The creativity and productivity podcast helping you be your most creative self. 

 

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TriviaToy is a new trivia ecosystem for Android. Designed and developed by Brian E. Young, the goal is to have a great user interface and fun user generated content. Maybe learn something in the process! Try it out and let me know what your think!

The Uncanny Creativity Blog

Ideas, resources and tips to help you unlock your imagination. The blog archive has years of content for artists and designers such as:

Get an email when a new blog posts. I aim to help you be even more creative and have more ideas. Let's make your imagination into something real! (Your e-mail won't be given to anyone else, promise!)

Tuesday
Apr212015

The State of Web Analytics: Infographic

As you might know, the term analytics refers to online software used to understand how viewers like you visit a web site. If you're a web site owner or web designer, you'd use these tools to figure out what your audience wants and how best to serve them. I designed this infographic explaining the terms used by web analytics sites a few years ago and I think it's still fairly relevant. Feel free to download and reshare, creative commons license is below.

Is there any web terminology that isn't covered that could help you design your web site? What industry terms have caused confusion for you?

Tweet this post: Do you understand these web analytic terms? #infographic

This post was originally written as a guest post for a site that has since closed. I wanted to make sure the graphic was still available for all of you.

Analyzing Web Analytics Infographic by Brian E. Young is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Friday
Apr172015

4 Shocking Reasons Why The Best Artists are So Productive

1. Positivity

 If you work in a creative job as I do, you won’t be surprised by the latest findings that morale impacts our ability to get things done. According to the study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, focusing on negative aspects will cause defensiveness and fatigue. Instead, focus on actionable solutions and ideas that improve the situation.

As a graphic designer, I have more ideas when clients and staff have a positive attitude. When the inevitable changes come through, I feel most productive when the client focuses on the next step rather than lamenting on what’s wrong with an earlier version.

2. Privacy

In a study on the trade off between office privacy and communication published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, found that a sense of privacy changed the perceived level of workplace satisfaction. Authors Jungsoo Kim and Richard de Dear of The University of Sydney noted that each type of office layouts had noted similar quality issues with their work. Those who had private offices were most likely to be satisfied with the level of distraction and proximity. Making interaction between team members easier was a small benefit to open floor plans, yet this minimal gain wasn’t offset by the many problems that arise.

Even if you happen to work in an open office space, it’s helpful to be able to have some private areas. I happen to have a private office and have found that others who are in more open areas tend to use my office or the conference room when they need an escape

3. Diet

You might be surprised to find out that your diet can make you more or less creative. A study from British Psychological Society found a diet higher in fruit and vegetable consumption correlates with a greater sense of curiosity and creativity. On days when they ate more fruits and vegetables, the sample group of 405 young adults reported a greater feeling of creativity compared to when they ate less. The data analysis found no carry-over of consumption to the next day.

4. Humor

Humor and laughter during regular team meetings was found to increase productivity. Not just in the immediate sense, either. This continues to help with performance up to two years later according to the study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. How can you apply this to your work as an artists? I’ve found that building the ideas of improv, lightening up about my work, and yeah even making jokes about myself have made me more likely to tackle my art. When I’m working on art, I’ll remember a joke and laugh. Give it a try.

 

If that helped you any, then you'll definitely enjoy reading my post about how our habits, gender, and brain waves change how we produce art. In the meantime, here's AsapSCIENCE’s video on The Science of Productivity:

Thursday
Apr162015

Does your psychology impact your artwork?

Want to be more productive artist? Understanding how the human mind and our natural behaviors impact our actions can go a long way with creating a way of working that works for us.

Habits

Examine your creative habits.  As the author of several books on happiness including Better Than Before and The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin talks about several examples of what have worked for many famed artists in an article on Psych Central. There is a central question here: What has worked for your in the past and what hasn’t?

I enjoy quite a bit of distraction as part of my creative process. I enjoy the escapism of having music, television or podcasts on in the background as I paint, draw or design. I feel like this puts what I’m doing in perspective. Otherwise, if I’m drawn into the idea that what I’m doing is all there is in the world, it can be really difficult to keep going when something doesn’t go perfectly right. If the television is on, I can take a mental break just long enough to regroup and come up with the perfect solution when I tackle the next step. It’ll take some trial and error to figure out what methods make you the most productive. 

