The yoga of the creative process

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I was thinking this on my walk to the beach with my dog this morning: that there is a parallel between the practice of yoga and the practice of designing creative work. I am an instructional designer. I take the abstract concept of what does a user need to do as a result of this training and turn that into engaging, relevant and effective tangible online content.

When I’m on my yoga mat, there is a distinct beginning, middle and end to a pose (as there is to any project), yet it is the middle where the substance lies; where the creative juices flow; where the little tweaks I make: a slight bend to a knee, pressure to an inner or outer heel, small tuck here or reach there, hone the entire posture.

The yoga teacher calls the pose, and so it is with creative work too (whether, as in my case, it’s an eLearning module, or a webpage or a new logo for a client or an app…): we initiate the project, take in the mandatories like fonts or colors or logo specs or specific functionality, evaluate the preconceptions of our stakeholders and try to internalize the image of what it is they have in their heads and have yet to adequately describe to us (we who are supposed to make this thing appear like magic on the screen).

The essentials are on the page, in template form if you’re lucky, and you’ve got a clean slate and an intention: make sure the user can do X as a result of this design. The process begins with getting into the mind of the user, trying to understand what he or she needs from this training (or other creative content designed to change behaviour or do something) in order to get the information to them in the most efficient — and simultaneously intriguing — manner. There is no time or cognitive bandwidth to waste on extraneous content.

In yoga, we begin with a familiar pose, a bent knee, perhaps, and feet pressed down in an appropriate manner. Then the magic begins: it is this presence of mind where what came before, what is happening around us and what is to come doesn’t much matter right now. All that is important at this particular moment is a form on a square of mat on the floor. Tweaks come in small changes to angles, pressure and reach. It grows from there; micro-refinements that help us realise that it’s the practice that’s important. That it’s the focus on the middle bit, the fine-tuning or the process, that will make for a better and fuller end-result.

And so what’s important at this time in the creative process is this form on a square of a screen: we channel the end user to call on what they need, we create graphics and animation and sound and interactions that engage and intrigue and teach…all the while making small tweaks that hone the work and bring it closer to completion. These small refinements will ultimately speak more specifically to the end user when the project culminates.

So in yoga — and equally in the creative process — it’s the practice that’s important. The practice is a process of discovering, by laying out possibility on the screen (or on the mat), and honing as we create the forms that come together to produce the final product. By blocking out distractors and external noise and by paying attention to the small nuances, the idiosyncrasies that shape the whole, we get a deeper insight into what’s important and what will work…whether it’s on the yoga mat or on an end user’s iPad.

If you liked this story, please click the little 💜 to recommend…it helps get these words out to those who might not otherwise see them. That and it makes me happy to know people like what I write. Merci.

Written by

Instructional Designer, writer, photographer, wanderer, reluctant but sometimes sparkly introvert, curious one, believer in magic.

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