Shaun Loftman: “Finding your spark in isolation”

Landor & Fitch executive creative director Shaun Loftman shares tips for designers to look beyond the screen and avoid isolation.

Creativity means developing something new. Whether by putting two existing ideas together to produce something original, or developing a novel thought through pure imagination, creativity requires inventiveness.

It works in different ways for different people, of course. Archimedes had his eureka moment in the bath and Newton was struck by inspiration, quite literally, while enjoying an after-dinner rest beneath an apple tree. Whatever works best for you, one thing we all need to keep the synapses firing is external stimuli.

The first and second lockdowns took many opportunities for stimulation away from us. We were no longer being exposed to great design while out and about, and we were missing the human interaction that can inspire creative thought.

As we pass in and out of new tiered restrictions, this time we have an idea of what is coming and need to take lessons learned to ensure creativity does not suffer.

Screens aren’t social

Lockdown 1.0 was coloured by record levels of working from home and Zoom quizzes. While technology allowed us to keep working and keep in touch, we became chained to screens.

Yet, poor internet connections and the sterile nature of video calls make it impossible to host truly collaborative group conversations. And, rather than creating free time, enforced remote working has made an average working day 48 minutes longer.

Landor & Fitch executive creative director Shaun Loftman

The value of chit-chat

It is perhaps the most obvious impact of offices being closed, but it is worth stating. Opportunities for organic collaboration with colleagues has been severely curtailed. There are no more ‘water cooler’ conversations. There are not even spontaneous chats at desks.

Designers are naturally social people. We crave attention and interaction. Losing this takes away our ability to collaborate, to benefit from a cross-pollination of ideas and to hear outside perspectives.

Bring back commuting

It’s not just direct social interactions that designers crave. We also need time to think and consolidate. For me, the commute was a chance before the workday begins to process my own thoughts and provided valuable time at the end of the day to reflect.

Consolidation plays an important role in memory and in the creative thought processes. With this time lost, we are no longer slowing down and allowing our minds to produce new ideas.

The commute was doubly valuable, in that it also meant we were out and about, being exposed to the real-world. From people-watching on the bus to seeing clever Out of Home (OOH) advertising on the train the commute offered us way more than stress and boredom.

Keeping creativity alive

As we move in and out of lockdowns it is easy to resign ourselves to another wasteland of creativity. But we have learned a lot since our first experience of closed studios and there are ways to keep creativity alive. Here my top three tips:

1. Make the most of technology

If this pandemic had happened 10 years ago, businesses would not have been able to cope the way many have. We bemoan the ubiquity of screens in our lockdown lives, but technology does open up new opportunities.

Virtual brainstorms mean possible attendees are further apart than ever. Why not invite designers from a different studio, or bring in a special guest from a completely different industry? This is a chance to bring new, diverse thoughts into the creative process in a way that would never have been dreamed of before.

2. Find new ways to collaborate

We have lost the organic conversations, but friends and colleagues are still available to us. At Landor and Fitch we have adopted micro-work sessions, where instead of putting an hour block in colleagues’ diaries, we host sprint sessions where creative thoughts and ideas are shared for 15 minutes maximum. They are less structured but can be much more responsive and dynamic.

3. Slow down

Despite the huge economic and emotional turmoil we face, businesses have attempted to move faster and demand more. But quality takes time. We should not see the loss of a commute as desk time gained. That is where burnout lies.

Instead, we need to build moments of reflecting and introspection back into our day. I know colleagues who start their day with a podcast or book, just the way they did while travelling by train or bus. It is a slower, gentler start to the day and can aid creative thought.

Finding time and space

Everything has changed, so we need to adapt too. Being chained to screens for work, play and relaxation is not a recipe for greater creative output or more productive work hours. We know what to expect this time, so we need to take the lessons learned and do what works for us.

Whether that’s taking the time to enjoy a bath like Archimedes or being more Newton and making after-dinner walks a part of your daily schedule, creativity takes time and space. So, let’s find some.

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