Making Creativity Out of Masked Air: How To Stay Relentlessly Creative Through a Pandemic & Beyond
Betsy Freeman presented “Making Creativity Out of Masked Air: How To Stay Relentlessly Creative Through a Pandemic & Beyond” at UX Camp Spring 2021. Enjoy!
Senior Visual Product Designer, Intuit
Betsy is a curious creative currently working as a Senior Experience Designer at Intuit. Currently working on the innovation learning experiences, she leads with her bias for empathy and action, so that every learner has access to personalized, cutting edge innovation education.
Betsy is energized by building accessible stories from complex ideas, sold on design thinking, and grounded by the power of community and a consistent traditional media practice. You can find Betsy crafting unexpected vegan sauces in her blender, organizing potlucks, and relentlessly creating printed matter. She actually combined her love of sauce and printed matter and created a few illustrated vegan sauce cookbooks.
The following transcript very likely contains typographical errors. Please forgive any mistakes!
I’m here. Oh, there we go. They’re there. Alright, alright, well, cool. Thank you for the intro, making creativity out of masked air.
So this is a concept I put together and excited to share, and it goes way beyond a pandemic, so I’m not just sharing pandemic tips, ’cause I know that can be out of this shortly, hopefully fingers Crest thinking about how can you stay creative in a landscape that feels like it’s just not conducive to that, so taking a couple of skills, I hope you can learn a thing or two here, but mostly just get out and making stuff. It’s the best thing. So I’m just a real quick back story on me. My name is Betsy, I’m an experienced designer, I work into it, and I work on their innovation systems and how people use and learn, do that kind of thing, so it’s a fair amount of time on a screen, I love it, but I also need some time off a screen. So I walk around my city, San Francisco, I eat snacks and I do a little bit of midnight cartooning. It’s just a little bit more about me. But anyways, I am more pro, let’s just dive right in and share… So to get started, I would love for you to just think for a minute about the last time you lost track of time, so this could be you were so involved in solving something and creating something…
Maybe it was just in a conversation with a friend. So when you’re thinking about that moment, it’s something where you just kinda looked at the clock and you’re like, Oh, I can’t believe it’s already 5. Or where did the time go? To your thinking about that moment, that is a moment that you probably slipped into, using more of your right side of your brain, which is typically the last linear side, the side that’s willing to play around and ambiguous spaces, but it’s honestly more than anything. A moment when you were more creatively engaged and you’re willing to make connections between things that just weren’t quite so logical or hadn’t already been done before, so I wanted to take you back to that moment because just to start us off here, those moments were probably… If you’re like me, a little hard to come by during this last year that we’ve all been experiencing, because those women typically are fed my experiences, it’s experiences like going to a museum. Talking to a new person traveling, hearing you music, experiencing…
So your typical creativity talk is gonna be like, No, no. Go out in the world, I go talk to people, go do fun stuff. And that’s awesome, but that we’ve been all but taken away from that in the last year, so how do you stay engaged because we’ve been at home… It’s kind of the same thing, I don’t need to tell you about this, but how do you get into those zones that are just… You’re completely engaged in creativity.
So I’m going to share what I learned through this low quirky book that I wrote and illustrated and published during the pandemic, this is my lovely cool bean dip, and it is a home-making book, and just like the quick and dirty as to how to make many homes, but let me tell you, this will puppy kept me alive and just help me to stay completely engaged and able to be positive and a time… That was pretty rough. So I think there’s a mower who just started next to me, but… Hopefully you can still hear Me. Anyways, here’s a quick insight shot, if you like how Miss Please take a screenshot. This happens to be one of my favorite recipes are to choke olive oil through it all in your blender, call it good. But I’ll take you through some of this and I’m a pretty… I can be quite linear and quite interested in systems, and so I actually have it all formatted at the end as to a little formula can use. But to get started, how did I get into this? Well, I started just kind of questioning my everyday life, and it was the same… Right, so I’m at home, I’m just doing the same thing over and over again. And what was the area of my life that I could play around with, something I was interested in, but also had to figure out, and one of those was cooking, and I’m not brand new to cooking by any means, but I needed to figure out how to do it efficiently… How to make it taste good? How to make it healthier pretty quick because it was something I was doing every single day, so I remained curious about that, but I kind of started to play in the space and question it, it’s like, Could I make flavor on anything…
Could I make that flavor faster, could I make it healthier or kinda landed in this sad space, and then it was like, Can we make the safe space something that is a food in and of itself may be home… I don’t know, that’s where I came upon that. So that’s my first tip here, it’s just creativity starts for curiosity, so be willing to be curious about the life that you’re living right now, you don’t recognize that maybe there’s a lot of little nooks and crannies of your life problems that are yet to be solved, things that you actually just really enjoy, and it’s like, How could you stretch that out, make it shorter, make it more efficient. Dig into it, I don’t know what that is, but here’s a couple of questions to just jump start that thought process for you. What’s your favorite part of your day?