Gender

Does your gender play a role? Maria Popova examines psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his text on how artists defy traditional gender norms. Artists tend to think outside of the box, therefore we might not need to act in a way that is expected for our gender. This isn’t about our sexuality, it’s about how we are told to react within our culture.

Women artists might be more assertive on average than the general population. Male artists certainly have an anecdotal reputation for being more emotional and passionate than the average man. Do you feel you have broken any of these molds with your art or personality? 

Brain Rhythms

Can you improve the rhythm of your brain? The University of North Carolina School of Medicine has used weak electrical currents to literally boost creativity. “We’ve provided the first evidence that specifically enhancing alpha oscillations is a causal trigger of a specific and complex behavior – in this case, creativity,” senior author Flavio Frohlich, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry, cell biology and physiology, biomedical engineering, and neurology says in the official press release.

These brain oscillations have been associated with our senses and are more prominent when we come up with ideas. While we probably aren’t going to be using electrical currents for this effect, finding more natural ways to induce these waves could make you a more productive artist. Meditation and daydreaming are associated with alpha oscillations; they're also much easier and safer to do on your own.

Tuesday
Mar312015

Art History Continues to Evolve

History isn't static, even when it comes to art. Many artists we think of as famous today were unknown in their lifetimes. Even the ones who were quite successful had periods where they slipped back into obscurity.

I remember noticing many artists we read about in my African American Art History and Music classes in college didn't have Wikipedia articles. That was over ten years ago. I didn't want to use it as a primary source, of course. It would have been a helpful to have an idea of who I was reading about. Back then, I reformatted a lot of my homework and started or expanded a few articles. The community did a good job of making those additions readable up to some standard. The Philadelphia Museum of Art has teamed up with the Wikimedia Foundation to add over 50 African American Artists to Wikipedia.

We also have the ever changing history of the "master's" as their paintings continue to resurface and exchange hands for exhobetant prices. Picasso's painting of his second wife is estimated to be sold at auction for around $150 million.

"Modern man has been in search of a new language of form to satisfy new longings and aspirations - longings for mental appeasement, aspirations to unity, harmony, serenity - an end to his alienation from nature. All these arts of remote times or strange cultures either give or suggest to the modern artist forms which he can adapt to his needs, the elements of a new iconography.” 
Herbert Read, English anarchist, poet and literary critic

Germany has been hard at work restoring many paintings seized by the Nazi's to the heirs of their World War II-age owners. Mattisse's painting "Woman Sitting in Armchair" will be returned as Germany reached a settlement . Another looted painting by El Greco, "Portrait of a Gentleman" was also returned to the heir's. Speaking of Nazis, one of Adolf Hitler's own paintings is also up for auction.

In Romania, a Renoir painting was found in the former prime minister's safeA painting that was suspected to be by Claude Monet has been authenticated. Using a special camera, experts were able to uncover Monet's signature. It's now the first Monet to be held in Finland.

Take a look at this video where art experts enjoy some prints from Ikea. Ikea has some good stuff, yet even people who are supposed to account for artistic taste won't always hit the nail on the head.

Tuesday
Mar172015

15 Tips to Work More Like Pixar: Creativity Inc. Book Review

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration tackles Pixar and Disney from the view of technology, individuality, and artistry. All while creating a viable business. As a graphic designer, we balance creativity and responsibility. Like Pixar, we're in the business of bottling and selling our imaginations. Ed Catmull, the computer scientist who became president of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios, deals with this awesome collision of seemingly conflicted interests with sincerity right out of Wall-E.

I'm a huge pop culture fanatic: My friends would do trivia and one night they turned in a guess before I even heard the question figuring no one would know the answer. I was shocked to learn that no one else knew who played Robin in the old Adam West version of Batman. It was Burt Ward, people. Burt Ward. Do people not know this? So as you can imagine, I've laughed and cried with Pixar in the theatre over the years. Remember in Toy Story 3 when Woody and friends held hands and resigned themselves to incineration? You have no soul if that didn't rock you to the core.

