Last week, I talked about how your audience doesn’t care about originality. Though this is true, they will appreciate your most unique ideas the most. Even though there’s no such thing as true originality, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strive to be as unique as possible.
A main challenge of creative work is to create unique, yet meaningful work. This can be difficult because purely unique work is interesting, but is also less relatable to your audience. On the other hand, purely meaningful work is relatable, but is less interesting. There are a few things I’ve learned that have helped me find a nice balance in order to achieve meaningful work.
Process of Creating Meaningful Work
I recently created this “Bae Area” piece a few months ago. I believe this is a great example of a lettering piece that strikes a nice balance between the two. It was a new enough idea that a lot of people thought it was unique, and provided meaning through levity and sharing my location.
Let me break down how I took this play on words idea, modified it to make it my own, and provided unique value to my audience. For starters, I did not come up with this idea, or at least I don’t think I did (explained in next section), and yet it was received really well. This is just another example that my audience didn’t care about the originality of the idea. They appreciated the execution, which is where a lot of your uniqueness lies.
1. Catalog the Idea
Many people thought this was an original play on words I had discovered myself. The play on words being the word “Bay,” with the shortened meme for the word babe: “Bae.” However, this was just an interesting idea that I had came to me somehow and I just stored it away. This step of this process actually started before the idea ever came to me. That step: having a system for capturing lettering ideas. Whether the idea is unique, or came from somewhere else, I always write it down.
I never rely on my brain for storing & remembering ideas.
If it interests me, then I write it down in my iPhone app, Clear. Clear is an app focused on capturing to-do items, but I use it for quickly capturing ideas. But use whatever system works best for you; have a single place where all your creative ideas are stored. If you get an idea, it should immediately go in that idea vault. I knew that no idea is completely original, so I’m comfortable in throwing all interesting ideas into my idea vault. The good thing about this is that cataloging ideas strips away the reference material. This is a common mistake made when modifying ideas. You don’t want to gather the style or uniqueness of the person’s idea. You simply want the bare skeleton of the idea, then finish it your way. By simply cataloging the idea, it had been separated from its origin by the time I revisited it. I couldn’t tell you whether I discovered that idea in a Tweet, Instagram photo, or if I said “Bay Area” to myself and heard the play on words myself. By the time I decided to work it, I was left with the idea itself and the freedom to create it in my own style, without outside influences. It’s through this process where you give the idea your unique fingerprint.
2. Think of Usage Case
Always be thinking of applications for your ideas and inspiration. You want to find an outlet for those ideas, rather than have them collect dust. This is mainly a thought exercise. Review your ideas and think about how you can use part, or all of the idea in what you’re doing next. Think about them in context with what you’re doing. I didn’t really imagine myself using this idea because it didn’t pertain much to me living in Sacramento. However, probably a month later, I had planned on going to San Francisco for the weekend. It was the week before we were leaving, and it finally hit me as I sat down to create some lettering. I was looking through my cataloged ideas and I spotted the one that said “Bae Area”. I immediately thought of using it in a picture to represent my trip in an Instagram post. I just so happened to have the perfect solution in my idea vault. Other times, it’s not so obvious. You need to go back and see if certain parts of ideas can be combined or adapted to your next piece.
3. Add Your Unique Style & Perspective
Now that I had the idea, I began asking myself how I would create the piece in my unique way. I started by asking myself, “what lettering style should I use?” I wanted to have a contrast in style and message to strengthen the play on words hit.
I went for a elegant, calligraphic script style to trow people off guard by making it appear to say “Bay Area.” That goal was reinforced by including some dynamic, free-flowing strokes to represent the Bay Area winds and cool weather. I also considered where exactly I would take the photo. Since it was about the Bay Area, I wanted to capture the Golden Gate Bridge to take advantage of the iconic nature to strengthen the play on words even more.
Keep a Nice Balance
Although this lettering piece played more towards original work than meaningful work, there was still a balance between the two. It was a fairly unique and new play on words. And it had some meaning to my audience by providing value through humor, photography, and letting people know of my trip.
Creating unique and meaningful work requires you to be aware of these two factors. You don’t want to be about complete originality because it leads to obscure work—most people can’t relate to obscure ideas. You also don’t want to be completely generic either. Even the most useful ideas without any personality to it doesn’t interest people.
Finding that balance between originality and meaningful work is tough. Sometimes you’ll lean towards one end of the spectrum which is fine. Both are important for creative work, but it takes practice to figure out the appropriate balance.
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