Trusting the Process


Throughout the research and development project I’ve been undertaking all year, one of the most repeated phrases I have encountered through interactions with both students and staff, is ‘trust the process.’ One tutor drew me a diagram explaining the creative process through a series of squiggles, doodles and loop-de-loops, explaining that sometimes you’ll move forwards, when at other times you might move backwards or maybe even stay in the same place. For me, the research and development process has been somewhat of a rollercoaster ride, filled with those aforementioned loop-de-loops, plenty of ups and downs, and a fair few moments of freefall.

As I hopped into the cart on the first day, I buckled in for a bumpy ride, overwhelmed with excitement, wonder and a healthy amount of fear. As the adrenaline kicked in, I held on to the ‘one thing’ that was driving me to embark on this roller coaster ride in the first place. The ‘one thing’ for me, required of us to present in the first week of class, was actually two quotes from designer and businessman, Sean McCabe. The first quote suggests that life’s peachy

when you’re doing what you love and making things you enjoy and the second encourages the reader to share what you learn and teach everything you know. Remembering that what drives me in design is sharing what I learn and teaching everything I know, and encouraging others to do the same, so that we can all do what we love and make things that we enjoy, became my safety belt and the one thing I could hold onto throughout the adventure. As the buzzer sounded and the creative cart was set into motion, I headed down the track of coworking and began contemplating how the spaces that students work and communicate in, whether digital or physical, could be utilised to achieve my goals.

Through many twists and turns, I discovered that what lay beneath the concept of coworking was actually the notion of community and within that, the conversations occurring between students and that is what I was the most interested in. This topic was what I proposed to turn into something this semester; that is until halfway through the mid-year break when I decided to change topics.

I wasn’t overly in love with the ideas that I had, and I had no notion of how I was ever going to achieve the things that I wanted to in such a short space of time. This caused me to switch gears and head down a new path, towards something I thought would make me happier and could turn into something great. Little did I know that eight weeks later, two tutors would tell me that this new topic was basically a waste of time and that I should 180 back to where I was before. Wow. I can tell you that was not the most wonderful thing to hear!  

I discussed my ideas with the first tutor and also the fact that I had changed topics, and he immediately thought that I should change back to my old topic. It has a lot more tangible and practical opportunities, and is a lot more exciting. While the current idea is aspirational, he said that it isn’t really going anywhere. At this point, I was completely thrown. It was great feedback to hear, but I was just not prepared to hear that I should throw all this work away and go back to what I was doing 8 weeks ago. It probably didn’t help that I was tired and most likely quite hangry at the time either, but I panicked. I looked around for another tutor to see what their opinion was. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust the first tutor, I just needed some validation and confirmation to calm me down. The second tutor was less direct, which was just what I needed at the time, but she agreed. The previous project was much more exciting and real. She asked me what my favourite type of design was, to which I replied typography and she laughed, looking at my work on the wall and saying ‘I could have guessed.’ She recommended that I take the previous topic, and try and do something typographic with it. This was good because instead of just turning my project upside down and leaving me to figure it out, we talked about the potential and I had some thoughts to work with going forward.

Overall, it’s never really a fun experience to discover that what you’re doing isn’t great, especially when you’ve just spent the last 8 weeks working up to this point. It felt like I had wasted those eight weeks and was moving backwards instead of forwards. Now, I feel like those weeks were all a part of the process. I needed to go away from what I was doing for a while, try something else and return with a fresh perspective. I need to realign what I’m doing with the things that I love, and work from there. If I don’t love what I’m doing, I’m never going to get anywhere, so now I’m going to make sure that whatever I decide to do, I love it.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that all of the people who told me to “trust the process” were annoying at the time, but in the end, right. The creative process is not a straightforward one. While that can be frustrating, infuriating and extremely stressful, it’s also what makes it exciting. Each time I go around in circles, or experience the rollercoaster moving backwards, I learn something new. My work, my process and who I am as a designer and creative develops and grows with each high and each low, helping me to become better at what I do. I don’t think it will ever get easier realising that you’re heading down the wrong path, but I do think that I will get better at accepting it, and promptly correcting my course towards something even greater.

Have you experienced a creative rollercoaster similar to mine? How do you deal with it? Do you find it exciting? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear about your wild processes too!