“Everything speaks to you”: designers on staying creative at home

As the coronavirus pandemic lockdown forces many to work outside of the studio setting they’ve grown used to, Design Week asks designers how they’re staying creative at home.

“Tangible and tactile objects are really important to our work and process at The Liminal Space, so we’re trying to find ways to bring this into our new remote work spaces and adapted practice. One thing we’re doing is kicking off all our online group meetings with a Show & Tell session. Everyone chooses an object in their home that’s sparking joy for them right now and shares a story about their chosen thing. Featured objects so far have ranged from the precious to the profane, including a paper puppet, an ugly vase collection, a rare sculpture and a bird’s nest.

As we explored in the living lost property office that we created in our project Unclaimed, the objects we own contain curious tales of the places we’ve been, our relationships and our histories. And whether you call yourself ‘a creative’ or not, we’ve all designed and curated the spaces we inhabit to some extent.

So rather than pretending it’s normal be to popping up in client’s homes, we’re leaning into the weird and wonderful opportunity to learn more about each other’s tastes and spaces. We’re also building this exercise into a new workshop programme we’re developing that uses physical objects and environments to help teams stay inventive when we can’t work together as we’d like to.  Finding joy and inspiration in this familiar and personal stuff feels even more important in this strange and stressful time.”

– Sarah Douglas, director of The Liminal Space

“Our home has always been a creative space for us. It’s where we came up with the Lost Time Project and it’s where we paint, draw, and design in our spare time. That’s never been more true than now, and we’re doing everything we can to make it a nice place to be from lighting candles to diffusing thieves oil (it’s a game changer, look it up!).

We’re appreciating the small things; literally – our previously unused half-metre balcony has become the best part of our day, enjoying a coffee in the sun before we start work. We’re also finding small ways to give ourselves positive boosts, including signing up to Yale University’s happiness course online.

The main thing for us is to take time to relax. It’s hard to be creative when you’re anxious, and the last two weeks have been an absolute roller coaster. While it’s amazing to see so many people using their time to create something new; it’s equally important to let yourself stop and rest. Once you do that, you’ll have the space to be creative, and use your creativity for good. That’s what’s next for us.”

– Alice Murray, associate partner at Pentagram, and Lauren Priestley, creative director at Redwood, founders of the Lost Time Project.

“Working from home is not something I’m not usually very good at. Unless I’m working on something really structured and formulaic, I prefer to be around everyone else in the studio. I also really enjoy having a clear physical split between work and everything-else, so these past couple of weeks have been interesting.

That said, we’re all in the same boat and we’re making it work at Lantern. Regular, almost constant, contact throughout the day with at least two virtual team meetings keep things moving and the juices flowing. I think that’s really key for me.

We’ve also been pretty busy, which is lucky, so there hasn’t been a lot of time to reflect on the situation. If (or when) things quieten down, keeping creative will definitely be essential to keep from going totally mad. I have quite a few hobbies already – gardening, running and guitar – but I expect we’ll start chipping away at some internal projects we’ve been putting off for so long. Watch this space…”

– Henry Brown, senior designer at Lantern

“Here at Jackdaw Design, we have been working as a ‘virtual’ creative agency for four years. So instead of having a snazzy studio filled with people our studio happens to be spread out in shared workspaces and home offices across the world – from London to Barcelona to Shanghai!

At first, we found it tricky, staying creatively focused, but the good news is that creative people will always find a way to create. The things that work best for me:

In the morning, I tend to use the left side of my brain for tasks such as emails and organising my day. Then I clear my head, stick up some inspiration and move into creative mode. Scheduling dedicated creative time and really getting into the mindset makes a difference.

For ideas to flow I write with a pen and paper. I concept with and without the screen. Using sticky notes helps to record single thoughts and then later I rearrange my ideas into a flow that fits my project. I have a couple of desks set up so that I have a place to sit and focus and be creative. You have to be disciplined about creating an environment to be productive. Everything speaks to you… so clear the distractions so you can see and hear what inspires you.

Having things around me that I can pick up quickly – all my books, magazines, papers, paint brushes – helps flex a creative muscle if I need some inspiration or to get new ideas to flow. Creativity comes from keeping things fresh and changing them up. I make a conscious effort to get up from my desk and away from the screen. Ideas can come when making a cup of tea, tidying the kitchen or going for a walk. At home, you can do that even easier.

