I wrote before about some recent feedback that has challenged me to explore a more artistic, graphic direction in my work. Part of that challenge has been defining the conditions where I would feel open to pursuing that work. I invented a project for myself, to feel my way around some of these ideas, to give myself space to figure out how I want to incorporate these ideas in my work. Here are the rules:
- This has to be a low-commitment project. I have lots going on in my life right now, and the last thing I need is another Project with a capital “P.” This should be small, fun, and fit into my life around other things.
- I want it to feel easy. This should be something that I look forward to playing with, not something that I accept pressure to complete.
- It should not involve a computer. I spend my whole working life in front of a screen, and I don’t want to do that in my spare time. I love the process of manual creation, and I am far more playful in that medium than in the digital space.
- It should not rely on data. Data imposes additional requirements and takes effort (usually using computers) to collect. I don’t want to get bogged down in that here.
- It should be relevant to my actual work. I’m not doing this to prove something to someone else; I’m doing it to move my work forward. It has to fit into that space, or it’s not worth doing.
- It should be useful for demonstrating or teaching a skill. I’m not interested in spending time creating something just to look cool; this thing needs to push me in new directions that feed directly back into my work. It is too easy to dissipate energy and focus with side projects; this one has to inform my other goals.
Once I had the conditions, I thought about the projects that I’m working on and where something like this might be able to contribute. My biggest project at the moment is the Form to Data series of posts, and I do not want to distract attention or take precious creative time away from that (it’s hard enough to keep momentum going on a project so big). Right now, I am 100% focused on content production for that project; I specifically chose to make the images simple, serviceable, and frankly boring so that they are easy to make and don’t slow the writing project down.
For the final product, I need to do a better job with these example images, so that the end project demonstrates excellence in both graphic style and visual communication. I also need to develop visual examples for the more complex concepts that I want to convey, and a playful approach to visual encodings felt like a good way to do that.
And so, I chopped up some sheets of watercolor paper into index-card sized pieces (small, portable, and low-cost/zero commitment), bought some micron pens in different colors, and started imagining how to combine visual encodings in different ways.