Why having an ideation process is just as important as having ideas

As part of our constant need for creative stimulation, and also because we love to see what's going on in the design industry, we spend a fair amount of time in talks, conferences and events. It's a great way to compare opinions and get a closer view of what other creative studios are doing.

The most recent event we attended was the Art Directors Club of Europe's annual festival in Barcelona. We were particularly excited about it, as this year's topic was around the creative process and different companies' take on it.

Overall, it was an exciting day full of insights and GIFs (loads of GIFs in every keynote), but there was something that confronted me and left me thinking. One of the speakers — the CEO of one of the biggest advertising agencies in London (and the world), in fact — was advocating for chaos being an essential ingredient for their creative process. He justified it as the only way to get to the non-conventional ideas. He took it even further and said that he tells their clients that their ideation process doesn't actually have any process, and that their way is to just get on with it and do it.

How would you describe your own creative process?

How would you describe your own creative process?

If you know me, or Triggers, you’ve probably deduced that I'm an advocate of the exact opposite. I believe creativity is a process, and that a structured process facilitates better creation and collaboration with others, so it's not surprising that I found these words slightly confrontational.

After reflecting on it for a couple of days, I came to the conclusion that, as cool as it might sound, to actually say that your ideation process is not having a process can be quite tricky. For several reasons.

First of all, it doesn't do too much good for the industry. I imagine talking to a doctor that’s about to operate on a family member and she tells you that her surgical process is not having a process. I bet you’d feel a bit weird (to say the least) about it, right? A methodology doesn't have to be boxy and stiff, but it does have to exist somehow. Having a process means you’ve reflected about your way of doing things, that you have a vision and, not least significant, that you are a professional.

A process is also essential for inclusivity. If you leave it all up to chaos and improvisation, you are basically comparing creativity to magic. As The Pop Up Agency says typically, creativity is not magic. Saying the opposite is just a way to distinguish between magicians and spectators. Between the people who know the secret tricks and the audience who claps and wonder. It's an approach that can make young creatives feel excluded and not good enough.

Lastly, as one of my mentors usually says when he talks about team structures: "you do have a structure even if you say you don't". Even if you say you don't have an ideation process, that's probably an ideation process. A non-process is a process. Maybe you don't want to share it, or perhaps you didn't reflect on it, but it is still a process.

Maria Scileppi talking at ADCE Festival. I definitely agree with her quote.

Maria Scileppi talking at ADCE Festival. I definitely agree with her quote.

I can see that in the last few years the entire creative industry is reflecting on its way of doing things. New methodologies like Design Thinking, service design, lean startup or agile are forcing us to make sense of the abstraction and articulate and illustrate what we once thought was simply a matter of inspiration and chaos.

I understand we all have different takes on the creative process, but I think it would be very beneficial for the industry, and ourselves, to reflect more on it and make it as accessible as possible.