Why, how could you stretch that out, what
Challenges do you face in your daily favorite activities, how could you create something to address those, how could you break that down or just past into your head into smaller parts, now make those parts bigger, longer, etcetera. I don’t know what that is for you, but again, it’s thinking about reimagining your daily routine life. So moving on from there, I’m not curious, and I’m out here playing with my homies, playing with how I could change those, but the fact is I actually pushed the whole concept along by playing around with something else in tandem, and that was illustration. So during this time, I have been really curious about iPad illustration, and I was like, What if I drew all these homes as I was making him… So it was kind of working because the two started to interact and play with each other, and on one side, you’ve got these quirky colors and things that I’m trying to bring into the illustration side, and then I’m trying to make the homes more interesting, and it was like, Okay, I really need a bright color for the drying, it’s like, What’s a bright colored vegetable. Homey thing, a beach.
Could you make a beat comment and I was like, Yeah, you told again, so figuring out how to cook that, how to make that simplified, how to share that out, it’s like the two just kind of played with each other and created a creative problem. So here is on, I think it could be a video, but I think it’s actually just going to be a picture for now, just a quick picture as to what this can look like. Alright, so that is my next tip is built to it once, but there’s actually two tips in here at the same time, and the main thing here is just built, so you want to build your way forward and think through your problems as you’re creating them versus just thinking them on your own, because it’ll start to fire up your creativity and move you forward, so my next step, just get after it, just start making stuff. It’ll be really great. Really fun.
Here’s another shot at the inside of the book, something kind of core, you can see I needed to take that lack, that black typography and carry it over into the illustration. So that was really important. And it was like, Well, what’s like a black dark food? And I was like, What about Seneca? Yeah, and you can do dark black ass seeds. It works for homes, etcetera, it’s kind of how that worked, like building the two in tandem, it looks like… It looks like our friendly tremors actually are gonna take a crook break anyways. Thanks for your patients. Alright, so build to think is not a concept I created, actually, I would love to take credit for it, but it’s a common UX practice. The term build-to think is actually coined by David Kelly, he’s one of the founders of idea to design firm. And it’s great when you’re solving problems for your own personal projects, but also in work, thinking about how do you make something tangible out of ideas versus just thinking about them and letting them live in mental models. So as you’re building your way forward, you kind of see the loop holes and start to solve them on paper, whether it’s, whether it’s with Legos or whether it’s with the actual wire frames or whatever you’re building.
Okay, so here’s another kind of just slide of… One of the pages of the book, this is an FAQ. And So this was kind of one of those build to sane moments where it was like, Okay, this is a book. I need to give people instructions, but I want to make it something that is approachable but also funny, also fun and light weight, etcetera. And so this was a built a think moment where I was like, Alright, if I start to write this out to just make sense of instructions, etcetera… It’s quite fun, actually. Okay, so continuing on next steps here, I’m just building this thing, but it’s like, How do I keep going? ’cause at a certain point, it’s like I kind of made a lot of homes. I’ve done illustration stuff like, Am I done yet? Whatever. So this is where the just daily ritual came in and showing up became incredibly important, so I used to have a lot more time spent commuting and meeting up with friends and stuff, which was pretty fun, and I’m definitely going back to that, but I recognized that there was these gaps of time that I could… That I wanted to take advantage of before I lost them in a daily routine, so I took this block in the morning and I was just like, okay, that is this hour where all I do is like creative time, I’m just gonna explore that because everything else in the world is a little wacky right now, but I’m just gonna have that block where I explore this humus illustration thing, I like watching videos, I just kinda try different techniques out, I look at other work sometimes, but I just use that to invest in this project, but also just creativity.
