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Bring on the fun: cultivating experimentation in design

Trying new things; playing with different techniques; exploring uncharted territories: experimentation is vital to any creative process

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January 9, 2022

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Welcome to 2022! Putting all global, political, and environmental issues aside for a minute, how did it feel making the transition into a new year? Did you stop for a second and take stock of your personal life and creative journey? Did you reflect on what you would like to hold on to and what you would rather leave behind?


If you did, you’re likely looking to add something new to your life, and the best way to do that is through experimentation. As creatives we’re fortunate enough for the opportunity to experiment all the time—every new project, every little doodle in our sketchbook, every prospect of a new collaboration is a chance to try something new and different.


Experimentation as a way of life

What does it mean though, to experiment as a creative? For Verònica Fuerte—founder and creative director of Hey Studio in Barcelona—experimentation is much more than an idea, it’s a way of life. “Having an attitude of playfulness and experimentation was part of my identity since the beginning of my creative career, back when I was in school. When I started working for other studios I felt as though I couldn’t fully express myself in that way. So when I founded Hey studio, experimentation was a core value for me. At Hey, the freedom to experiment is a core value in everything we do—from the projects we work on, the techniques we choose, how we spend our free time and create our side projects, even who we hire. The people who work in the team are aligned with that same way of thinking. As a result, the style of our studios reflect these values and we attract clients who come to us because they want that playfulness and exploration.”


Create your own opportunities

The first step in exploring is defining what exactly experimentation means to you.

“Experimentation for me is about going somewhere I've never been before”, says Verònica. “If I keep doing the same thing, going to the same place, I get bored, as most of us would. But you don’t necessarily need commercial projects to snap you out of that boredom, you can explore it in your personal projects as well. For example, this year we started recording our own podcast. It wasn’t commissioned by anyone and we knew nothing about producing it, but we wanted to explore this medium which was brand new to us. Sometimes when you want to experiment with a new field or sector, you just need to create that opportunity for yourself.”


Seek out skill-based collaborations

“Exploration can happen anytime—when I’m working by myself or the whole team, even when collaborating with someone who has a different skill than me” Verònica adds.

When you’re looking to experiment, acquiring new technical skills is a great place to start. We all have our own areas of expertise and we can’t master every single technique out there. Maybe you’re a great motion designer but you can’t illustrate or know nothing about textiles. So looking for other creatives with a different set of skills and knowledge will open your mind and make it easier to experiment while also learning a bit along the way.”


Creative cross-training

One way of looking at skill-based experimentation is through the idea of creative cross-training. In this 99U article, writer Srinivas Rao explains how borrowing the idea of cross-training from the athletic world can deeply influence your creative life. For athletes, cross-training means training in a different sport from the one in which you’re competing, but that will still have a positive influence on your performance. If, for example, you’re a surfer, you might also lift weights to build upper body strength which will eventually help in paddling and pushing through the waves. If you’re a creative, it would mean practicing your creativity in different art forms. For instance if you’re a designer, you might try playing an instrument. If you’re a sculptor, try writing a poem. Rao gives a great example for this method and quotes author Dani Shapiro who used piano lessons as cross-training for her writing: “I see how that piano was my training ground - at least as important as any writing workshop. I was preparing myself for a lifetime of working with words. The phrasing, the pauses, the crescendos, keeping time, the creating of shape, the coaxing out of a tonal quality. All of these are with me as I approach the page.”


Adding to that notion is designer and art director Hana Tanimura. Hana studied art prior to her career in design and expressed similar thoughts in an interview with Wix Playground: “It was through painting that I first fell in love with making things. I’ve always enjoyed playing with different materials, discovering how they interact with one another — the experimental chemistry of it all. My art education and early love of exploring through making made me inclined towards a more open-ended flavor of design work. I’m comfortable with ambiguity and making things that propose multiple answers instead of just one. I’d say that’s the most important influence art has had on my design practice and in fact many of my peers who also come from a fine arts background share this same sensibility.”


Exploring new dimensions

For Verònica, taking a step away from the screen and paper into more tactile realms was a beneficial way to experiment. “We have our shop on the studio’s website and in the beginning we offered mainly printed products like posters and notebooks. As graphic designers, paper is the most natural and familiar material to work with—it’s intuitive for us. But after a few years, paper was just not enough. I had a thought that a poster doesn’t have to be printed on paper. A blanket could be a type of poster as well. That’s how we started experimenting with fabrics and began working with suppliers and creatives from different industries to create textile products like silk scarves, bags, and blankets. And it’s not only for textiles that we collaborate with different creatives - we have a poster that was done in collaboration with a 3D artist as it was something we in the studio didn’t have the right skills for.”


What’s fun got to do with it?

Experimentation isn’t just about exploring new skills and collaborating with new talent. Sometimes all you need is just a little spark of joy. Though experimentation doesn’t always translate to playfulness, playfulness is always at the heart of experimentation. Verònica explains: “Playfulness is a core value for us at the studio, but it doesn’t mean we use it as a routine afterthought. Playfulness doesn’t necessarily mean colorful or funny. It can be a gesture or a texture. It’s about the process of creating, and if you’re enjoying creating in a playful way, trying and experimenting, then the results will always be better. Your fun and enjoyment will shine right through. It’s very abstract but I really believe that if you feel happy while creating, things will look and feel better in the final result and the client will feel it too. Inject the joy of playfulness in every project, no matter how serious the subject is.”


Maintaining a sense of wonder

For many creatives, the beginning of their career can feel like a time when there is no room for experimentation at all—it can feel as if there’s no room for error and no mistakes can be made on their path to success, whatever that may be for them. How can you avoid that and maintain that curiosity and exploration when you’re just starting out? “I think the first years are so exciting and should be cherished,” says Verònica. “The beginning is when you have the most energy you’ll ever have in your career—you just need to make good use of it. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Even though it might not be the job-of-your-dreams from the get go, just try, see where it leads you. I see the young generation wanting things to happen very fast and it just doesn’t work like that. Stay calm and have patience; focus your energy. Remember this is the only time in your life you’ll get to be a beginner so use the energy wisely. Imagine you are just looking for inspiration: I like to think of inspiration as ‘being awake’, and that is what I suggest you do - be open to everything that you see everyday. Be informed about what’s happening around you, talk to people, and everything you see or hear can become an inspiration and a new way of looking at things.”


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