Lessons from Creative Pros: Building The Foundation of A Creative Life

by Patrick Faller

posted on 11-29-2017

If you’ve seen children playing or drawing, you know they don’t think twice about unleashing their creative mind. For them, creativity comes naturally. But for many, that creativity begins to dim as their freedom to just play diminishes. Kids who manage to maintain and cultivate their love of drawing, experimenting, designing, and expressing themselves are often the ones who can safely call themselves creatives in their adulthood.

Many successful lifelong designers and artists were at Adobe MAX 2017 and spoke about fostering that creativity in the next generation of designers.

Showing young people the potential of their ideas.

“Kids already have such a crazy level of creativity innately, and I think we lose the ability to harness that later on in life,” said Adobe MAX speaker Katie Johnson, creator of The Monster Project, who talked about her work helping children acknowledge the potential of their own creativity.

“We start to have these outside influences and self-doubt starts to creep in.”

The Monster Project is an initiative that gets second grade children to draw a picture of a monster. Those pictures are then sent to professional artists, who recreate the child’s drawing in their own style. For Johnson, the exercise is a way of showing the children the potential of their ideas and creativity.

“The only thing that seems to hold kids back is they have this grand idea in their head of what their drawing could be. When they draw their monsters, their skills are obviously limited because of their age, so by bringing in these professional artists we can say, ‘this is your idea, this is what you can do if you go along this path and continue learning and honing your skills,’” she said.

Image Source: The Monster Project

The Monster Project was also created as a reaction to the cutting of art programs in schools across the United States and other countries. The fear is that without these programs, children won’t be able to see that it is worth preserving and developing the creative skills they currently use during play time into their adulthood.

“For jobs in general, the definitions are becoming much less clear and concise. For example, I have a job in a monster business. I think to keep up with how things are changing with technology, you need people whose knowledge and interest spans a lot of different things. The better they can do creatively, the better they can fit these new roles that are popping up,” she said.

Children as “teachers” in growing the creative economy.

Johnson feels that children’s fearlessness to create during play time offers an important lesson for adults, too. When they fail or deviate from their original idea when drawing, children tend to simply “go with it.” Fostering that bold creativity and fearlessness — in the hopes that they will maintain it into adulthood — is the goal of initiatives like The Monster Project and Emily Pilloton’s Project H Design. Project H Design aims to empower young people to use their creative skills to design solutions for key social issues in the communities. She acts as a mentor, but not in the traditional sense.

“Kids are incredible teachers themselves, and I think about mentorship as giving kids the space to say this is what I’m interested in and then helping them to achieve that. Instead of thinking of it as a top-down adult-kid relationship, think about it as a creative partner who just happens to be 12 years old,” she said.

Emily Pilloton on the stage at Adobe MAX 2017.

Fostering these early skills will have long-lasting effects on our society and economy. So far, Project H Design has already helped young people complete 38 community design and architecture projects. Children have designed and built a farmer’s market, a school library, tiny homes for the homeless, and furniture for a women’s homeless shelter.

“It’s less about encouraging them to be designers, and more about creating structures in which they feel safe to try things. They need to understand that the type of creative play you do as a kid is not useless. There are careers that are based on that. Especially around the ages of 10-15, it’s important to help young people see that the things that are already in them — the things they’ve been doing since they were a kid — are things they can use to have an impact in the world and make a good living,” said Pilloton.

MAX master class takeaway — fostering creativity in young people pays off, but don’t rely on schools to do it.

Adobe MAX was a fantastic opportunity to see the efforts of organizations like The Monster Project and Project H Design to foster creativity in young people, before it’s lost. The responsibility must fall to designers themselves to do this. As Adobe’s Ben Forta says, most school systems continue to drop the ball, placing little or no emphasis on strengthening the creative economy.

“The primary obstacle to creative growth in our school system is forcing our educators to teach to one-size-fits-all standardized tests. This cripples well-meaning educators, stigmatizes mistake-making, and robs students of their individuality. To quote Sir Ken Robinson, schools today ‘are educating people out of their creative capacities.’”

In order to have the future we want, which places human-centered design thinking at the center of practical problem-solving, we must all step up to make sure we provide the foundation of a creative life for the students that want it.

“Recruiters are reporting that employers of all sorts are actively seeking creative individuals, those who think differently or who can put their own spin on things. Couple this with the rapid disappearance of the same-old job opportunities, it becomes clear that — as educators — we have an obligation to encourage our students’ creative expression so as to give them the best chances in life,” said Forta.

Every year, Adobe MAX brings the world’s best creative minds together to learn, share, create, connect, and play. Stay tuned for more lessons from the event’s creative pros, and head over to Adobe MAX’s website for more information.

Topics: Creativity, Design

Products: Creative Cloud