In the spirit of Pixar's films, I have 15 tips on how you can apply Ed Catmull's experiences at Pixar and Disney to your own life full of imagination and wonder: 

Tip 1: Build trust

In business we all hear so much about positivity, though do we question what that means? For Ed, it emphasizing people first. People want trust, hope, and faith. The book targets anyone who wants to be creative and says anyone can be creative. We want people to solve problems without feeling they have to ask for permission.

"Trust doesn’t mean that you trust someone won’t screw up – it means you trust them even when they do screw up"
Ed Catmull

Tip 2: Respond well to failure

When we create an environment not driven by fear and failure, we develop the people around us and help them grow. To allieviate the natural fear response of controlling and micromanaging, we have to make surprise more comfortable rather than threatening. Trust can't be created as quickly as fear. Ed tells us that facing the fear of failure and forming trust happens when we avoid secrecy when it's not absolutely necessary. Sharing "secrets" shows that employees are trusted. When given trust, people are more likely to maintain the secrets. As a company, Pixar is excellent at keeping secrets internal by treating employees as smart, trustworthy and capable partners.

"Every single Pixar film, at one time or another, has been the worst movie ever put on film. But we know. We trust our process. We don't get scared and say, 'Oh, no, this film isn't working.'"

Tip 3: Step back to see the big picture

Our view is the only perspective we really will ever know. Pixar views daily versions of each film to find problems. Ed describes "The Problem of the Beautifully Shaded Penny", that if not aware of the big picture each employee will treat their piece as if it was the biggest piece. The penny metaphor describes how a motived animator could create a very detailed penny if that's the task given, even though in the actual film it would only be seen for a blink of the eye.

Working at Pixar you learn the really honest, hard way of making a great movie, which is to surround yourself with people who are much smarter than you, much more talented than you, and incite constructive criticism; you'll get a much better movie out of it.
Andrew Stanton  

Ed reminds that we can't that assume creativity can't be quantified as data. Creativity times time, it takes a quantifiable number of revisions, and we can compare time estimated versus actual time. We can view the state of work at deadlines and the quality level at every transfer between departments.

Tip 4: Know your weaknesses

Ed acknowledges the fact that sometimes we're all really confident. Sometimes we're not. The key factor to constructive and practical communication is letting others know it's okay to make mistakes. How we deal with mistakes is what really counts. As a designer, I have to make revisions, corrections, and changes. Rather than leap to the idea that we should have known, remember this is part of the process.

Tip 5: Evaluate the process

Something as simple as the shape of a table can change the way we interact. A beautiful table at the Pixar office was impractical for work, setting up a hierarchy that left employees feeling too intimidated to speak.  In our personal and professional lives, encouraging proximity and equality in all situations benefits communication. The Pixar building was also designed to force employees from all departments to interact. Casual interactions between employees with no working relationships encouraged solutions that you'd never come to in a meeting while sitting around a table of any shape. This matches research about proximity and friendship. How do we enable to solve problems and do things differently. Question the perceptions and assumptions that went into the current situation.

Tip 6: Embrace the unknown

The best managers make room for what they don't know. Loosen controls, accept risk, build trust. Engage with and pay attention to anything that creates fear.  The books subtitle, "Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration", is a great summary of this theme. Ed reminds us that many of these forces may be unseen and may not ever be visible. Employees may never want to discuss certain issues with their manager. The best managers, according to Ed, are the ones who don't need all of the information. When Pixar employees attempted to become middlemen, Pixar reminded them that in their culture anyone can talk to anyone at any level. Communication structure shouldn't mirror organizational structure. The role of a manager will always mean employees are less candid.

Tip 7: Show that you listen

Ed describes how the Japanese made manufacturing defied the conventions of American companies who only allowed the very highest levels of managers to stop the production line. Manufacturers in Japan shifted assembly lines away from quality control inspection after the fact. Instead, every employee on the production line was responsible for product quality. While the American system gave each employee no say in how to make their own job more efficient, Japanese worker culture created pride as they were encouraged to implement even the smallest changes rather than just accept their role in a robotic assembly line. Silicon Valley, Pixar, and Apple brought these ideas to the United States building trust with each employee as an ally in making quality products.

Tip 8: Embrace humility

We tend to think success or failure is due to factors within our control. Often there are external forces and randomness. We must be careful not believe our own hype. We can't account for the factors. The simplest explanation with less assumptions. Unforseen things happen that are not anyone's fault.

