25 July 2019

Owen Priestley Answers 12 Questions Relating to the Creative Process

What is the creative process and how does it define us?

In this ongoing Q&A series, 12 simple questions are posed to people across different industries to reveal what it means to be creative, whatever your vocation.

Answering the questions this time is designer, Owen Priestley.


In a nutshell, what do you do?

I am a strategist at a digital agency. Which is a kind of nothing and everything job title. That's my day job. In my own time I am a keen film photographer, printmaker and painter. I take on graphic design and illustration jobs when time allows.

What’s your creative process; how do you get stuff done?

For my agency design process, I start analogue by sketching out concepts. I like to be quite rapid with my designs, churning out several options with a broad stroke so I can quickly discount ideas. I also find that having design options that polarise – doing the extremes – helps to crystallize the solution for both myself and my clients. This is an approach our agency takes, and one I have embraced. Commercial design is collaborative in nature and much of our process is designed to help our clients see our thinking and see the options or tangents we explore, even if they are ‘wrong’.

With my personal work, my process is very different and almost the antithesis of my commercial work. I like working within strict parameters. I don't like to overwork stuff, I usually find the first attempt to be the best attempt. I like that rawness that can get lost when you overwork something.

Everyone works differently. When did you become aware that your creative process is your own?

This is a tricky question as in my industry the creative process is quite standardised, and within our agency our own creative process is also standardised. I don't think my design process differs that much from my colleagues in this respect.

What does differ is the creative activity that happens outside the studio, and all the designers who work with me have different influences, interests and outlets to their creativity that will affect the way they approach a design problem. I believe a good designer has influences above and beyond the design world they work in, and by having other creative interests you can get to a place where you can have a different view on things. Designers are much more specialised now, but Design is such a huge subject that to stay in your own little niche feels like a missed opportunity. It’s also boring.

When are you most creative?

When it comes to ideas, it’s a cliché, but those moments when I am out of the office, away from a computer. I learned a long time ago to always have a little sketchbook or notepad nearby so I can put down those little nuggets that would come to me at times like that. I also find that I do my best creative work in the mornings or late at night, so I plan my days making sure I have space in the morning for creative work. I try to spend the afternoon on more ‘mechanical’ stuff, although it usually never really works out that way. I find that the standard ‘nine-to-five’ never maps to the times that I’m at my most creative, and presume this is the case for most creative people – and why there is starting to be a real shift in my industry towards remote and flexible working.

Can you be creative in a vacuum or do you need outside influences to help?

I need influence, something to spark off. Someone more intelligent than me once wrote “Instinct is memory in disguise.” I interpret this as without research or fact-finding or whatever, you are prone to re-hashing ideas dragged from your subconscious that already exist in the world. You create a copy of something you vaguely remember. There are supposedly no new ideas, but seeing how others have approached a problem and then trying for a new angle can only be done by seeing what's already out there.


Did you seek being a creative or did creativity find you?

From a very young age I was interested in drawing and painting and I was lucky that this was encouraged by my mother, and I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to go to art school and complete a BA in Fine Art. As a fine artist I was a great designer, and it was natural for me to move into design even if it was not a planned career move. I just kind of fell into it. I don’t think I sought out creativity. It has always felt like a part of me, something I need to do, want to do and am good at. As a child I was obsessed with comics and I have always had a sketchbook on the go. I can trace my interest in art and design to reading Asterix comics and later, 2000AD.

Do you think your background has had an effect on your creativity?

Not sure what is meant by ‘my background’. My background in the arts obviously helps. My mother encouraging me through my childhood certainly helped. I had a fairly standard middle-class upbringing, but my mother was a single parent for some of my childhood, so I never take for granted the opportunities my upbringing gave me.

Have you ever struggled with creativity?

All the time, I could say that my entire creative process is me struggling with creativity. I have also suffered from imposter syndrome at various times throughout my career, as I think many creatives do. But I am happy to take a risk, try something new and wing it. I am fairly used to being in situations where I’m not sure how I’m going to get to a satisfactory conclusion. In those situations I am always an imposter but I’m fairly comfortable with that now and, in many ways, embrace the feeling.


Is there any one person, thought or thing that’s changed the way you think?

I have many influences; I am a bit of a Magpie. I would say my Creative Director at Lateral was the greatest influence on my design career. He was definitely unique and I have not come across a creative like him since. At the time I thought all creative directors must be like him. He was all about the idea, the concept, and that's something I keep with me now. If the concept is shit, design is not going to fix it.

Do you have one piece of advice for anyone starting out as a creative?

Over the years I have seen design become much more commoditised and process driven. I would say to any designer starting out, learn the established guidelines but also know when to break or bend them. The current trend of Agile development and UX/Design thinking, although in many scenarios a very good thing, can lend itself to standardisation. Again, this is no bad thing but does not always lend itself to experimentation. All designers need time to ‘play’ and I believe this is where innovation can happen. Finding the space for this in a standardised process can be challenging.


Do you think creativity has defined you?

I used to think that my creativity defined me but not so much nowadays. This is probably a reflection of how I see design nowadays. I solve problems where design is not the only answer. I have to see the bigger picture.

Although saying this, after having children the time available to me for my own personal creative work diminished quite dramatically. This made me realise how important being creative is to me, how it’s a scratch I need to itch.

What would you like to do if you weren’t doing what you do now?

The thought of spending my days and nights in a messy studio painting has always had a romantic appeal. Other than that, working the land and growing stuff. Or maybe keeping bees. To be honest I have no idea. I am content with where I am and that's something I don't take for granted.

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