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Creativity in work and art

Today's post is going to be different. I'm going to talk about my creative process for doing art and compare it against my problem solving process for work. Art is really not about problem solving, despite what the designers say, but there are some very rough and broad similar approaches in creativity, at least when I do them. At work, the problem is either handed to me to solve, or I run against a problem while doing my day-to-day or I get curious about something which then leads to problem solving. In art, I'm generally practicing so  I'm usually drawing or painting from a reference as a form of practice but every once in a while, I want to communicate something. The artwork then becomes a vehicle for communication or the support for the message.

Below, I'm demoing my art process for developing supporting art for messages, and alongside, I will show a somewhat similar process going on at work. The processes won't be a one-to-one match but I think you will see some broad similarity.

The Art Process

The Work Process

I wanted to develop a picture to go with the message of concern of what will we do with all of the unemployed once robots and software takes over the jobs.


For a work project, I think I will talk about the automated reporting that I did because I think it covers a lot of ground. This project was handed to me as a weekly reporting that needed to be rolled out to a team. One team had already been doing the report for years and we needed the other team to start doing this report. I think the original intent was to just roll out the report but when I looked at it, I saw there were a lot of information being reported (important information though) and I began to imagine what it would be like for the sites to start doing this report. These sites were at the front line, dealing with customers everyday. Being new to the industry, I couldn't imagine them carving time out of the morning to manually input numbers into the report. I figured it was going to be hard to get them to do this report. My boss told me how  they tried to implement this report before and couldn't get it off the ground.

I first researched Pixabay to see if there were multiple pictures I could use as references for showing down-at-luck people. Leroy Skalstad had quite a few good ones. Then I turned to Art Rage to start drawing. I wanted pictures with a drawn look, not a photo look, to interject some interest.

Just as I do some research in Pixabay, Unsplash, Sktchy, Behance or other pictures to generate inspiration, whether for references or styles, I needed to do some research on what sources were used to gather data and how the sources were downloaded or obtained. From that beginning, a host of other questions arose: which actual data was really used in the downloaded sources, what criteria were used to create the sources, what was the best way to download the sources. Once I was able to generate the correct downloads, then next challenge was how to automatically pull in the correct data into the correct spot on the report. At this point I had little experience with macros so I used formulas to pull in data.

I generated 3 pictures in Art Rage with the plan of combining them into one whole. Here, they are shown as separate drawings.

Each downloaded source required slightly different techniques with the formulas due to how the downloads looked. Some downloads had data falling in a consistent pattern, such as the same columns in every download, but maybe there were extra spaces between the rows that needed to be addressed. Other downloads had data falling in different columns from download to downloads, or maybe even within the same download. So I had to come up with figuring out how to obtain the right information when the information did not fall in the same place from download to download. At this point, I'm still working on obtaining and manipulating the data, not rolling the data into the report yet. Once I figured out to obtain data from each download, I then work on pulling them into the main report.

Once I have the basic pictures, I now start to play around with the pictures to see what other look I can generate. Here I'm using iColorama for play. Sometimes I generate many different versions of the same picture but with a different look or filter applied.

For this reporting problem, there were no concept of  play but I did a lot of testing. Once I figured out a formula, I then ran a test with all of the sites to make sure that formula worked for all of the sites. Most of the time, a new problem would come up. So, fix a problem, then test the fix against all of the sites, come up against a new problem, and then start over again with figuring out how to fix the new problem. I did multiple, multiple testing. Over and over and over again.

Now I'm starting to combine the pictures, once I have settled upon a particular look. I play around some more with the modes in Art Studio to see how to combine the pictures in a most pleasing way.

This process isn't a one to one match with the art process, so here, I'm starting to work on the macro to guide the sites on doing the report. There were some things that needed to be done that simply couldn't be done by formulas, such as moving the weekly data (a week from 5 weeks ago is dropped off and a new week is added maintain a consistent 5 weeks look, every week). I could have asked the site managers to simply move the weeks over but I was told that the managers sometimes forgot to do so and the numbers would get out of balance. So at this stage, I'm adding in the VBA (and learning how to do VBA at the same time) to do the things that have the potential to be missed. Also, at this point, I not only test the data from each site, I'm testing each piece of the program as I write it.

Whoa! More play. I continue to experiment and this version is really far off.

There really is no comparison in these processes. I continue to test but I also bounce the ideas off of my boss and the experts to get their feedbacks. I actually asked my boss early on if she wanted to go the automation route, just to make sure I was not going to go off the rails. She was fully on board from the get go. The feedback from the experts was mixed. I think the concept of automation was so new that it was like falling off a cliff without a safety net when relying on a program to gather the data.

But I'm still testing the ideas and getting feedback on how the report should be done and on what steps I may be missing. Test, test, test. Get feedback.

More play.

Keep testing. I can't stress this enough. Once I'm starting to feel like I got a good product going, then I start the site testing. I started with those more Excel savvy since there were a lot of managers who had almost zero experience with Excel. I'm testing to see how easy it is (or not) for them to do this. I also get their impressions on the report. Usability is coming into play here. How easy is it to use?

Keep developing the idea. I would imagine that at some point, if I had a customer, I would start showing them the results for feedback. I probably would show the drawings early on because that is the hardest part. But since this is a personal project, I can just keep working on developing the picture.

Once the initial feedback from the initial test sites were positive, and they all were positive, I decided to jump in and test it out amongst the entire team. And that's when things went to hell. That's when I learned what it meant to be not Excel-savvy. Some of them couldn't even do copy and paste. So at this stage, I'm throwing the program out there, testing it, watching the feedback and results, and then making adjustments and fixes to address the problems. Each week it was a new thing to address. More macros were develop to combat the manager's weaknesses. Constant training on the process.

An above all, a constant cracking of the whip: "you will do the report - it's not optional".

And the final adjustment/play/experiment was to brighten up the picture. And I'm done.

Each week was to throw the new fixes out there, watch what happens, and then busily create new macros to address whatever new behavior we encounter from the sites. In addition, it was to push them to get into the habit of doing the report. This part was a year long journey to change habits. It took a long long time and some still will slip back.

Currently, they are doing the reports but we will always have to remain vigilant.

But I think they are happy with the automated version since it is doing the grunt work for them.

Okay, to now  wrap up this post. As you can see, the process is slightly different between the two but both contains research and creativity. There's play/experimentation and there's testing. For  me, both sides feed each other. It's a constant jumping from one creative project to the next, from art to computers and back to art and then back to computers again. I switch. One is beauty and the other is functional and useful.

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