Let me tell you, that made all the difference in the world. It was a discipline, to say the least, for sure, because it feels very unproductive at moments… For sure, I… Like through a lot of work away. And he just had a lot of bad ideas that were not great, but in those moments too, I was building this just full compendium of creative ideas that continue to add each other on. This is just a shot of some Instagram pictures, I used my Instagram as a moment to catalog some of these things I was exploring during that time, but it was like anything from food styling to the donut illustration was me exploring some new illustration techniques, photography, staff. I ended up not doing photography for the book itself, but I was exploring it a lot and seeing how that could play into it, and learning as I went along, I was really fun. Okay, so that is my tip, if you’re writing stuff down a creative space, a creative space on your calendar, in your head, on your priority list, it’s essential for keeping going, and I know that life’s gonna get passer and… All those other tasks that I cleared my calendar are gonna go away, but the value of that time provided for me is something that I wanna prioritize and I’m just gonna make it happen because I can’t live without it anymore, and it makes me much more efficient in the rest of my life it makes me happier, I need to be able to problem solve a lot faster, so anyways, all that to be said, Find that creative space.
It’s where the magic happens.
But there’s still a little bit of magic missing ’cause this actually gets in to my next client.
So yes, perfectly cleared out calendar and you have a cute little creative space, maybe you have a nice desk and you have all the tools and you have your idea and you’re like creating as you go, your creativity forward, but there’s still something like a little dry and isolated about that, it’s like… Well, first of all, my desk certainly does not look like this. That sounds nice, shout. There’s some things still that’s a little like, Okay, so you and your ivory tower just kinda like making your thing by yourself, it just kind of wears out, it’s kind of done.
So here comes in, just one of the more important things than ever with creativity and building that up, it’s like you really need your people, so this is me with my lovely corn team, these were the people who held me accountable, but I also shared in the process and they got me to the finish line.
So I told them I was exploring this homes thing, they kept… And they asked me about it all the time, they’d be like, hasten going.
And then I told them I was gonna get it done by the end of the year. So I don’t know, who knows if they were remembering that all the time, but I was remembering it.
So I was like, Alright, I gotta show up for these people, and then they were trying stuff and then I kinda reasoned, copy by then. My brother is actually in the far back there, and he’s a designer as well, he gave me some great tips and was just helpful feedback on the design side, but then I also sent it to a couple other creative friends and just wanted to get their input because that really changed the experience as well, so you gotta find your people, those are the people who get you through… So open your people, they’re excited to participate, they’re excited to show you on… And I actually have a highly technical graph ahead. So watch yourself.
Alright, so this is what we call the creative slump, but it all ties interrupting in your people… No pun intended, actually though.
Okay, so you have your great idea and you’re on this cute little knoll of happiness and excitement, and it seems so great, but then you get going on it. You’re like, This is really complicated, or like, I’m not that good at this, or I didn’t realize this, or somebody else has already done this, or there’s just all this hesitancy staff and you’re like, This is stupid. What am I doing? Okay, well, your people aren’t there and they’re pulling you to the finish line, they’re like, No, no, no. We still think it’s really cool. You can do it, you can do it. You’re awesome, this is an awesome idea of blah, blah, blah, ’cause if you see, they’re in like at the same level as you when you’re on this emotional high, I have this stellar idea, and they’re still in that space, they’re not in the weeds with you being like… Oh, this is like too much. Or, I don’t know, or I’m kind of burnt out or whatever, they didn’t get into that zone, they’re still on the line. This is a dope idea, we’re stoked.
So they pull you back up, get you to that finish line and so on, so not to be lost in this whole thing, a roping in your people again in a sideline, other tip here is putting a deadline. So I know that sounds kind of horrible for personal project, like a deadline and agenda, a schedule or whatever, and you’re like.
