So an old work friend of mine, now working in the game industry, had recently reached out to me for a bit of a digital catch up in these lockdown times. We were chatting about this and that, when suddenly... a wild creative brief appeared in the long grass:
"I'm defenitely working with more mixed disciplinary people these days. It made me think the other day, about how someone would approach the tasks of both Character Design, and Character Theme Tune Composition as an independent practitioner?"
Yoink! I decided at that moment that I'd TOTALLY take that soft-brief and use it to establish the first draft of Making Sense.
This accidental-brief was good fit as an experiment for me to establish the cards for a few reasons - firstly, based on my own personal creative skillset and experience in the jobs market, it's exactly the kind of project I would find myself working on. Secondly, it also embodies two different (traditionally defined) creative roles; illustrator, and composer.
Now this very moment right here, the moment when you start thinking about a creative brief or opportunity, is the exact moment that I want Making Sense to be concerned with. All of the mental gymnastics that goes on inside my head during this moment is the reason I want to materialise my workflows during this process.
The very first thing I did was to catch myself in that initial headspace and start writing down any ingredients I was identifying or questions I was asking myself.
After about 15 minutes, I had begun to fill the spaces underneath the card categories on my workboard.
I naturally started logging modalities down first. Although the core direction of Making Sense isn't primarily focused on this anymore, it is still a granular ingredient of the wider product, and these are the kinds of things that tend to be at the forefront of my mind when I start thinking about ideas in response to a creative brief - e.g. what formats of creativity are going to come into play here? Sound? Visuals? Gesture? Movement? Then I started to consider more direct questions - such as 'What materials are needed?' 'What skills are required?' and 'What equipment do you have?'
Next, I started listing out keywords that are used to influence the creation of work across any medium, such as 'texture', 'motion', 'dissonance', and so on... until the board was starting to look fairly flush.
After this flurry of semi-automatic writing, these ingredients started to feel really familiar to me, so far things felt like they were on the right track. So much so, that I spotted one such modular combination on the board that I had previously 'assembled', back when I was planning my approach for the Blueberry Bay illustrations; a children's book that I illustrated for Ashley Fayth last year.
For this, I combined the [VISUAL] sense with [TEXTURE] to [REINFORCE A THEME]. This chain of components ultimately led me to the creation of a visual production workflow that doubled down on the theme of plastic pollution, which was the primary theme for this children's storybook. I realised that I could create a set of custom vector brushes in Photoshop (i.e. VISUAL), that utilised scrunched up waste plastics (i.e. TEXTURE), which I could then paint the characters and the scenery with, in order to reinforce the theme. This resulted in the following art style for the book:
If my cards had existed back then, that chain of components, physically materialised, would've looked a little something like this:
...but at that time, it was generated in my head and remained in my head until I actioned it. And because of this, I'm convinced that I missed other opportunities for novel creative workflow formulas as a result of keeping this stuff *up there* all of the time; it's just not efficient or sustainable. It's a nice feeling, trying to eradicate inefficient habits through the development of these cards I must admit. So this time, now that they were no longer *up there* but *out there*, I tested some of these out in response to the soft-brief above from Ben. I asked myself the questions that were listed, such as what tools did I have available to me, and describe the creative concept in one sentence:
"The creation of a theme tune for a character, where the aesthetics of each medium are balanced and harmonious."
Then much like my previous Blueberry Bay example above, I drew on some of the senses and terminology cards and explored some modular combinations to see how it would stimulate ideas. One such chain emerged that was really useful:
[COLOUR] + [SOUND] + [HARMONY]
This chain enabled me to start thinking about both the visual mediums (i.e. the character design drawings) and the auditory mediums and how ingredients of each could be balanced. The audio composition with the visual composition. The colour of the character, and the colour of the music. The textures of each, the mood of each. ...and so on.
