“If you live in Manhattan—a place where the monthly rent is equal to the GNP of a small country—you can understand why I have a home office. When my daughter was born, writing and designing at home seemed strategic—a central location to keep an eye on her while she played and I worked. Thirteen years later, I’m a sitting duck for all kinds of queries and household traffic. Not to mention the fact that over the years, I had to endure endless episodes of “SpongeBob” while I worked. (If you read my books closely you will notice “SpongeBob” dialogue.) The beauty of having a home office is that you can work any time you’re home. The downside of having a home office is that you can work any time you’re home. Or awake. One sure way to impress one’s client or publisher is to send emails to him at 4:30 am. I imagine my publisher saying to his other authors, “To make your deadline, start working at 4:30 am like Landa does!”
Robin Landa holds the title of Distinguished Professor in the Robert Busch School of Design at Kean University of New Jersey. She is included among the teachers that the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching calls the “great teachers of our time.” Recently, Robin was a finalist in the Wall Street Journal’s Creative Leaders competition. Robin is the author of twelve published books about graphic design, branding, advertising, art, and creativity including Graphic Design Solutions, 4th edition (Wadsworth), Advertising by Design, 2nd edition (John Wiley & Sons), and Designing Brand Experiences (Cengage Learning). Modern Dog Design Co. designed the recently published, Take A Line For A Walk: A Creativity Journal (Wadsworth).
FROM YOUR DESKS: How do you work?
• Absorb the design brief
• Research (market & consumer research; my own research; client provided info)
• Think a lot (An incubation period is critical for my thinking process.)
• See it in my mind (I visualize the whole composition, color palette, and/or look and feel.)
• Sketch with a pencil, then marker
• Sleep on it
• Comp it up
FYD: What is your favorite sentimental object at your workspace and why?
RL: I am rather fond of my T-square.
FYD: What is your favorite or most required work tool?
RL: I prefer an H pencil & kneaded eraser.
What if an apple were covered with fur? What if you could become invisible? What if a book’s spine were on the front cover? What if…
FYD: In your Take A Line For A Walk, how does sketching help one tap into ideas?
RL: Unlike a completely blank journal, Take A Line for A Walk cues the reader, in the same way acting and creative writing coaches use prompts. The prompts are deliberately varied. To address different ways of thinking and creating, I asked remarkable people with different expertise to contribute prompts.
(Above text reads): Steal a technique from someone you admire. I did — from director Steven Soderbergh. When his writing does not get anywhere, he goes to the busiest café in L.A., without anybody to meet and nothing to read. Just bringing pencil and paper. Being all alone in the bustling café, Soderbergh looks stupid and shames himself into writing. Works brilliantly for design, too.
– Stefan Sagmeister
When your ideas involve brain, eyes, and hand—moving from mind and eyes to hand to paper, your creativity is made visible. You visualize your thinking. The more you do of this, the more fertile and flexible your thinking becomes. Without a doubt, there is an accumulative benefit. The more you conceive and sketch, the more your thinking evolves, thus so do the images you conceive and make. The processes of sketching, visual thinking, observing, extracting, and making connections—all stimulate creativity.
Sketching is a whole brain activity. The areas of the brain governing vision (huge areas of the brain), motor system (planning and executing movement), thinking, and processing are involved.
Parietal lobe: concerned with the reception and processing of sensory information from the body, and acknowledgement of one’s environment, which is important for drawing
Primary visual cortex/ Occipital lobe: vision
Visual Association Area: complex processing of visual information
Frontal lobe: having to do with decision-making, problem solving and planning
Motor cortex (located in the frontal lobe): Fine motor and general motor, output
Temporal lobe: having to do with memory, emotion
Prefrontal Cortex: the largest cortex—deals with the integration of behavior, judgment, abstract thinking
Cerebellum: motor memory
When your ideas involve brain, eyes, and hand—moving from mind and eyes to hand to paper, your creativity is made visible. You visualize your thinking.
FYD: What are your favorite exercises for warming up creativity?
RL: One could solely rely on posing What if… questions. What if a character were to come off the movie screen and into the real world? What if no one ever died? What if an apple were covered with fur? What if you could become invisible? What if a book’s spine were on the front cover? What if…
Other reliable exercises include:
• Merge two unrelated objects to form a new whole.
• Letter your name by only drawing the negative shapes.
• Change one characteristic (texture, pattern, shape, color, etc.) of an existent thing to make us see it anew.
• Play Exquisite Corpse a Surrealist game (which is a student favorite). Big Spaceship created Corpsify for everyone to enjoy.
FYD: Your “Dream Box” succeeded its Kickstarter goal. Can you talk about the project?
RL: Being chased by a monster but you can’t move? Spiders crawling up your nose? Studies show that 50% of children aged 3 to 6 years old experience bad dreams that disrupt their sleep. The Dream Box is a creative effort to help these children. This children’s picture book solves a real life, common dilemma—what to do when a child has a bad dream. Disguised as a bedtime story with a mysterious twist, this book will engage children with its whimsical illustrations by Modern Dog Design Co. When nightmares wake children, they seek comfort and wake their parents. This book will help child and parent alike with an imaginative, helpful solution. As Robynne Raye says, “It’s a children’s story, but we are hoping that the art will be so fun that adults will view it as an art book, too.”
The most critical issue today is to be authentic.
RL: Most people would agree that Apple, Google, and The American Red Cross are forward-thinking vital brands that stay on message. Beyond those, brands that understand how a brand can be social—that are fostering interactions and conversations in social media, are evolving with the times. Brands such as Public Broadcasting Service, Skittles, and Pepsi (though I hesitate to sanction sugared soft drinks, Pepsi’s Refresh campaign did some social good), are keeping up with the very rapid evolution of social media as well as staying lively in conventional channels.
FYD: Is there such a thing as over-branding?
RL: The most critical issue today is to be authentic. Over-branding may seem phony to certain psychographic communities and to demographic groups such as Gen Y and the millennium generation.
FYD: What do you love most about teaching?
RL: Other than grading, teaching is joy. From helping aspiring designers prepare for a rewarding career to conceiving creative pedagogical methods—teaching is eminently gratifying. Teaching people to notice creative possibilities, to observe what others don’t see, to become what I like to think of artist/designers—people with creative range who use artistic processes to problem-solve and communicate visually—is challenging and exciting.