Inspiration for designers stuck in the ‘sheer undiluted slog’

I recently read two book excerpts, both about art and the creative process, that I think are extremely relevant to web design, so I wanted to share it here. The first is from the book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, and it tells the story of a ceramics teacher on his first day of instruction:

A ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of the work they produced. All those on the right would be graded solely on their works’ quality.

His procedure was simple: On the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the quantity group; 50 pound of pots rated an A, 40 pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on quality, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an A. At grading time, the works with the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.

It seems that while the quantity group was busily churning out piles of work — and learning from their mistakes — the quality group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of clay.

The second is from Absolute Truths, where a character in Susan Howatch’s novel talks about the struggles she encounters as a sculpter:

But no matter how much the mess and distortion make you want to despair, you can’t abandon the work cause you’re chained to the bloody thing, it’s absolutely woven into your soul and you know you can never rest until you’ve brought truth out of all the distortion and beauty out of all the mess – but it’s agony, agony, agony – while simultaneously being the most wonderful and rewarding experience in the world – and that’s the creative process so few people understand.

It involves an indestructible sort of infidelity, an insane sort of hope, an indescribable sort of… well, it’s love isn’t it? There’s no other word for it… and don’t throw Mozart at me… I know he claimed his creative process was no more than a form of automatic writing, but the truth was he sweated and slaved and died young giving birth to all that music. He poured himself out and suffered.

That’s the way it is. That’s creation. You can’t create without waste and mess and sheer undiluted slog. You can’t create without pain. It’s all part of the process, it’s in the nature of things.

So in the end every major disaster, every tiny error, every wrong turning, every fragment of discarded clay, all the blood, sweat, and tears – everything has meaning. I give it meaning. I reuse, reshape, recast all that goes wrong so that in the end nothing is wasted and nothing is without significance and nothing ceases to be precious to me.

These stories are some of the best descriptions of the creative process that I’ve ever read. The next time you’re mid-design and feel like you’re stuck in the “sheer undiluted slog” that is sometimes the reality of what we do, think of this.

You’re not just theorizing about perfection – you’re doing.

Think about how you can reuse, reshape, and recast all the failed efforts.

Give it meaning by letting it lead you to the next, better solution.