  3. Margaret Kane

    As a creative person, I’m working for the first time in WordPress, I’ve been loving your “Linen” frame for my client’s site. I totally enjoy reviewing client materials, meeting to discuss their educational mission and having the confidence that I can fill the creative process finding a place within Linen for client details. Unfortunately I haven’t the technical background to implement it in a timely way. I spend most of my time creating rough layouts or discussing content through diagrams. I’m currently pushing thru with pages in Linen Pro ( http://www.mazeway.org ) project and need some help to move it ahead quickly. I made pages, but now I believe I should change the pages into categories & posts so we can have the table of content style home page with (3 ) slider. I have the entire site as approved PDFs. Need a WP coder / philosopher to help think & code thru to the next phase including a student database, asap.

  4. Drew Strojny

    Hi Margaret!

    Thanks for sharing a little bit about your process and some of the challenges you’re facing. If you’re looking for help with your site, we’re happy to refer you to a professional (need to sign in to view) that has experience with WordPress customization work.

    Also, I removed your email address from the comment, as this is a public comment system, and your address would likely get picked up by bots and later spammed.

  5. Kristy Ewing

    Hey Drew,

    Discovered this post of yours today, while exploring the newly released Snap theme, which is sweet!

    I cannot being to tell you how much I appreciate your comments about the process of Process. (Here I sit all alone in my room smiling at the monitor, thinking “you go Drew!”) The combination of company growth, success, employees, projects, scheduling and process carries with it the risk of falling into the pit of Humdrumdum. And that is one big scary place to go when creativity is at stake. You are wise to keep the door open to spontaneity.

    It is both the technically savvy AND beautiful themes that The Theme Foundry offers that attracted us originally. But Drew, it is you that keeps us coming back. We recognize your unique entrepreneurial spirit at the heart of everything your company does – every new theme, every communication.

    Ed and I think you are doing a wonderful job, so keep up the good work. Please. Thank you.

  6. Drew Strojny

    Thanks for dropping by Kristy! I really appreciate the kind words and the support :-)

Comments are closed.