Getting in the Zone: Working Creatively

by Jenna Bantjes

Here at FTS, we’ve been talking a lot internally about health, wellness, efficiency, and balance. We’ve been making strides to recognize and celebrate each other’s personal and professional accomplishments. More of us are working remotely, adjusting to life changes, and exploring our work and lifestyles. At the end of the day, we recognize that it’s not the quantity of work that matters, it’s the quality.

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Today, we sit down with Trish Dallmeyer, Experience Designer, to hear about working creatively, solving problems, and the career path that landed her at FTS.

Hi Trish! Tell us a little bit about your background and your career path as a designer thus far.

Sure, let’s see. I got into design pretty young. I was always creative and into art, just drawing all the time.  Then I got into music – I played a few instruments. I played the clarinet. I took guitar lessons for awhile. I taught myself the piano. But then, something clicked in high school and I dropped out of all of my band classes and took up studio arts instead. I wound up doing the RISD summer session after my junior year in high school and I loved that so much that I decided I was going to apply my senior year. That was going to be my goal- to get into RISD – and that’s what I did.

Then after college, the market for graphic design (my major) was just terrible. I applied to every boutique agency I could find in Boston. Nobody was hiring because they were all tiny, two or three-person shops. So I ended up working at Converse designing shoes, which was a really weird twist of fate. It was something I never expected to be doing. They hired me as a graphic designer to do graphic textile patterns for the shoes, which was the trend at that time- funky shoes with a lot going on.  But soon after, that trend totally changed. The trend moved toward really simple, straight-forward shoes with more of a focus on the shape of the shoe. So I ultimately was designing shoes from top to bottom, from laces and outsoles, to uppers and everything else.

By that time, I was so far from where I had intended to be in my career that I had enough. I decided I wanted to get back into graphic design but . . . I didn’t know how. When I was kid, I always felt design could make the world a better place, but I hadn’t yet seen that concept come to life.  When I discovered user experience, it fit right in with everything I had thought I wanted to do with my life.  So I decided to make that happen.

After freelancing in graphic design for awhile, I concentrated on learning user experience, got into the AUX Apprentice program here at Fresh Tilled Soil and landed my full time spot here after that!

As a studio artist, do you find any kind of comfort in working with your hands as opposed to on the screen or is it the same kind of process for you?

I do. I really do love working with my hands. And it’s so funny that you ask that right now because I’ve been helping with identity work for Fresh Tilled Soil and we’re finalizing the design of our business cards. We’ve been working exclusively on-screen and sort of banging our heads against the wall. Yesterday, Richard said, “You should prototype. We’re a prototyping company.” So this morning I printed some stuff out, and I just put together a bunch of mockups so you can feel the thickness and I used Sharpies to paint the edge of the card and I thought, “Hey, this is awesome. This is so much fun. This is missing in my day-to-day work life. I have to do this more.”  

Have you done any sort of off-screen prototyping as part of your process before then or was this sort of an epiphany?

You have to work with so much purpose when you’re on the computer. Less can happen by accident. Whereas when you’re working with your hands, you could do something or something could lay a certain way on the table that you hadn’t purposely done and it could be awesome.

I’m really curious and excited to see what we can all do with the new prototyping spaces we’ve created in the office.  Who knows what could happen when you start making things with your hands?

Yeah, I feel like so much of the design process is controlled and scientific in fashion. While it’s nice to have the scientific component where things can be theorized and proved or disproved, sometimes it’s good to branch out creatively, get messy and explore. Do you ever get stuck creatively? If so, what do you do to get un-stuck?

There’s usually two paths that I take in this instance. One is to step away and take a break.  Go do something else and just completely detach from that project for a little while. Hopefully when I get back, I’ll be able to look at it in a different way. Even when I’m doing something completely different, if I’m out for a walk with my dog or I’m knitting for a while, my brain will still be processing other things in the background, and something will just hit me. Then I’ll come back with a new idea, or I’ll just see the page a little differently and I’ll realize, “Oh, that’s what’s not working. What if I do this?” Those things can happen if you take a break.

The other method is just to sit there and force yourself through it. It’s a bit like torture. It can sound like a bad idea. But I watched a speech by John Cleese that he did a long time ago about the nature of creativity and how to be creative. He said something that struck me, that I’d never been able to verbalize before and I didn’t know if other designers felt that way – When you’re grappling with a problem and you don’t know what the solution is, you have this really anxious feeling. It’s so uncomfortable and you just want it to be over. You just want it to be solved. So you might not spend as much time with a problem as you would if you didn’t feel that anxious feeling, because we’re human and we don’t like to be uncomfortable and it’s uncomfortable not knowing an answer.  The most creative people are the people who are willing to spend the time feeling anxious. They just work through it. One of the major components to creativity is just giving yourself time and not giving up. Sitting there and working through it can be the best solution.

Do you have any other methods for getting in the zone?

Let’s see. I think you need to have other things taken care of. In my case, I need to have my coffee. I need to know the dog is taken care of. I need to be in a quiet, tidy space. If there are other things nagging me, I can’t concentrate.

Would you say then that you’re highly affected by physical place?

Absolutely, yeah. If I’m in a noisy environment or a busy environment, I’m very easily distracted and I just have to know that about myself. So sometimes being in an open office is terrible. I have to book a room in the office to concentrate or maybe just go home for the afternoon if I’ve really got something I’ve got to concentrate on and get done.

If I know the steps that I need to complete something, I can work at home better. Whereas if it’s an open-ended problem that I haven’t solved yet, I might be better off in the office for collaboration.

After a long day, how do you recharge?

My primary activities are going for a walk to clear my head, spending time with my dog, and then just zoning out while knitting. I find that I don’t really enjoy just sitting and watching TV or something like that anymore. That doesn’t relax me. I need something else to occupy my head, so something like knitting where I have to pay just enough attention is how I relax.

So a certain level of mental stimulation is required?

Yeah, otherwise my mind will wander into the problems of the day that I haven’t figured out yet, and I just really need to take a break from those. If I think of my brain like a computer or something, it needs to be running something at the forefront at 50% capacity for the rest of it not to be able to process other stuff.

Lastly, if you had to choose any app or project to work on as your next project, what would you want to do?

I’d love to do something from scratch, like the activities we do in the AUX Bootcamp where we say, “Here is a general theme. Find a true need within that theme that’s not being met and figure it out.” A lot of the projects that I’m working on right now are mostly figured out already and we’re just putting the final touches on it or making sure that the interactions work, and that people can accomplish the thing it’s intended to accomplish. But the part where you’re figuring out what people want to accomplish is so fun!

Stay tuned to the blog, as we’ll be interviewing other FTS members to showcase the work styles, habits and tips/tricks help them do their best work.

 

About Jenna Bantjes

A graduate of the Art Institute of Boston (and the winner of its annual Graphic Design Exhibition), Jenna joined us through our apprentice program. Before...