The brief I was using for this experiment was ultra-lite, to be honest... I would usually secure much more information from a client about the task at hand, of which would massively inform how all of the required balances outlines above could be... well... balanced! This fact actually made me consider a new card, something to the tone of "Are there any questions you have for your client/commissioner?" or "Do you have all of the information you need?" However, that aside, I decided that the character being designed was to be a female character, full of energy, a slightly chaotic nature, set in a futurist landscape, but not clean - a landscape harking elements of Cyberpunk, but only moderately...
So, through the visual medium, this was something that could be expressed not just with facial expressions and personality traits, but more fundamental ingredients of each mode - such as the geometry of the character, textures, and the colour palette. The fundamental ingredients are the kinds of things that translate well to other disciplines. In the case of this brief, this character also needs a theme tune/motif. The previously drawn [HARMONY] card is signaling that I need to consider how these will balance, and not how they will clash or contradict. So my ideations around these guiding cards unfolded as follows:
1). Tonal Harmonies:
[VISUAL]Vibrant color palette, fluro hues, full saturation.
[AUDITORY] bright tone, major key, key modulations take place but somewhat unexpectedly, chaotically, and are highly temporary. (neo-classical style)
2). Textural Harmonies:
[VISUAL] Not heavy on flat colours, every surface is grained and weathered (that pinch of cyberpunk mentioned above...)
[AUDITORY] Not heavy on pure synth tones - acousmatic recordings (think Cristobal Tapia De Veer) pushed through electronic sequencing, and production techniques.
3). Compositional Harmonies :
[VISUAL]Strong, sharp geometry, bold outlines.
[AUDITORY] Slightly segmented sequences, staccato, blocky, over half of the track, is actually, 'empty space' i.e. the spaces between the notes.
4). Thematic Harmonies:
[VISUAL] Characters nature is 'high energy', slightly chaotic, (a chaotic good), can be represented through overall art style (i.e. floating components, unjoined strokes in the linework, etc.)
[AUDITORY] chaotic good via sound - unresolved melodic phrases (channeling ADHD energies) mixed rhythm modes (e.g. Section A swung rhythm, section B straight rhythm...personality in flux) but overall positive tone/instrumental voices that bring joy.
...and with that, based on 3 card prompts, I was beginning to develop a rather rich set of creative formulas that I could begin to action. The trick for when I know it is time to move on from ideating to actioning is when these ideas are traced back to the brief, and it's clear that the creative decisions resolve the brief, or fixes any problems outlined in the brief. Now - after engaging with my target audience through the freelance surveys a few weeks back, Making Sense's primary purpose/mission is now about adding order to nebulous creative freelancing workflows, therefore, I feel that this is a major piece in the puzzle for the toolkit, and needs to be supported by the cards.
...and man alive is this whole post starting to feel like an out-of-body experience. This is the first time I've seen all of this written down. This is how I work as a creative generalist. Every single time I produce something - music, illustrations, apps, interactive experiences. This is it. So I decided to stop this experiment at that moment, as I had learnt all that I needed to in order to transform the sticky notes into a hand made deck of cards that the public participants could begin to engage with.
(although I must say I look forward to giving the above creative blueprint a go at some point for this character-composition brief when I get the time!)
So I spend the rest of the day moving all of the rough scrawlings from the post-it notes to the more polished hand made cards, ready for the upcoming public-facing trials. As I worked through this I decided that some of the more granular ingredients needed to be more neutral, by drawing on carefully selected words that would be more universally understood and acknowledged by the wider creative community. This whole process resulted in a full hand-made a deck of cards - Making Sense V0.1 - that was ready to be used in the first public trials of these cards.
The digital log of these cards can be found here.
Now that I have a base level draft of these cards, it is time to move trials into unsupervised processes with a wide variety of freelancers/producers/artists situated across the UK. For this, I will be initially tapping into my creative network, and moving further afield (a network of networks) to ensure that the trials in this first phase of participatory design are meeting independent creatives from all backgrounds. So with that, I'm off to make arrangements with the first trial volunteer, of which are naturally taking a slightly different shape now due to social distancing... But nonetheless, the show must go on! ...and Trial #2 now awaits. Updates to come soon!