Thankfully, with new technology (such as FaceTime, Slack and Teams), we are able to collaborate and keep ideas bouncing – even with miles of physical distance between us. Creative energy of others can spark new ideas, sharpen your skills and keep you informed of the latest information in your field.

Having to work remotely doesn’t mean creativity has to suffer. There’s a lot of change in the air right now and I think this flexibility within the creative industry is long overdue. We are just as engaged and connected but with more time to really think.”

– Amanda Jackson, director of Jackdaw Design

“As a branding agency, our designers and their creative skills are at the heart of what we do. Working from home and away from our studio, The Old Art School, the creative team are having to find new ways of staying inspired and motivated.

While working from home I get a lot of inspiration from just absorbing my surroundings. Light, the colours of the rooms, the different shapes and structures. I also started looking at magazines (that I’ve piled up for years and never really looked at) which is a nice change to the usual internet-based research.

But, of course having a scroll through Instagram with my morning coffee gets me inspired too – and that’s something that motivates me to create. Seeing other people being active and creative always sparks ideas. And of course, our morning Zoom calls motivate me a lot. It’s a good reminder of the purpose of my work and, at the same time, talking to everyone and exchanging ideas motivates me to start the day and get stuff done.

I find it really helpful to stay up to date with other artists, illustrators and designers over social media. Despite this being a tough time for everyone, there are some lovely messages and inspiring work being showcased online that just motivates me to continue creating!”

– Holly Irons and Jo Delgado, designers at Kingdom & Sparrow

Hide Comments (3)Show Comments (3)
  • Ian Howard April 1, 2020 at 11:43 am

    OK – here’s the reality, not the absolute twoddle in this article –

    At the moment I’m trying to be a good worker, trying to hit my deadlines, getting stuff done… I’m trying to be a good father to my 7 year old, trying to be a good teacher to him, whilst feeling guilty that I’m actually a lousy teacher. I’m trying to work out what I can cook for the family rom the little shopping I got in from last week, and I’m trying not to worry about my job, and what is going on outside of my door.

    I really haven’t got time to use the ‘left side of my brain’, nor time to scroll through instagram, sipping my flat white whilst strumming my guitar.

    Yes we’re all in this together, and I really wish I had the ‘idillic’ life of these creatives who all seem to have better lives than me, but I bet this reality is more the case right now. Absolute condescending twoddle.

  • Neil Littman April 4, 2020 at 11:02 am

    Thought I would add my comments about what I thought was a very superficial piece about working from home. I am one of the thousands of freelancers who has worked from home for years mainly for my own clients and within agencies on short contracts. The reality for me, is that work more or less ceased coming in two or three weeks ago. One new project was cancelled because the clients own business (osteopathy) crashed as clients cancelled appointments. Suddenly priorities changed to reflect what was going on elsewhere in the world. My priority is to make sure my outstanding invoices are paid to pay my bills and keep my cashflow steady, never mind furloughs or government help. I don’t qualify for any of this. My clients have been in touch saying that we will be working together as soon as things settle down. It has brought us closer together and it is good to hear their personal stories. One of my clients is looking after his disabled parents while his partner is doing the same for hers. While I have time on my hands, I am going out to help my local community with deliveries on behalf of the local pharmacy. On a lighter note, a friend of mine who is a freelance proofreader, told me he read some copy for an annual report written by a well known firm of auditors. Instead of the usual half dozen errors he found 185 on the first 35 pages. We speculated what the reasons could be ranging from a fever to high alcohol consumption but settled for interruptions by toddlers and pets.

  • John Bland April 6, 2020 at 7:52 pm

    Totally agree with the above comments. This has to be one of the most patronising, shallowest pieces I’ve read about home working… thousands of people are really struggling, facing oblivion and dying… and you’re telling me that ideas can come from tidying the kitchen, making a cup of tea or going for a walk. Oh really?

  • Post a comment

Latest articles

From the archives: Picture Post

As we head back into our archives, here’s a gem from March 1990. Jane Lewis looks at the creative ways design firms promoted their services through mail-outs.