Frank Chimero, is a Brooklyn-based designer and author. He has a captivating blog and an incredible resumé. I'll spare you his backstory, but it's worth checking out. Thanks to Austin Kleon I discovered he recently interviewed with Milanote (a fantastic blog) regarding his design process on various projects. At Chimero's own admission, this process probably won't work for everyone and every project but it's really something:
I’m a big proponent of ‘once through, cleanly’. You think about your idea, sketch, then put some glue in your chair and bang it out in one sitting. All of my best work happens this way: posters, collages, essays, outlines for talks, and so on. The work seems to be more cohesive and the energy more concentrated and palpable. If you sit down and what you make is bunk, you walk away, come back later and start over. You don’t keep any of what you’ve done before, you only retain the memory of what went wrong. It’s a silly method, but it works for me.
I work in a pretty similar way. The most exciting work happens in quick sprints and explorations. Most of the time, it ends with good work and that's the end of that. But, if I'm forced to revisit the work at a later time and find myself frustrated or burned-out — I start over, tabula rasa. Literally re-building a project from the ground up can be really cathartic for me. I've never given it any thought before until now, but the memory of the failures or problems remains, even after the work is gone. This is how you become a better writer, designer, developer or better person in general — retaining some record of failure, frustration or inspiration.
That's what pushes us forward.
As a side note, when I was in college, there was a sort of saying that went around and I'm certainly paraphrasing my mentors here:
Technology has sped up the rate at which designers produce work, but it has not sped up the rate at which designers produce great work.
It's true. Technology has sped up our processes. But it doesn't speed up great work. The time it takes to reach good work can still vary tremendously. Mainly because creative problem solving depends on different conclusions from different processes.
While some may have messy or complex processes, others have simple and iterative processes. Technology has allowed us to go lightspeed with briefs, projects, and deadlines. But creativity, inspiration, design processes and learning new things — these all have an unknowable trajectory. And that's okay. It's important that others understand that too. Jeez, no wonder it's so difficult to plan for anything.
It's okay to sit there, staring at the screen and say, "I dunno about this. I don't know what to do." Just table it, trash it or come back later. Start anew if you have to. But no matter what, the memory remains, even after the work is gone.