Any creative project is an adventure. It will go through a number of diversions before it reaches its conclusion, new ideas will join your existing ones, you’ll meet obstacles that seem daunting and sometimes unconquerable, and you’ll have wonderful Eureka moments. You will have to slay the beast of doubt and offer up thanks and prayers to the Gods of digital fortune. Ultimately, one of the best weapons you can carry to navigate your quest successfully is iteration.
“Begin with an idea, and then it becomes something else”
By using iteration in your creative project you can remain flexible in your approach, able to take advantage of new technologies, keep your ideas harmonized, have a birds’ eye view of the project at any give moment, and ultimately end up with better and more considered results while making sure you don’t wander aimlessly in the wilderness.
A typical iteration cycle would look like this:
Imagine -> Create -> Test -> Refine -> then repeat
Below are some considerations for how and why to use iteration cycles in your creative project.
1) The Demons of Doubt
Beware… as you stride out, there are hidden dangers on your trail, and one that you are guaranteed to meet at one or more points along the way are the Demons of Doubt. Doubt is there for a reason, but too much of it can be like Kryptonite to Superman. Without doubt you could find that throwing yourself off that precipice into that small pool of water really wasn’t such a great idea; we need to question, we need to calculate, and doubt is a catalyst for those actions.
As you travel through the creative process, risk has to be considered, and without doubt weighing in, those calculations may end up a bit one sided. But there also has to be means by which doubt must be prevented for being the creeping creature that overshadows your idea, and paralyze your creative process.
Doubt is fuelled by big decisions, and trying to comprehend something as a whole. Small iterations can help you break doubt apart into wraith-like smoke and keep those monsters tamed, it gives you momentum, you can see the bigger picture but you won’t be so daunted by it. Basically you fight the demons one on one rather than suddenly coming up against a formidable army.
2) Start small
When you sit back and look at the scale of the idea you’ve just imagined into existence, it can seem daunting, crazy, and over-ambitious. Don’t worry, this probably means the idea is essentially a good one, you just have to figure out how to break it down and achieve it. We looked previously at using Agile methodology as part of your digital toolkit, and this is where that methodology and its associated toolset can come into its own.
Map the project out, break it down into smaller elements, gauge how easy or difficult each element is going to be, start sorting those elements into categories and then once they are bite sized, chow down. If you are working on a hardware project, there are now so many tools that you can use for prototyping: cheap electronics, microcontrollers, 3D printing to name a few, which all can give you the advantage of cheap and rapid testing of digital ideas. The ideas is to work out the pitfalls, or essentially to fail fast.
3) Be the pathfinder
If you were building a website, you wouldn’t start with trying to get final designs out to someone and then see what they say, would you? Most designers start with a wireframe, or hand sketched layouts in order to be able to iterate quickly, cheaply and effectively. Same with videos, you would come up with a rough storyboard before you even turned that camera on. Think of it as sketching in pencil before you go over it with finely inked lines.
If you can fail fast and fail while you are at your sketching stage, then remapping your decisions is as simple as scrunching up a piece of paper or scribbling something out and adding the change. With an iterative process, even if you have to step backwards further into the development cycle, you’ll never stray too far from the path and therefore can quickly navigate through multiple twists and turns, have a map of your progress, and everyone involved is aware of where you are and, just as importantly, where you are heading.
4) Work in sprints
In Agile, you typically work with ‘sprints’, which means you designate a certain amount of time to a specified element of the project and achieve those smaller targets before you move on to the next element. This way you can quickly have results to show and get feedback on it, then you can include that feedback for the next iteration. Your development becomes circular rather than linear, you’re not working in isolation and thus avoid the inherent danger of one person’s vision that is a complete mismatch others on the team or the client’s.
If one area is proving particularly tricky, you’ll get to see which one and why very quickly and can adjust course accordingly, or call in back up. Your final outcome comes as a result of a series of smaller successes, which have been vetted, approved, and improved along the way to create a unified whole at the project’s completion.
5) Make learning part of the journey
There are so many great offerings online now that you can find free tutorials, videos, code or examples for pretty much any subject. Make use of this, consult the experts, get inspired by others’ ideas and keep throwing it into your own creative journey to keep things fluid and create a flow. Iteration means things can change; if you find a beautiful idea that perfectly fits then you have the power to add it and build it into your journey. Remember your mood-boards and social bookmarks and keep adding to them.
Another part of learning is how to handle failures. There will be failures on the way, say it, accept it, and then realise that failure, comfortably cushioned by the contained scope of the iterative cycle, is not a negative thing. Consider these failures as ruling out possibilities, each one will provide a valuable lesson and an insight into how you can improve. In order to find what does work, you often have to discount what doesn’t.
6) Celebrate your steps
Sometimes the first steps are the hardest. It we look at this literally in terms of how we as humans learn to circumlocate, there are distinct development stages, first comes crawling, then ‘cruising’ where support is grasped at from any available source. It involves a lot of falling down and getting back up, a lot of tears, swaying, and parents who are wide eye both with amazement and trepidation. But along the way, while everything is celebrated with cheers, clapping, and little tears of familial pride, there is a certainty that you’ll ‘get there’ and all the happenings along the way are a wonderful part of the experience.
Take that to add attitude to your project: screen grab designs or visuals, set them as your desktop, show them off to your family, document them, stick them on your wall. Once you surround yourself with the ideas they begin to take on a force of their own and materialise into reality. The feeling of fluidity and achievement will reassure you, inspire you, and ultimately one of those steps will be the one where walking seems a distant memory and now it is about how fast you can run or how high you can jump or what other radical stunts you can pull off with all those new found skills.
7) Reaching your destination
So with a constant cycle of iteration, you have to make a decision as to when your project can actually go out the door and hold its head high. There are various schools of thought on this one. If it is a personal project, then you have to decide when it is ready to be unleashed upon the world while keeping in mind that it can be V1 and that the iteration cycle can continue.
If it is a delivery for a client, then the absolute basic premise is that it has to be ‘fit for purpose’, i.e. it does everything that you agreed and it does it well, even though you of course, want it to be spectacular.
If you’ve used the Agile system, knowing when a project is finished is one of the visual benefits of the system: the end point is where all the cards you’ve carefully moved along your boards have skipped through the ‘to do’, ‘In Progress’, ’Complete’, ’Tested’, and ‘Approved’ columns and reside neatly in ‘Done’. The other benefit of the system is that if you’ve been working in small sprints you will have been deploying your iterations on the way, so the final release is one small step rather than a leap of faith across a chasm.
**This is part 4 of a 7 article series. Missed step 1? Read A Jargon Free Anatomy of a Creative Brief.
If you need a hand with writing a creative brief, would like Developing Dreams to help you bring your idea to life or facilitate a brainstorm, then please get in touch.