Tip 9: Take risks

Don't prevent risk, make it safe for others to take risk. The cost of preventing errors is often greater than fixing them. Pixar animators show opposite movement to make movements predictable. Moving left for a split second gives the audience the anticipation of moving right. Leaving out these moments gives an element of surprise.

Tip 10: Acknowledge the challenge

General agreement won't lead to change, it takes a lot of energy even when all agree. Success in creativity isn't repeatable by process and pointless to try to recapture it exactly as it was. Steve Jobs predicted that Pixar would one day make a bad movie, it was inevitable. They had to be prepared for disaster and look for other hidden problems. Accept that flaws exist. The most certain thing is that some problems will always be unpreventable.

"Our fate lies within us. You only have to be brave enough to see it. "
Merida, Brave

Tip 11: Be decisive

Director Brad Bird learned to deal with stress by acknowledging he has stress and finding a coping mechanism. We all have feelings, it's just about how we deal with them. Sometimes Brad's coping method is simply to do nothing. As Andrew Stanton said, "Hurry up and fail". Decide to be decisive and forgive yourself. A director is like a ship captain. Commit to a destination and if your headed in the wrong direction, you can change course then.

"When life gets you down, do you wanna know what you've gotta do? Just keep swimming."
Dory, Finding Nemo

People want commitment toward a decision and honesty about decisions that  didn't work. Make your best guess and hurry up about it, then simply change course. Collaboration creates complications. When we have allies, the alliance means being a solver of problems and letting others know about problems so they can offer solutions as well. Be prepared and not irritated with challenges. Ceatives know that when we're sailing, we will face weather and waves.

Tip 12: Embrace team work

Movies don't often emerge from the vision of a single visionary, even if it's possible as a seed. Even a good idea needs to be excavated through effective collaboration. Ed tells us that bones you find may belong to several different dinosaurs. When working with Disney, they decided to move away from a notes system where people who did not have film experience and  did not know how to give constructive feedback.

"You and I are a team. There is nothing more important than our frienship."
Mike, Monsters, Inc.

As the new leaders at Disney, Ed and his team had to train employees at Disney first to have helpfulness in mind and to focus on positives as well as negatives. This balance helps everyone feel more comfortable with the truth. With their own truths, separate from those of Pixar, Ed helped the Disney as a modern studio to have its own personality reflecting the culture it's own employees wanted. In graphic design, art, and in movies, creatives know that every team and every project is unique.

Tip 13: Expect Change

Creativity is complex and evolves. Small companies operate differently than big ones. Things change and we have to keep changing. New employees didn't know the history or reasons for processes and also had new ideas for processes. At Pixar, as new employees joined the company that was now viewed as a modern legend, new challenges to the core values emerged.

"I can't stop Andy from growing up... but I wouldn't miss it for the world."
Woody, Toy Story 2

As a bigger company, Ed and his team created drawing, sculpting, and coding classes to teach about each others work. Classrooms are where mistakes happened. This also put all of them in social interactions outside of the work structure and set a tone for everyone to keep learning and be flexible.

"Protect the future, not the past"
Ed Catmull

Tip 15: Make it personal

At Pixar, the leaders would not only hand out bonuses. They would personally deliver them with a thank you. After the success of Tangled, they printed personal letters and give each them a dvd copy. In a creative business, we all know that there is a huge personal component.

“Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way.”
Ed Catmull

Verdict

Creativity, Inc. uses the how to and self help book format to tell the story of Pixar. When viewed as a story telling framework it's is an effective and time tested format for all kinds of content. Tina Fey told her story that way in Bossy Pants and Amy Poehler took the format in a more self reflectively with Yes Please that seems more comparable here. Ed has some of the expected behind the scenes stories for each of the Pixar movies up to this point, though the focus is the cultivation of an enviroment of ideas.

We also get a look at the evolution of Steve Jobs and how his strength of views and vission were malleable and formed based on his reliance on building a good team of people. As a designer and artist, the idea of incorporating that feeling of creativity into sustainable living is definitely the end game. For the creatives at Pixar, Disney, and everywhere else the challenges of combining creativity, art, and business ultimately are what form our lives.

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