Creative Dinner About Negative Space

A couple of months ago, I decided to start scheduling dinners with people in the creative industry. The concept of these dinners is to define our professional “negative space.” We do this by speaking frankly about what we struggle with—what as creative people, we feel we need to improve upon. For me: being honest about my shortcomings focuses my thinking on my exact skill set and leaves me open to new suggestions and ultimately, to improvement.

At the second dinner, I tried to be less of a moderator and more of an attendee. I wanted to see where the conversation drifted.

In attendance were:
Michael Callelia
Celeste Giampetro
Yaron Shroen

We spoke about the value of a well written creative brief, the need for distinction between design and creative direction and the value of sometimes just saying “I disagree” to an unclear idea or concept. Somewhere in there we also made time to have a laugh over the new Gap logo and the overused ribbon technique now shown on many “cutting edge” (groan) websites. It was a frank discussion, debates ensued and on the whole, most who attended thought it was a refreshing, honest and fun networking event .

But I don’t recall anyone describing the dinner as “constructive” or “helpful,” which for me is the only reason I want to continue to hold these dinners: to grow professionally and possibly help others grow.

The third creative dinner was smaller but a bit more organized. This time I was joined by:

Tarah Malhotra-Feinberg
Yi Shun Lai

I made a conscious effort to describe why I thought these dinners were important and why there should always be a moderator.

The first thing I did was talk about my struggles with writing. I enjoy editing writers’ work but I have many insecurities around writing my own stories, blogs, etc.

From there the conversation opened up. We discussed the practice of writing and talked frankly about how defining any kind of specifics is hard. We talked about how setting day-to-day specific boundaries in project management are elusive and draining. The topic of boundaries and communication seemed to be at the heart of this dinner.

Everyone at the table felt that in-person communication was essential to creative engagement. Skype and other over IP communication tools are great, but only for extremely structured projects and highly seasoned meeting and project management veterans.

We seemed to be touching on something the other two dinners touched upon as well: When there is lack clarity in strategy, vision and communication, creative play and the freedom to explore the dark corners of a concept in search of originality, is lost. The child-like exploration that most people need to be creative requires spontaneity, humor and most importantly: a clear understanding of the rules.

At all times in our early lives we all had bars around our playpens, walls around our sandboxes and fences around our school yards. We knew distinctly were we could go, were we couldn’t and at most points we thrived on finding ways to create challenges to those boundaries. Challenging the rules and questioning authority is what project stakeholders and/or clients want from us every day, some of the time without knowing it or properly articulating it.

As “creatives” of any type (yes coders, you guys and gals are pretty darn creative) — “articulating it” is why we are in business.

Thanks to Tarah, Celeste, and Yi Shun for input and guidance on this very post!


Author: Van

Accomplished human-centered designer, impassioned leader, enthusiastic educator and perennial learner. Versatile craftsman and thinker, facilitating solutions for positive change through empathy-driven ideas.

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