Well, why would I do that for my fun time, but I think of it more like a finish line, like putting together a finish line, sharing that out, because the probability of actually completing something when you have a deadline finish line zone, just sky rockets as soon as you put that out, but also you have your squad at the finish line there to tear you on and there to just be your fan fair when you get back, so this is a lovely picture brought to you by the internet at these sweet girls putting together finish line, but that’s kind of what you feel like it feels the same as finishing a race or finishing a big challenge, because you’ve set that up and people are excited, people are so happy to be roped into this… Okay, so this is just a quick little disclaimer slide here, as I was putting this together, I was like, I don’t know, is it sounding like one of those talks, it’s just like, You really should eat healthy. You gotta make time for exercise. I usually have time for mindfulness or whatever, it’s like, Oh, another hour a day for creativity or whatever, it seems like too much.
And I think I just wanna put a little asterisk here and say it’s not about having stuff on to your life, it’s about bringing out what’s already inside of you and letting that influence the rest of your life.
So making space and giving that the time and ability and priority to make that happen. So sometimes it’s not even the time, but it could be a short increment or whatever, but taking that priority in your life actually makes you much more influential and happier in the rest of your life would be my big argument there, but moving on from the disclaimer, I guess I can just tell you for myself, this has really impacted me in my own work, but also just the way in my relationships and how I solve problems, and think about that as I sort of shared earlier, and actually, this is a ridiculous picture of me… I think I was planning to edit this out, but I think it kinda works, this is… I actually got promoted as this year, and so I was really excited about it, and it was a little crazy considering we certainly had been through a tough time and it was really hard to ship projects, but through the uncertainty and through a time when there was a lot of unknowns investing in creativity got me through that, and it was something where I was able to be pre-stable for my team and be able to build my way forward when a lot of people were very scared, and I was scared as well, but I think…
Being more comfortable in solving an ambiguity really helped, so I’m not here to guarantee your promotion though, I wish I could roam guaranteeing to say that you’ll get some awesome just like energy in your life the more you invest in this, in creativity. And then another point here on creativity is, it’s not finite, it’s not you build a book and then it’s done, or you create… Who knows, maybe it’s like, You’re excited about coffee and building your UX skills, how could you problem-solve in your coffee interest with you, Hey, I don’t know what you end up doing, but it doesn’t end there, it’s not just this kind of one project, I can say for myself and creationism, Ken, that led me to understand the problems in the space and just like my mind just kind of went crazy on it, and it still… It just snowballs into the next project, which is really fun, so just getting started, get you going. And I’m excited to share my next book, I actually signed with a publisher like a month ago, and I’m excited, the homeport is quite petite, in this next book is gonna be around 120 recipes, it’s not just homes, even though I wish I could come up with 120 homes recipes.
But this one is going to be on one bull wonder meals type of thing, for busy people who just wanna just make dinner in one dish and just be done and have fun and get off their screens, etcetera, so here’s a couple of illustrations from that, and I’m excited to continue to be jumping into this process, but all that to be said, getting started in something and building… Just keeps building. And it’s exciting and it’s fun. Alright, so before I jump into more of a Q and A Zone, I wanted to give you this quick again, graphic that will just share in a brief words what I’ve been sharing in the last couple of minutes here, which is creativity equals curiosity, so being curious about your daily life and then getting making… Just getting going and then prioritizing it, making time to do that, making time to be curious, making time to play in that creative space and all of that upheld by your people, and those are the people who are going to cheer you on, who are going to be there. And so that is creative for me, I just summed up really quick and I want…
And that leaves you in this making space and it’s an office want to be… I highly recommend… And then to finish us off here, I want you to think about the last time you were excited to share something, so this could be when you were excited to share an idea, excited to share something you made… Excited to share. I mean, who knows, maybe it was a great take-out spot, excited to share a funny meme or something like that, what did that feel like when you were so stoked or maybe it was a present for someone’s birthday or something… It’s a good feeling. And that honestly is the heart of creativity, and where it leaves us is just giving and making, because at the end of the day, creativity is an act of generosity, so not only do you get it, but then you give it and you’re able to inspire others, and make change and… Sure, so I’m excited. I hope you will share any creative adventures you embark on, but thanks again and… Yeah, with that, I’m ready to jump into Q and A.